The shops are again full of decorations, gift suggestions and piped Christmas music. Our colleagues and neighbours are making their annual plans for over-indulgence. And churches are once more beginning arrangements for carol services to mark the birth of Christ, because for most Christians Christmas is a highlight, if not the highlight, of the religious calendar.
It may be surprising to us, but in His wisdom God has given us little information about Christ’s birth and His word places little emphasis on it. It is bypassed completely by Mark and John. Luke gives us the fullest account. Matthew mentions it in passing while dealing with the events before and after it. This is very different from other events in Christ’s life which are described in detail in all four Gospels, such as the feeding of the five thousand. It is insignificant compared with the events leading up to and relating to Christ’s death and resurrection which occupy large parts of each Gospel.
“No Such Commandment”
Nowhere in the scriptures do we find commands to mark Christ’s birth, nor do we read of such celebrations being kept. Indeed, only two birthday celebrations are mentioned in the scriptures at all – those of Pharaoh and Herod. This is in complete contrast to remembering the death of Christ, which God’s word commands us to do and which records the early believers as doing.
Not kept by the early churches
We know that the death of Christ was celebrated from the beginning and that this evolved into the three days of Easter. But there is no mention of celebrating Christ’s birth in the many post-Apostolic writings which have survived. In AD 245 the theologian Origen described the Roman practice of celebrating birthdays as pagan, which strongly suggests that Christ’s birthday was not being marked at that time.
When was Christ born?
This idea that Christmas was probably not celebrated until the fourth century seems to coincide with the fact that for centuries there was considerable debate about the actual date of Christ’s birth. It is difficult to celebrate someone’s birthday without knowing when they were born!
The first contribution in early church writings to this discussion is found in a work by Clement of Alexandria in about AD 200. He mentioned several possibilities: March, April, and May – but not December.
“Be not conformed to this world”
The keeping of non-religious Christmas customs should be a matter of conscience: “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). But as for celebrating Christ’s birth:
- God does not want us to mark the birth of His Son once a year.
- If He had wanted this, He would have given us the date and told us how to do it.
- By doing so, we are copying a man-made festival from a false Church (the coming of which the apostles warned about), instigated for the wrong reason and at the wrong time.
Rod Hale (edited)
Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come and let us walk In the light of the LORD.” (Isaiah 2:2–5).
How, when, where, why and whom do we worship? Whose example should we follow? Whose should we not? What was worship like in the time of Abraham? And what might it be like in the kingdom of God?
The Bible is full of examples of true and false worship. True worship exalts the God of Israel, whereas false worship exalts other things or other people above God, often to the extent of denying His power and existence altogether.
Throughout the Bible, we are warned to avoid such false worship, often called idolatry. For millennia, it was common practice among the nations to devise gods who ruled over specific things like the harvest, fertility, rain or sun. Although these gods were said to have power over the elements, worshipping them was ultimately about a human desire for power and control. If a nation wanted rain, they offered sacrifices to the god of the rain. If they wanted to win a battle, they offered sacrifices to the god of war. Far from seeking a personal relationship with their gods and serving them in love, the question on their minds was: “What can this god do for me?”
Our idols do not live on Mount Olympus, and we do not build household shrines for them into the walls of our living rooms. They are less obvious, more subtle, more insidious. They are hobbies and money, work and friends. They are the things that distract us from putting God first. Often, our biggest idol is our pride and our ego: “What makes me feel happy? How can I look after number one?”
True worship takes the focus off self and directs our attention towards God. The God of Israel, whom we love and serve, asks for a humble attitude of mind, a gentle spirit and a heart willing to seek out the truth. True worship exalts God and acknowledges that He is in control. Rather than demanding things of God, true worship is about thankfulness and praise for the gifts He gives us.
God is not asking you to build an altar and burn animals on it. Instead, He asks for your commitment, loyalty and love. So let us offer our lives as living sacrifices, and honour our God by trying to imitate Him in all that we say and do.
God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:24
from Faith Alive