Some Thoughts on Christmas
I actually don't believe that God intended for us to celebrate the birth of Christ, so I am one of those who purposely separates any religious aspects from Christmas -- which is actually quite easy to do. I see Christmas as a holiday that is dedicated to some good virtues. Just like Thanksgiving in the U.S. is dedicated to the virtue of being thankful; I see Christmas as being dedicated to giving, sharing, and joy. I just don't include the birth of Jesus in it.
The quickest thing that I can tell you about Christmas and the Bible is that Christmas is never mentioned. There is no instruction or even a hint of instruction for us to memorialize the birth of Jesus. There is certainly nothing about exchanging gifts, Christmas trees, lights, candles, yule logs, Santa Claus (or any of his other dozen names), nativity scenes, or anything like them.
The best explanation I heard about the introduction of Christmas into the Christian culture was the Catholic church used it to convince some pagan cultures to get rid of their Winter solstice festivals and start worshipping Jesus instead. The Catholics allowed each group to essentially keep their practices -- just as long as they could come up with a way to make it work for Jesus. One group had the yule log and another group a decorated tree. Nearly everything was acceptable as long as you claimed you were not worshipping the return of the sun and were instead worshipping the coming of the Son.
The modern practice, of course, is such an odd mixture of various flavors of paganism that it is impossible to claim that anything is exactly as it was when it started. I don't think that it matters. Currently, I see some denominations trying to push a campaign of "put Christ back into Christmas", but they are really fighting a losing battle. Jesus was never really in Christmas. Even the things that seem closest to actually being related to the birth of Christ are wrong. Take the nativity scene for example. It looks the most religious of anything that has something to do with Jesus. However, the characters are mixed up. There are always three wise men -- the Bible says there were three kinds of gifts, but it does not say that there were only three wise men. The shepherds and the wise men are together at the manger and yet there is no indication in the Bible that the wise men got anywhere near Bethlehem while the shepherds were still on the scene. In fact, since Joseph and Mary make the sacrifice of a poor man at the consecration of Jesus (see Luke 2:21-24 and then Leviticus 12:1,8) that would argue that they had not yet gotten any of the gold that was given by the wise men. If Joseph had the means to offer the gift of the wealthy, he would have done so because it would have been required. So, most likely the shepherds came before the presentation in the temple (as recorded in Luke 2) and the wise men showed up afterward (as recorded in Matthew 2). And there is the problem with the manger itself. The word in Greek means an animal stall and not the eating trough. Yet, most people think Jesus was born in an eating trough. One last big problem is the day itself. It is wintertime in Israel near the winter solstice. Shepherds are not out in the field at night during the winter. The Romans were not so dumb as to require a census at the start of the winter -- they could have lost hundreds of people to exposure. The empire was huge. The census would have extended up into areas that had snow. To require people to relocate for a census would have induced food shortages and people freezing to death. That was not their method of controlling the population.
Of course, over time, people add other things to the scene that are never mentioned in the Bible at all, like the little drummer boy. In the end, we are left with a scene that is supposed to explain the truth about Jesus, but instead, it has become a scene that misrepresents the story. Seems like an odd way to honor the author of truth.
On top of that, the whole season is crazy. Jesus did not have a place to call his own (Matthew 8:20) and yet people will spend themselves in poverty trying to give the most lavish gifts to their friends and family. They will fight people for the latest material possession -- all in the name of having the best Christmas ever. It is like they are worshipping at the altar of greed (which is idolatry -- see Ephesians 5:5) and then go around "blessing people" for their contribution to piety. It is a very mixed-up season. It seems to me that it accomplishes way too much that ultimately dishonors the one that is claimed to be the reason for the day in the first place.
I find it much easier to leave Jesus out of it; honor Jesus the way that Jesus asked to be honored, and help promote at least some of the godly virtues that this world certainly needs more of. So, in the spirit of the virtues of the season, I wish you a Merry Christmas.