Merry CHRISTmas! Christmas has been and continues to be celebrated around the globe by followers of Jesus (Yeshua) who is the Christ (Messiah). Celebrations of Christmas, however, have not always been focused on Jesus’ birth. In the USA, many people celebrate Christmas without any connection to Christ. Celebrations of Christmas happen and have happened in ways that are devoid of God, Christ, or the Good News which His birth proclaims to Israel and the world.
At various times and places, celebrations of Christmas have neither been received nor accepted among followers of Jesus. There have been times when celebrating Christmas was illegal and forbidden due to the horrible things that took place during those celebrations. This blog is not written regarding a secular or consumeristic Christmas where material possessions are central and Christmas is equated with other get togethers between family members and friends. Nor is this post written regarding celebrations which have engaged in pagan practices—practices of worship outside of the Judaic-Christian worldview and practice—which have also at times born the title, “Christmas.” Rather, this blog is written concerning the celebration of the miraculous birth of Jesus who is the Christ. This blog seeks to raise and provide an answer to the question: “Should we as followers of Jesus (Yeshua) celebrate Christmas?”
Some object to celebrating Jesus’ birth on Christmas because of the secular and/or pagan elements that have been introduced, blended, and far too often accepted by those who celebrate Christmas. These objections should be heard and should be considered as Christians—followers of Jesus from Jews and Gentiles—decide what practices they will participate in should they decide to celebrate Christmas. However, as mentioned above, this blog is not written concerning such forms of Christmas. So please forgive me for moving on from this objection at this point.
Some object to celebrating Jesus’ birth on Christmas because Jesus was not born on December 25th. Jesus was not born in the winter. As shepherds were staying out in the fields at night with their sheep during the time Jesus’ birth (cf. Luke 2:1-12), He was not born in winter time. Though we do not know the day Jesus was born, we know it was either during spring or fall. However, celebrating Christmas as the birth of the Christ does not demand a celebration on the exact date. It is not the date, but the significance of the event that is the cause of the celebration. The event can be celebrated on any day set aside for such purposes. This is true for all celebrations that are memorial in nature—whether of a birth, a marriage, a first date, a graduation, etc.
This year, 2020, of all years has brought forth circumstances that have caused events and celebrations to be altered. Whether celebrations are prevented, postponed or shifted to an earlier date do not nullify such celebrations. Does an adjusted day for celebrating an event remove the celebration itself? Not at all. Suppose a child celebrates their birthday on Sunday even though the date of their birth was on Monday. Does such an adjustment—made in order to enable family and friends to join in the festivities—nullify that child’s birthday celebration? Not at all! In the same way, though Jesus the Christ (Yeshua the Messiah) was not born on December 25th, followers of Jesus can choose to celebrate His incarnation and birth on this day just as has been done for centuries. As December 25 is near the time of the winter solstice, the celebration of the Light come into the world takes place around or on the shortest and darkest days of the year for those of us living in the northern hemisphere. As such, the season serves as a symbol speaking of spiritual realities of which Jesus Himself spoke.
Jesus once said to the teacher of Israel, “Now this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world and men loved the darkness instead of the light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19, TLV). The context of Jesus’ words there are His coming into the world, when God sent His Son into the world in order to save the world (cf. John 3:17). At another time Jesus declared Himself to be the Light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5; cf. 3:19). As the Light of the world, Jesus has ignited His followers and sent them forth as lights in the world as well (Matt. 5:14; cf. Luke 16:8). In other words, Jesus speaks of His life and earthly ministry as bringing forth God’s promised light to Israel and the Nations (cf. Isaiah 5:20, 26; 9:1-6 in Hebrew versions; 9:2-7 in English versions; 42:6; 49:6; 60:1-3). Jesus then sends forth His followers into Israel and the Nations to bear and produce this light (cf. John 3:16-18; 20:21). The light of the world gets brighter and brighter as followers of Jesus live like He lived and make Him known, just as the days following Christmas get longer and longer. In light of such things, why object to such a great seasonal opportunity to speak of spiritual realities to those around us by appealing to the natural realities? This is, after all, what Jesus was doing while speaking to Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel (cf. John 3:1-15).
