Thursday, December 11, 2014

Here it is: My 11 page paper on Christmas for class!

          Christmas. Andy Williams crooned that it is “the most wonderful time of the year” on his 1964 Christmas album (Pola and Wyle, 1963, Side A, Band 4). From nativity scenes to the Santa Claus at the mall, Americans will be celebrating Christmas. Everywhere you go, you see Christmas lights and decorations letting us know what time of the year it is. Rip Van Winkle could awake from his fairy-tale sleep, and even he would know that Christmas was upon him! Ronnie Milsap, Ray Charles, and Stevie Wonder would all be able to “see” from the sounds around them that the season is here again. From the youngest to the oldest, practically everyone knows the Reason for the season. Christmas is perhaps the most important day on the Christian calendar seeing that most of its traditions have Christian connotations, and those traditions bring honor to the very One for whom the holiday is named after.

            Christmas is a decidedly Christian holiday without a doubt. It is the day that the name of Christ is exalted in song and literature. It is a day that people who have not been to church in a while may decide to attend with friends or family. Unlike Easter which is a “one and done” day, the Christmas season is built up from November until its conclusion in early January, giving perhaps close to a month and a half for the gospel message to be presented. As a Christian who believes the gospel message was meant to be presented to everyone, I exuberantly welcome the Christmas season.

            According to Frank Newport (2008) when referencing a recent Gallup poll, 93% of Americans indicated they would be celebrating the holiday of Christmas (In the U.S., Christmas Not Just for Christians, para. 1). According to a U.S. News article (2008), the population of America at that time was 305,529,237 which would mean approximately 284 million Americans celebrated Christmas that year alone (U.S. Population, 2009: 305 Million and Counting, para. 1). Given these numbers, I believe it would suffice to say that Christmas is a huge deal for the majority of Americans. However, what if the masses are in the wrong? What if instead of celebrating the birth of a Savior, we are instead keeping customs that honor pagan gods? We know how that God feels about the worship of other deities as the very first part of The Ten Commandments tells us “[y]ou are to have no other gods besides me” (Exodus 20:3, International Standard Version). When asked what the greatest commandment was by a lawyer, Jesus replied to him by saying “…[l]ove the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:37-38, New International Version). If in fact this day known to the world over as a celebration of Christ’s birthday is indeed an honorary day set aside for pagan divinities, it would do us well to find out. We see from these verses above that God alone is to be honored, so we need to find out if the naysayers have a proverbial leg to stand on.

            While they are certainly a decided minority, there are groups who identify themselves as Christian that would tell us Christmas is a pagan holiday that no Christian should be celebrating. Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God, said "Ancient Rome's pagan holidays have been chained upon a heedless and deceived world. These include certain annual holidays---Christmas, New Year's, Easter, as well as many more, every one [sic] a pagan day… ” (1). The Jehovah’s Witness organization (n.d.) purports to show that Christmas is littered through and through with pagan traditions and customs (Why don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrate Christmas? section, para. 1). Scott Ashley (n.d.) of the United Church of God, opines the same sentiment by saying that “[n]one of these things have anything to do with Him, but they have a lot to do with ancient pagan festivals” (The Christmas Holiday is Largely a Recycled Pagan Celebration section, para. 1). Of the myriad of reasons that a small minority would give not to celebrate Christmas, this is perhaps their strongest argument, but it is an argument that simply will not hold water upon further examination. While one might look circumspectly enough to find traces of paganism in some of our Christmas traditions, the good that is accomplished in the Christmas season far outweighs any bad that might have been associated with it in the past. Any remaining stench of pagan traditions have also been long since been absorbed with the passage of time.

