January 19, 2018

Why We Make Christmas Last All Month

Pastor Don Johnson

Christmas is a problem for some, both Christians and non-Christians. I don’t mean the problems of materialism and the lack of “Christ in Christmas,” I mean the fact that Christmas is celebrated at all. For non-Christians, the objection is a matter of pride as they look down on “The Church” and its foolish celebration of what is only, after all, a pagan holiday. For Christians who struggle with the idea of celebrating Christmas, that challenge of unbelievers is taken to heart. They wonder if it is right to celebrate Christmas given the fact (so they believe) that Christmas is really something the church did to “Christianize” pagan celebrations.

In the past, I have spent some time researching these connections. I don’t wish to belabor the point here, but the connections between Christmas and various pagan winter festivals is dubious at best. We can’t just base our decisions on something that “everybody knows” because quite often those things that “everybody knows” are actually not true. In this case, the idea that the church simply replaced pagan holidays is not proven (at best).

Christians arrived at the date for Christ’s birth as December 25th by virtue of coming to the conclusion that the miraculous conception of Christ occurred on March 25th. So the birth of course occurred nine months after conception. There is no proof that I know of for the date of conception, but all of this fits into the reasoning that fixed the celebration of Christ’s birth in late December. The fact that pagans also had festivals at about that time is coincidental, not necessarily an effort to replace the one with the other.

Suppose, however, the church actually did replace the pagan festivals with Christian festivals? Would that necessarily be wrong? All people like to have festivities. In the New Testament we are called to replace the old man with the new man. Should the new man have no festivals? (Some Puritans thought so.) And of all the events in the Christian calendar to celebrate, what better event to celebrate than the Incarnation (and the death, burial and resurrection as well)? The miracle of God becoming a man in order to save men from their sins is certainly something worth celebrating.

This brings us to our first reason for making Christmas last a whole month long. The Incarnation is the amazing miracle that makes salvation possible. It is incredible to think that God would condescend to become a man in order to save us. As we look back, we discover that the whole point of the Old Testament — thousands of years of human history — was to bring us to the manger in Bethlehem and then to the cross on Calvary. Without the Incarnation, there would be no Resurrection and no salvation. The Incarnation is vital to our spiritual life. Consequently, we find that we have something to celebrate. We could choose any time of the year to celebrate it, but it is convenient to celebrate it in December as the whole world pauses for their festival at this time of year as well (we aren’t sure exactly what their festival is anymore, it isn’t Christmas!).

Besides celebrating the glorious doctrine of the Incarnation, we also have a pastoral purpose in making December (and sometimes bits of November) focus on the Incarnation for the month. That purpose is, firstly, for the edification of the saints, or, to put it in one word, for discipleship. The truth of the doctrine of Christ establishes the faith of Christians. It is the bedrock on which the church is built. When Jesus asked the disciples who he was, Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mt 16.16) Jesus responded, “upon this rock I will build My church.” (Mt 16.18) Jesus meant the bedrock of doctrine for the church is the realization that Jesus is not just a man, but indeed he is the promised Messiah, more than a man, indeed the Son of the living God.

Disciples who have this truth firmly embedded in their conscious and sub-conscious mind are not swayed as they are challenged by life’s troubles or pressured by false prophets and false teachers. They know what they know and on what their souls depend. As a pastor, I want our people to be fully persuaded of The Christ they follow. It establishes their faith and helps them grow as Christians.

In addition to the edification of the saints, I have an evangelistic purpose in preaching the incarnation for a month of Sundays. One of the great stumbling blocks to the unconverted mind is the person of Christ. We emphasize again and again who Jesus is during the month of December. We emphasize his real humanity, his identification with us (how could you not, with a real babe crying in a real manger?). We emphasize his deity, as the Son of God, celebrated by men and angels. We emphasize his purpose as the substitutionary sacrifice for men’s sins. We emphasize his resurrection to provide life for the saints and his return offering real hope for eternity to come.

When the lost man is confronted with these truths, the gospel is unleashed to do its work. The lost man must realize that his sins brought this Christ to the earth for the purpose of dying for him. He must realize that this Christ is capable of paying for his sins and offering him eternal life. He must realize that if he puts his faith in him, this Christ will indeed return to bring about his salvation and secure his future.

In short, of all the times to invite lost friends to church during the year, perhaps no time is better than the month of Sundays we preach the Incarnation. We mean to challenge people with the gospel this month. Think about it. This year, it is unlikely that you will get friends to come out on Christmas Day, but that leaves two more Sundays you can invite friends to come with you to celebrate Christmas all month long.

Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.

This article first appeared in the Sunday Bulletin of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, December 4, 2016.

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