Summary: The church, not city hall, department stores or governments, is charged with witnessing to the gospel, and reminding the world the reason for the birth of Jesus.
YES VIRGINIA, THERE IS A RESURRECTION
Pastor Rick MacDonald December 17, 2000
1 Corinthians 15:14 - and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.
We should have come to realize a long time ago that Christmas is not ruled from Jerusalem or Rome—but from a place ruled by a god called Mammon. Some disgruntled believers—maybe even misguided—do battle with various courthouses and City Halls which no longer display a Nativity Scene on their lawns. Sometimes, outsiders look at our own dilemma more accurately than we can. Listen to an excerpt of an article written last Christmas by Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman.
“... There is nothing wrong with sleigh bells, Bing Crosby and Christmas pudding, but I should hope Christians would want more than just that, and as Christmas becomes more and more secularized, I am not sure they get it. In the end, the problem of Christmas is not mine any more than Christmas itself is. The real Christmas challenge belongs to Christians: how to take Christmas out of the secularized public domain and move it back into the religious sphere once again.”
The rabbi is right on both counts. For Christians, Christmas definitely loses something, in fact, loses its core, as it gets more and more worldly. But the solution is not to worry over the worlds view of Christmas. The real Christmas challenge belongs to Christians. The church, not city hall, department stores or governments, is charged with witnessing to the gospel, and reminding the world the reason for the birth of Jesus.
TRADITIONS OF CHRISTMAS ARE CLOAKED IN MYSTERY:
Much about Christmas remains veiled and puzzling. It harbors a mystery of faith and has a rather checkered history.
▸ For more than 300 years after Jesus’ time, Christians celebrated his resurrection but not his birth.
▸ The observance of His birth first begin in fourth-century Rome, timed to coincide with a midwinter pagan festival honoring the imperial army’s sun god, Mithra. The December date was taken over to celebrate Jesus’ birthday.
▸ What day he was born and even the precise year is uncertain. However, it was not in the year 1 A.D., as the calendar’s Anno Domini (Year of the Lord) suggests. This dating system was derived in the sixth-century from calculations which had an error. Scholars since have calculated that Jesus’ birth came in about 6 or 7 B.C., meaning paradoxically "Before Christ". The revised time was determined partly by Herod the Great ruling Judea when Jesus was born and history records that Herod died in 4 B.C., which would have been three years before Jesus was born.
▸ In what month the birth occurred, or on what day, has been a matter of speculation for centuries. A British physicist and astronomer, David Hughes, has calculated that the date was September 17, 7 B.C., based on various scientific evidence, including that of a conjunction of two planets, Jupiter and Saturn, in the constellation Pisces on that date. He concludes in his book that this extraordinary celestial display was the "star" seen by the distant wise men.
▸ In any case, a variety of months and days have been used over the centuries in different parts of the world to celebrate the occasion. Some Eastern Orthodox churches still do it on January 6.
▸ What about America? Christmas was banned in 17th century England when Oliver Cromwell and his puritan followers gained temporary rule, forbidding what was called the "heathen celebration of Christmas." When the Puritans founded America, the holiday similarly was banned in colonial New England. Christmas wasn’t made a legal holiday in home of the Puritans, in Massachusetts until 1856, and wasn’t recognized anywhere in America until Alabama declared it a statewide holiday in 1849, and didn’t become a national holiday until the late 1800’s.
▸ E.V. Hill, one our country’s most noted preachers, doesn’t give or receive gifts, and preaches against it. His reason—It ain’t your Birfday!
For all of the clouded chronology and legal background of Christmas, however, the biggest mystery is in its message: God entered the human race because of His love for us.
I. THE PROBLEMS OF THE HOLIDAY - If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is in vain.
A. The Bible view of “Christian” holidays
1. Each holiday celebrates certain biblical events.
a. All four gospels focus on events leading up to and including Easter.
1. One-quarter to one-half of each of the gospels deal with the Easter.
b. The gospel tradition sees these events as crucial episodes that identify and ratify Jesus as God’s Messiah.
a. Two of the four gospels (Mark & John) have no birth, or Christmas narratives.
b. This means the earliest Christian communities knew nothing of Christmas.
“We can be Christians without the Christmas story,