            Some of my earliest memories are Christmas get-togethers with family, family that is now in large part gone on. I feel in many ways that the couplet from the Happy Goodmans song, “It Looks Like Everybody’s Going Home,” describes me when it is said, “I look around and I feel like a stranger, for the old familiar faces seem so few” (Wilburn, 1973, Side B, Band 6). If my family had subscribed to a viewpoint that Christmas was a wholesale celebration of paganism, I might not have had so much family to have celebrated my life with. It was not about seeing Christmas decorations, nor talking about Santa Claus, but seeing family that you had not gotten to see in a long time. My dad is from a large family, family that eventually spread out all the way from Illinois to Memphis. My mother’s family has spread all the way from here to Wisconsin and Virginia. Other families obviously have spread out even further than that due to careers or other personal choices. That makes for a high improbability of seeing one another too much during the year. Does not the Bible talk about family being of the utmost importance? What can be so wrong about a time that everyone can get together and fellowship? Families are not paying homage to some pagan deity when they choose to spend time with one another on the special day known as Christmas. 

            In our rushed society, how many people make time for church anymore? Although I am one of the types that “if the door is open I will be there,” I realize that many are not. I am certainly not about to criticize someone for not attending; that is between God and them. It could be that their work schedule is so crazy that they are rarely off when the church doors are open; perhaps they are so frazzled after putting in a 40, 50 or 60 hour work week that they need time to recuperate. Christmas might perchance be the only time they can darken the church doors. Since it is likely a given that they will hear the message of how Christ came to die in our stead, giving us eternal life if we choose it, what better time for that person to come to church? Even if the situation is such that the person could come to church during the year, but chose not to, what better time to choose to do so? Amber Hildebrandt (2013) of CBC News reports that nearly one third of our Canadian neighbors planned on attending church for Christmas, a figure I would believe would probably be mirrored here (Christmas Crowds Soar but Churches Pass Up Opportunities, para. 1). As a Christian, it is about winning souls for the Kingdom of God, not splitting hairs about what day they came! Mary Fairchild (n.d)., Christianity expert for, says “[m]oreover, Christian churches see Christmas as an occasion to spread the good news of the gospel at a time when many unbelievers pause to consider Christ” (Mass of Christ section, para. 2). It is beyond me exactly why any sane Christian, God-fearing person could or even would remotely argue that we are somehow honoring pagan traditions when we see people in church hearing the gospel message.

            From Jim Nabors singing “Go Tell It on the Mountain” (Nabors and Copeland, 1967, Side A, Band 1) to Elvis Presley crooning sacred Christmas numbers such as “Silent Night” (Gruber and Moore, 1957, Side B, Band 2) on his long in print Christmas album, the message of Christ is conveyed in song upon song every Christmas season. Just like the person who hears the gospel message only once or twice a year, they are hearing the name of Christ exalted in the music, music that is played in stores, on television, and on the radio. The central message of the Gospel is manifest in many Christmas songs, leading me to beg the question to the Christmas naysayers, what is so wrong about a time of the year that the story of Christ is brought out for public viewing in song? Some people feel we are in the time spoken of by the Old Testament prophet Amos. “The time is surely coming,” says the Sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread or water but of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11, New Living Translation). If we are indeed in those days of famine, we certainly do NOT need to snuff out the candle of God’s message to mankind that is prevalent in Christmas music this time of the year.

            Christmas is a relaxing day of the year if you allow it to be. Many people will choose to stay home, watching parades, football, and maybe even a Christmas movie. Others will choose family time to go look at Christmas lights or simply just spend time with one another. No matter the chosen mode of relaxation, Christmas can be a peaceful day of the year if you allow it to be. We all need time to recharge our batteries, and this makes for a picture-perfect time to do so. In Genesis 2:2-3, the Bible tells us “[b]y the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (New International Version). In Mark 6:31, it reads “[a]nd he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat” (English Standard Version). If God afforded a rest after working, why should He begrudge us a day that we can use to recharge ourselves even if it happens to be on a day with supposed pagan undertones?

