Archives For Christmas

I close this series with joy filled in my heart anticipating Christmas day.  I long for the time with family, the meals, the happiness, the presents but also the knowledge of why we are there.  “Advent” is a word that comes from the Latin word adventus meaning “coming.”  It is the Latin translation for the Greek word parousia which is used in the New Testament most often to describe the Second Coming of Christ (see 1 Thess. 4:13-5:11).  Apparently advent was started in the 18th century to recognize not only the birth of Jesus but also the coming of the Lord.  We live in a tension right now that all Christians live in from the time Jesus ascended in Acts 1 until the time of Jesus returns.  The tension is entangled in mystery and wonder knowing that God has wrought a day in which the Lord will return and we shall be like him and dwell forever.  But not yet…not now…not here…not long.  The advent season is about recognizing and celebrating the birth of Jesus but paradoxically anticipating the return of Jesus.  The fact is…Jesus is here and there are implications for you and I.  To really celebrate Christmas is to subvert the consumerism that society puts out and to make it more than simply “HAPPY HOLIDAYS.”  I saw last night where the ACLU sent memos to Tennessee schools warning them of celebrating one religious holiday to the exclusion of others.  That’s fine but the celebrations typically seen are incorrect for the real point of advent is to show that everywhere and anywhere Christ is the Lord who was born of a virgin from the seed of David.  Caesar was not Lord nor is the president today.  Our idols of power, freedom, pride, consumerism and safe-living all miss the mark for the only true Lord in this world is and was Jesus Christ.

So celebrate appropriately.  Decorations are only a hint of the beauty of Christmas as we celebrate the coming of God himself.  We celrbrate that JEsus is Lord.  We anticipate that one day all wrongs will be right and that true peace will reign at the coming of our Lord.  We long for that day but know there is much work for us to do while injustice and evil still reign.  Jesus, we welcome you in our lives as Lord.  Thank you for coming down to this earth and relinquishing your God-abilities to be human.  We recognize the work of your Father as the work we adhere to.  Forgive us this season for our consumerism and allow us to celebrate what is most important beyond the toys, decorations and false narratives sent by society.  Allows us to celebrate you.  Thank you for coming.  I love you.  Reign in my life and let my breath breathe the air that comes from only you.  Amen.

Below is an advent poem by W.H. Smaw and then a couple of songs I thought were worthy of note.  Peace.

I am. I was. I will be.
I am not coming soon I am here.

I was born on a cold night in a cold place
Unnoticed, unheralded by cold people
Who turned my mother away.
On that night were you listening?
On that night the “least of your brothers” was me.
Now do you see, do you hear and do you care?
I am not coming soon I am here.
In your life do you see me
In the ragged men and women
Who search the cold street
Looking for my reflection in your heart?
Do you hear my voice in
Their muttered plea or in their tear?
I am not coming soon I am here.
Do you hear me when your friend turns to you
To ask forgiveness and trust?
Do I not forgive you always?
Do I not give you a merciful ear?
I am not coming soon I am here.
In this season I was born unto you
Fulfilling the promise of God’s care.
Look for me, listen to me…
I am not coming soon I am here.


I have already addressed some issues concerning Christmas (i.e. paganism, materialism, et al) but a couple objections from the Scriptures I think need to be contextually situated before they are mis-applied to Christmas.

  • The first one I mentioned in the first post and that people use Jeremiah 10:1-10 and the “trees” and “asherah poles” as proof that Christmas trees are, in fact, pagan.

First of all, let it be known that there is much danger in grabbing a concordance and looking up “tree” and finding a verse and then applying it to the present context.  Each verse has both an immediate and an extended context.  Most people use Jeremiah 10:2-4 to prove (quite proudly I am sure) that the decorated tree is an example of what we should not do.  Trying to be as patient as I possibly can I want you to first note who is speaking: God.  That is important because also we need to address who God is speaking to: Israelites.  Those two bits of information are very important for last time I checked we are not Israelites and are not dealing with the cultural context that they were dealing with.  Clearly this tree, in verse 5, is an idol much like the Asherah poles mentioned in 1 Kings 14:23 and other passages.  One needs only to look at Isaiah 44:14-19 to see how a tree was cut down and fashioned into an idol.  The whole purpose of the tree spoken there was to serve as an idol where the people bowed down to it in worship.  Christmas (even Jesus) was not even a thought so how could Jeremiah be recording the words of God speaking to our present day Christmas tree?  Furthermore, the tree was an idol because it was worshipped.  When was the last time you saw someone bowing down worshipping a tree?  An idol is ANYTHING that takes the place of God so anything can be an idol because everything has been an idol.  A relationship with your husband could be an idol.  Your children can be idols.  Power, fame and fortune all can be idols because they take the place only God has a right to contain in our hearts.  So if a Christmas tree takes the place of God then it is an idol (doubtful anyone does this at all) but to say Jeremiah 10 applies to our present-day Christmas trees is poor biblical study and haphazard exegesis.  Do your homework.

  • The second objection to Christmas comes from Galatians 4:10 where Paul was against the Galatian observance of special days and months.

Again, there are three rules to proper interpretation I learned while an undergraduate bible student at Freed-Hardeman University: 1) Context, 2) Context and, 3) Context.  What is the context of this passage?  First of all the context is with the occasion of which Paul wrote the letter to those in Galatia.  They were apparently being bombarded with false teachers (1:6; 5:12) and apparently they are Jews who want the Galatians to keep certain elements of the Jewish faith.  Paul encourages them that Christ’s death brought about a new covenant (3:23-27; 4:4-5) in which they do not have to follow the old aspects of the Mosaic Law like circumcision (2:3), customs (2:14-15) and ceremonies (4:10).  Why?  Because there is now freedom in Christ and circumcision and customs have no merit but only faith expressed from love (5:1-6).  This is the context of 4:10.  They were recognizing Jewish ceremonies and BINDING it on the brethren which defeated the purpose of Christ’s death.  Christmas, in juxtaposition, supports Christ’s death and celebrates the new law.  The old ceremonies kept them captive but Christmas celebrates the freedom that “Christ has set us free” (5:1).  Furthermore, Paul said in Romans 14:5, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers everday alike.  Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”  The point?  Do not be divisive about this kind of stuff.  Besides, did Paul, in Galatians 4:10, really speak out against special days?

These are two major objections from the Scriptures that usually are tossed out there that can easily be refuted just understanding one rule: context.  Tomorrow is the last post.

Moving from Iraenaus’ claim to the apostle John we find comfort in knowing that it was God who came down to be one of us…to be one with us.

14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15( John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'”) 16And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.  (John 1:14-18)

A few things to note about this text that is worthy of reflection and devotion.  First of all, the Word became flesh.  Describe this?  I am not sure what happened but I know that he “emptied himself” (Phil 2:7) which means, in my opinion, that Jesus abdicated his rightful place on the throne of God and took on the form of something lesser…us.  Secondly, Jesus did this so that we would receive grace and truth.  Without this moment we do not have access to the father.

13For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Heb. 9:13-14)

How is this possible? Because it was the plan altogether (see John 1:1-4; Col. 1:16-17; Heb 1:1-2).  During this time of the year we celebrate the plan that God wrought through His son.  We celebrate the plan that Jesus executed as he was executed.  No matter how you put it, the birth of Jesus points to the death of Jesus.  In the season of giving presents, decorating houses, drinking hot cocoa, eating fruit cake and kissing under mistletoe isn’t it much more meaningful (although I do like kissing under mistletoe) to recognize the Savior of the world?  Tim Keller, in a context of discussing reasons for the existence of God, reiterates the importance of Jesus coming to this world:

In the Christian view, however, the ultimate evidence for the existence of God is Jesus Christ himself.  If there is a God, we characters in his play have to hope that he put some information about himself in the play.  But Christians believe he did more than give us information.  He wrote himself into the play as the main character in history, when Jesus was born in a manger and rose from the dead.  He is the one with whom we have to do.[1]


[1] Tim Keller, The Reason for God, (New York: Riverhead Books, 2008): 128

I am not sure you understand the seriousness of why Christ came to the world and that moment we are to celebrate.  When Jesus came to the world he assumed the full capacity of humans and became the living sacrifice for our sins when he was killed on the cross.  Docetism is the heresy that Jesus only “appeared” to be human but actually he could not be human because all matter, according to Gnosticism, was evil and Jesus could not assume something that was evil.  Irenaeus, Tertullian and Ignatius all spoke against this heresy defending the fact that when Jesus came to this world he relinquished his deity to assume humanity with the purpose of saving mankind.  Jack Cottrell gives three reasons why Jesus had to do this:[1]