            Christmas is just a fun time of the year! There are Scrooge-types out there who simply will not entertain the idea of “fun,” but the Bible tells us that there are times for celebration and merry-making. Caroling down the street with neighbors; singing along with the family while someone strums the guitar or putting decorations on the tree and hanging lights. Stevie Wonder told us that “everyone is a kid at Christmas time” in one of his popular songs (Miller and Miller, 2003, Track 14). Folk/Country singer John Denver teamed up with the Muppets and gave us their rendition of “Little Saint Nick” (Wilson and Love, 1979, Program 3, Song 1). There are so many Christmas activities that give you the “warm fuzzies” that you merely do not get any other time of the year. While the Bible is certainly full of references to judgment and damnation, it also talks about having joy and being happy. Christmas certainly represents a time of merry-making and joyfulness! Solomon, considered the wisest man to have ever lived, told his readers “…I commended enjoyment because there is nothing better for man under the sun than to eat, drink, and enjoy himself…” (Ecclesiastes 8:15, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

            Another nail in the coffin for the Christmas argument comes from the Bible itself. We find the Apostle Paul telling the believers at Colosse, “[s]o don’t let anyone criticize you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating Jewish holidays and feast or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths” (Colossians 2:16, Living New Testament). One of Herbert W. Armstrong’s main arguments was that God never cancelled the adherence to the Jewish feasts, and he says we should be celebrating those instead of so-called “pagan” holidays (1). We can put that argument to bed with this passage. We can provide further collateral damage to this argument with the words of James, considered by many to be the very brother of Jesus. “For the one who obeys the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2:10, New English Translation). If one can poke holes in the arguments of Armstrong on keeping the Jewish Law seeing how he was one of the chief proponents of abandoning Christmas, the boat of not celebrating Christmas begins to fill with water and sink as well.

            The final nail in the coffin for those who argue that Christmas is pagan influenced and we should veer away from it is the very hypocrisy of those who argue for the removal of pagan influences. The very days our week are named after or for pagan deities. J. Hampton Keathley, III (2004), points out that, for instance, “Thursday originally stood for the Germanic god of the sky or of thunder. Tuesday stood for Tiw, the god of war. And Wednesday is derived from Woden, the chief god in Germanic mythology. Sunday and Monday were related somehow to the worship of the sun and the moon. Saturday is from Saturnus, or Saturn, and Friday comes from Fria, the goddess of love” (Argument Number 4: Christmas Traditions are from Paganism section, para. 13). I also remember from my studies in school that the planets are generally named after pagan deities, but I do not see a serious movement at hand to rename the planets after the twelve disciples or any of the many Old Testament heroes of faith! I love the way that Mr. Keathley (2004) sums up his argument, a summation that puts the final hammer blow on the final nail in the coffin before it is lowered six feet under by the “Christmas is pagan” undertaker. “When Friday roles around we don't think about Fria, the goddess of love. On Saturday we don't think about it as Saturn's day, but as our day off! The same applies to the traditions of Christmas” (Argument Number 4: Christmas Traditions are from Paganism section, para. 13).

            Some would no doubt argue the veracity of the Christmas argument I made above by saying that even though we may have Christian liberty to not observe the Jewish feasts and celebrations, we are not given carte blanche to celebrate Christmas. Again, I think that this argument can be retired and put out to pasture by Scripture. Relying again on that stalwart champion of Christian liberty, Paul, we can turn to First Corinthians 8:4-6 and see what he had to say in regards to eating food that had been sacrificed to idols. “With regard then to eating food sacrificed to idols, we know that ‘an idol in this world is nothing,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’ If after all there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we live, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we live” (New English Translation). Yes, I know this is talking about food, but if God can bless and “make clean” food offered to an idol, is He not also capable of cleansing what some think a pagan celebration? In another of his epistles, Paul told the Roman Christians that “[o]ne person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks” (Romans 14:5-6, New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update). I am also brought to mind of what God told Peter when He told him in Acts 11:9b that “[w]hat God has cleansed, do not call common” (Jubilee Bible 2000). An unknown 4th century bishop (n.d.) summarized the whole thing when he said "We hold this day holy, not like the pagans because of the birth of the sun, but because of him who made it" (qtd. in Christmas section, para. 4). 