  1. Only a person with a real body could sacrifice his life and suffer death (Heb. 2:14; 9:22).
  2. If Jesus was to save us totally from our sin then he must be human to recognize what all of sin is about (2 Cor. 5:21).  In response to docetics Irenaeus is famous in saying “What the Son has not assumed he cannot redeem” (Against Heresies).
  3. Because there can only be one mediator between man and God and the humanity of Jesus depends on this.

Having said all of this I point you back towards Christ’s birth.  The moment Christ comes is the moment where God the Father allows his Son to begin a journey to train leaders, to begin the church but most importantly to sacrifice himself as the appeasement of a debt incurred by all of humanity.  A debt incurred by you and me.  Is it any wonder why the angels and magi were compelled to worship him?  When Jesus came to the earth it became God with us…for his name is Immanuel.

[1] Jack Cottrell, The Faith Once for All, (Joplin, MO: College Press, 2002): 230-31.  There are volumes of material that deal with early century heresies like Gnosticism, Sabellianism and docetism which are available online.  I thank Dr. Harold Hazelip who introduced me to this study and I am forever grateful to him.

Dwell on Christmas and the first things that captivates your thoughts are the gifts under the tree.  However, long before the cups of hot cocoa around a fire of crackling-ambers there was the anticipation of something bigger than what material could offer.  The event we celebrate as Jesus’ birth was the righting of wrongs and Isaiah, long before the gospels, (7:14) was told of a virgin who would bear a son and that his name would be called Immanuel (Hebrew for “God with us”).  David, long before Isaiah, talked about a king who reign on a holy hill (Zion) and that all who take refuge in this person would be blessed (Psalm 2).  Ruth, long before David, had her world rocked when her husband died but was able to wed Boaz who became the father of Obed, who was the father of Jesse, the father of David where the lineage of Christ comes from (Ruth 4:17).

In Isaiah there are four servant songs (Isaiah 42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-9; 52:12-53:12) that define the chosen one who will bring justice to all nations and that he will be a light to all nations but will do so through suffering and ridicule.  If that does not stir you to praise then think about this very carefully:

Imagine being displaced from your home to a foreign nation only to be oppressed, mistreated and forced to serve as indentured servants.  You hear a prophet declaring to you that “from the root of Jesse” will come hope for the nation of Israel (see Isaiah 11:1) but it has not come yet.  So days, weeks, months and years pass and still there is no mashiach (Hebrew word for Messiah meaning “anointed one”) and your hopes grow stronger in anticipation with each passing second.  You long for something better to make everything complete as it was said (or at least told) to you from the Rabbi.

This was the state for Israel and then…just as it was prophesied…God came to this world and Mary bore a son and named him, Jesus.  Imagine growing up listening to teaching after teaching about this mashiach who would redeem mankind and now He is here!  Now He is here.

So how do we respond to this?  Look at how the angels responded:

13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”  (Luke 2:13-14).

I think that is an excellent starting point.  Worship!  The moment God came down to be with us is the moment where everything suddenly became right and now the plan was established for the salvation of all souls.  Tom Wright, in Simply Christian, words it best.

“So what is Christianity about then?  Christianity is all about the belief that the living God, in fulfillment of his promises and as the climax of the story of Israel, has accomplished all of this—the finding, the saving, the giving of new life—in Jesus.  He has done it.  With Jesus, God’s rescue operation has been put into effect once and for all.  A great door has swung open in the cosmos which can never again be shut.  It’s the door to the prison where we’ve been kept chained up.  We are offered freedom: freedom to experience God’s rescue for ourselves, to go through the open door and explore the new world to which we now have access.  In particular, we are all invited—summoned actually—to discover, through following Jesus, that this new world is indeed a place of justice, spirituality, relationship, and beauty, and that we are not only to enjoy it as such but to work at bringing it to birth on earth as in heaven.  In listening to Jesus, we discover whose voice it is that has echoed around the hearts and minds of the human race all along.”[1]

That echo comes from one source…the birth of Jesus.  Rejoice friends…Salvation is here! 

[1].  N. T. Wright, Simply Christian (New York: HarperOne, 2006): 92.

This is part 3 in a series of posts discussing the need to remember the birth of Jesus this time of year and the appropriateness of doing so in our churches.  I think, though, there are many misconceptions about Christmas that I want to at least address to you before we move on to theology.

  1. Jesus was born on December 25th. We really do not know…end of discussion.
  2. Jesus was born in a manger in a barn.  Jesus was placed in a manger because there was no room for him at the local inn (Luke 2:7).  The “manger” is not something glamorous or awe-inspiring as it was a trough to feed animals.  I know that does not sell very well in stores but the fact is that our Lord was born in tumultuous times and Joseph and Mary had to make do with what was available.
  3. There were three wisemen.  Actually these men were “magi” sent by Herod himself (Matt. 2:7) and the reason people think there were three was because there were three gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matt. 2:11).  We do not know how many there were.  Magi were actually students of the stars rather than people of wisdom.[1] This all points to the idea that they were fascinated about this star that guided them to the baby.
  4. Santa Clause is real.  I am sorry if I burst your bubble but the fact is that this character receives all the credit for gifts when God should receive the credit as the ultimate gift-bearer.  Santa is not real.  This creates a moral dilemma for some (i.e. “Are we lying to our kids?”) but for others “Santa” is taught to kids as a way of showing who God is (i.e. “Santa is a metaphor for a characteristic of who God is.”).
  5. Church members are greedy around Christmas time which is why we should not celebrate it. Now hold on a second.  I know many church members who spend hundreds of dollars for their children on Christmas.  However, these very same people also spend hundreds of dollars on other people’s children…then they give money for Christmas service projects…all of this while still giving money to the collection.  I would say they are actually being better stewards than the people who disagree with them.  Can we go overboard?  Yes!  Should we be cognizant of how we spend our money?  Yes!  However, I cannot say someone is morally amiss when they are using their abundance to help people in need.
  6. Christmas was pagan in origin.  It’s just not true and see comment #4 in the previous post for an answer to this.  This brings up another question though…how would you define pagan?  Anything of the world could be seen as pagan right (1 John 2:15-17)?[2] So do you celebrate the 4th of July?  I do not see that in Scripture?  Do you celebrate Veteran’s Day?  That’s not in Scripture either.  Both of those holidays are pagan meaning worldly meaning not from God but we still talk about veterans and America from our pulpits yet mention the birth of Christ and it is a church of Christ faux pas.
  7. A Christmas celebration in our churches would be eccentric and disorderly. I think this is absolutely untrue.[3] I am not advocating a special Christmas day service nor do I believe churches should decorate the auditorium, church grounds or whatever.  I do believe truth should be taught (remember Acts 20:26-27?) about the birth from the pulpit and incorporate some of the gospel hymns that speak of Jesus’ birth (Joy to the World, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, O Come O Come Emmanuel).  I think it would make the readings, Lord’s Supper, songs and sermon all more meaningful tying it in to the FACT that Jesus came to this world.

What other misconceptions do you perceive about Christmas?

[1].  Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew(Pillar Series), (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992): 35-36.

[2] .  By pagan I think they mean that it was of polytheistic origins or that it partook in sensual desires but I think you will see my reasoning.

[3].  Although, I am sure this kind of thing occurs in some churches.

The origin of Christmas is a topic worthy of discussion because it is one not typically addressed.  If you read the birth narratives in Scripture (Matt. 1-2:12; Luke 1-2:21) there is mention of gifts given by the magi but that seems to have been a custom common no matter what season it was.  The word “Christmas” comes from “the Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038. ‘Cristes’ is from Greek Christos and ‘mæsse’ is from Latin missa (the holy mass).”[1]

“The earliest known reference to the date of the nativity as December 25 is found in the Chronography of 354, an illuminated manuscript compiled in Rome.”[2] The prominence of Christmas developed in the Middle Ages and then the Reformation period where the focus came towards gift-giving and celebration.  The early Christians were unaware of the exact date of the birth of Jesus and so they, for the most part, did not have a celebration. “In 245, the theologian Origen of Alexandria stated that, ‘only sinners (like Pharaoh and Herod)’ celebrated their birthdays.  In 303, Christian writer Arnobius ridiculed the idea of celebrating the birthdays of gods, which suggests that Christmas was not yet a feast at this time.”[3]

What about the carols, the gift-giving, decorations and jolly ole’ Saint Nick?  If you read the article in Wikipedia they all were creations of man that do not have its origins in Scripture.[4] I do not want to bore you with all of the historical details but it may help you to note that Puritans from England banned Christmas celebration calling it a pagan ritual with no biblical justification.