            I would also like to point out a few things from my personal observance about the common things we see every Christmas season and how those things fit in well with the Christian belief. We see Christmas trees from the poor-house to the White House. What was Christ crucified on? A cross made from a tree! What type of tree is the Christmas tree? It’s an evergreen tree; this symbolizes the eternal life that we have if we accept Christ as our Savior. We top off the tree usually with an angel or a star. It was the angels that announced the birth of Christ and a star that the Maggi followed to see Christ. We put lights on the Christmas tree and on our houses; Jesus was the Light of the world, and He was sent to shine bright for the world to see! The ornaments symbolize the beauty of Heaven, a beauty described in the book of Revelation. We adorn our houses with fake snow, either the fake spray on kind or the quilted kind made from cotton. What color is snow? It’s white, a color that the Bible mentions when it says that our robes will be white as snow. The old faithful standby King James Translation of 1789 explains that “…though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be [white] as wool” (Isaiah 1:18, King James Version). Like Hank Williams and the song about making a Bible from a deck of cards (Myrick, 2010, Track 40), Christmas is what we make it. God most certainly looks at the intent of our hearts. God is not sitting high and mighty upon His throne waiting to thrust lightning bolts at us, nor is He turning up the furnace of Hell seven times hotter because we choose to celebrate Christmas.

            Another point I would like to bring out is that I do believe in a literal Satan who is in opposition with a literal God. I have oft heard that for everything God has to offer, Satan offers a counterfeit. Without veering too far afield here, it would behoove me to point out that this former angel, once known as Lucifer, is known for his ability to transform “himself into an angel of light” (2nd Corinthians 11:13-15, New King James Version). Throughout history, Satan and his minions have introduced imitations of what God has to offer in an effort to steer people away from knowing the real truth. John Hoole (2010) points out “Satan just cannot get rid of God’s tree – so what has he done instead?  Answer – Satan has planted MORE TREES – many more.  His goal?  To HIDE God’s tree in a veritable forest of counterfeit trees.  These trees look like – smell like – feel like – the real tree of God.  But they are imposters.  They are trees of death – not trees of life” (IN WHAT WAYS DOES THE DEVIL COUNTERFEIT THE THINGS OF GOD TODAY? section, para. 3). Is it really that far stretch of an imagination to think that God’s arch enemy would counterfeit the day Christ’s birth is celebrated by having other gods honored on that day? Lady Rose (2011), a decidedly non-Christian writer, gives further credence to my thoughts by giving the names of 13 deities who were celebrated on December 25, one of which was Sol Invictus, also known as “The Unconquered Sun” (13 Gods Associated With December 25, para. 2). Would it not stand to reason that the master counterfeiter would copy the day that Christ, “The Unconquered Son,” was born upon? Michael F. Bird (2011) sums it up in the best way possible. “Christmas means that the unconquerable god of the Romans just got conquered. A pagan Roman holiday just got stuffed with more Christianity than a December Turkey stuffed with spiced bread crumbs” (December 25 means the Triumph of Christianity over Paganism, para. 3).

            If and when Scrooge decides to give me a “bah humbug,” I’m going to give him a big “Merry Christmas!” Christmas is something special, a day unlike others that you won’t find any other time of the year. God is not sitting on His throne in Heaven waiting to strike me down for putting up a Christmas tree, nor is He turning up the furnace in Hell extra hot because I have my fireplace hearth and mantle festooned with my numerous Christmas houses and figurines. The arguments of those who wish to forbid the celebration of Christmas based upon some sort of past association with pagan rites and deities have been refuted thoroughly backed by arguments from people knowledgeable in the Christian faith and from Scripture itself. I feel that if one had to base an argument straight from “sola scriptura” that it would be entirely possible still to refute the claims given. Christmas is a time for families to be together, a time for the name of Christ to be exalted in churches and Christmas hymns, and a time for people to have fun and relax. Perhaps I am like country singer Bill Anderson and was born with too much of the spirit of Christmas in me (Anderson, 1969, Side A, Track 6), but I must agree again with how Andy Williams put it-it’s the most wonderful time of the year (Pola and Wyle, 1963, Side A, Band 4)! The words of Mary Fairchild (n.d.) give the best summation possible to those who want to “bah humbug” us away from Christmas. “I find myself wanting to ask, how can we fail to remember this day with great joy and reverence? How can we not celebrate Christmas?” (Why Do We Celebrate Christ's Birthday? section, para. 3). All I can add to her words is a hearty amen!

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