I do not pretend to know everything about the origins of Christmas and it seems there is a mixture of good and bad.  The date of the birth of Christ remains a mystery for historians regardless of arguments given.  However, it still goes back to Scripture in that a huge portion of the biblical text either addresses the coming of the Messiah (i.e. anticipation) or the actual birth narratives themselves.  Matthew and Luke thought it was important for Christians to know the story of how Christ came to this earth.  This is a story that deserves to be told.

An angel of the Lord appeared to them [Joseph and Mary], and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:9-11)

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Christmas.”Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (Accessed November 20, 2010).  I understand Wikipedia is not the most scholarly resource but it does cite their work and it seems to be somewhat credible.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Other helpful websites are (a Jewish perspective on Christmas).  For an example of taking verses out of context see  For a defense of Christmas against paganism please see

Christmas 1

November 29, 2010 — 7 Comments

The results of the poll are final and it looks like a total of 29 people voted and 65% of you believe that “Christmas”, in some form or fashion, should be celebrated in our congregations.  That is a majority of you but there is a large amount (10 people) who believe Christmas should not be celebrated.  The comments (click here) for the post were all positive and I did not receive negative feedback so I am just going to have to speak about negative comments as I have experienced.  To begin this series I want to first tell my story and then tell you where I want to go for the next few posts.  I did not grow up in the church of Christ (you know what that means) but was raised with a bend towards Christianity.  We celebrated Christmas like most Americans in that we exchanged gifts and met as a family to eat around the table and often we would attend my cousin’s church for their Christmas Eve worship that involved bells, organs, singing, a message and warm faces.  I believe Christmas was special for me because of the gifts but I also knew that it was important for the world because of this guy named Jesus and that he came to make everything right.  That’s all I knew.  For my family it was THE time of the year where we gathered as a family to share in laughter, story and even song.

Fast forward a few years and I was baptized in 1999 and my life changed as I knew it.  I remember my freshman year in college coming home for Christmas and attending the college class taught by a man I still admire to this day.  There was one gentleman in the class who was the disagreeable type but he was constantly searching for answers.  The discussion of Christmas came up and he stated, quite strongly, that Christians should not celebrate Christmas because the origins of this celebration are pagan.  Furthermore, he argued from Scripture that even having a Christmas tree was a form of idolatry (tree worship) that was practiced in the Old Testament (see Jer. 10:3-5, 32-33).  He also quoted Galatians 4:10 discussing that the observance of special days was not something Christians should do.  There was much debate over this at the time but I left feeling deeply discouraged for I thought that it was a good thing to talk about the birth of Jesus considering it was in Scripture.  I thought exchanging gifts was a means of giving out of your plenty and showing each other the true character of Jesus.

Here I am 11 years removed from that Wednesday night classroom and I am still discouraged.  I mentioned the word “Christmas” from the pulpit and I had someone come up to me after worship and shared this:

Person:  “Robbie, what’s the real reason for the season?”

Robbie:  “Why don’t you tell me?”

Person:  “We don’t know when Christ was born.”  (He was implying to me we should not talk about it)

I love this person but I could not disagree anymore and I feel strongly about this.  I want to offer a series of lessons discussing a real purpose for Christmas that is Scriptural and incarnational.  I will point out how the church actually is worse off for not emphasizing the real reason for Christmas.  There is a great possibility for us if we take this openly and honestly.

  • Lesson #2:  Origins of Christmas
  • Lesson #3:  Misconceptions of Christmas
  • Lesson #4:  Anticipating the Messiah
  • Lesson #5:  God in Flesh (Part 1)
  • Lesson #6:  God in Flesh (Part 2)
  • Lesson #7:  Objections Answered
  • Lesson #8:  Advent Implications

Stay tuned…