Advent season and Christmas have been the start of the Church’s liturgical year for many years. Throughout the centuries, the events which shaped the worship and year for followers of Jesus began with the celebration that the Lord has come and with preparation for Him to come again! Though Advent is often understood as a time of preparation for Christ’s first coming—for Christmas—Advent is historically a season to prepare for the return of Christ. Even Christmas itself is incomplete if we stop at the manger. The reason why His birth is celebrated is because of what Christ came to do and what Christ is returning to do—namely, to fulfill God’s promises to His people Israel and the world! This is the Good News: that what God has promised, He has and is doing through the Messiah Jesus. This Good News is for Israel and for all nations, for all who repent and trust in the One appointed as Lord and Messiah of Israel and all creation—Jesus! Throughout the centuries, sisters and brothers in Christ have used the season of Advent and the celebration of Christmas to repent over their sins and the sins of the world, to seek to live in light of the Good News, and to make the Good News known to others. Is that kind of Christmas worth celebrating for followers of Jesus? I think so!
Some, however, have raised the objection to celebrating Christmas because there is no Scriptural mandate for such a celebration. It is true. There is no Scriptural command to celebrate birthdays, nor is there a command to celebrate Jesus’ birth. However, we see the precedent for celebrating Christmas in Scripture in two ways. First, Jesus and His followers celebrated things not commanded to be celebrated in Scripture. Second, Scripture declares celebrations taking place because of Jesus’ birth.
First, Jesus and His followers celebrated things not commanded to be celebrated in Scripture. Though marriage is very important in Scripture, there is no command to have a wedding. Yet, Jesus and His followers were at a wedding celebration in Cana when He performed His first miracle (John 2:1-11). Also, though the Feast of Dedication—Hanukkah—is not commanded to be celebrated in Scripture, Jesus and His disciples celebrated Hanukkah. Jesus was in the Temple teaching in Solomon’s colonnade during this festival (John 10:22ff.). Thus, Jesus and His disciples celebrated important events in the lives of people and events regarding God’s faithfulness to His people Israel—even though they were not commanded in Scripture. In the same way, followers of Jesus are welcomed to celebrate important events in the lives of people and events regarding God’s faithfulness to His people Israel—such as Christmas as the celebration and remembrance of Jesus’ incarnation and birth bringing forth the Messiah, salvation, and God’s Kingdom to Israel—even though they are not commanded in Scripture.
Second, Scripture declares celebrations taking place because of Jesus’ birth. Though there is no command to celebrate Jesus’ birth, Scripture unashamedly records celebrations in the womb, on earth, in heaven, and amongst followers of Jesus because Jesus became a human being and was born!
- Jesus’ birth was celebrated while He was in Mary’s womb!
- Prior to Jesus’ birth, John the Baptist, who was six months old in the womb of his mother, leaped for joy in the presence of Jesus, who was just a few days or weeks old in Mary’s womb. As John danced in his mother’s womb, she was filled with the Holy Spirit and blessed Mary because of Jesus—the Lord who was the Child God promised to be born of Mary (Luke 1:39-45)!
- Mary burst out in a song of great joy to God because of Jesus’ miraculous conception and upcoming birth! Yes, Mary magnified the God of Israel, her Savior, for looking upon her and Israel by showing His mercy promised to Abraham and his seed forever (Luke 1:46-55)!
- Three months later, at the time John the Baptist was born—still some six months prior to Jesus’ birth—John’s father praised God and prophesied concerning John and Jesus (Luke 1:56-79). Yes, the priest Zechariah, who had been mute for ten months awaiting the birth of his son (vv.12-22), was miraculously enabled to speak again on the day John was circumcised and named (vv. 59-67). Zechariah prophesied and praised the LORD, the God of Israel, because of Jesus— “the horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David” (Luke 1:69, TLV). Zechariah praised God and spoke of how his son, John, would go before and prepare the way of the Lord—Jesus— “to give knowledge of salvation to His people through removal of their sins” (v. 77), and, “to guide our feet in the way of shalom [peace]” (v. 79b)!
- Jesus’ birth was proclaimed and celebrated in heaven and on earth!
- On the night Jesus was born, an angel of the Lord appeared and proclaimed the Good News that would bring great joy for all people: “A Savior is born to you today in the city of David, who is Messiah the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
- A multitude of angelic armies then appeared in the sky and praised God saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth shalom [peace] to men of good will” (Luke 2:14).
- The shepherd who heard this Good News and this song of praise then ran to Bethlehem to see the truth of this Good News. After seeing the new born Savior, Messiah and Lord Jesus, they went out telling the Good News and praising God just as the angels had done (Luke 2:15-20)!
- When one-month-old Jesus was presented in the Temple, prophets praised the God of Israel!
- According to the instruction in the Torah, Joseph and Mary brough Jesus to the Temple to offer the sacrifice of atonement for a firstborn son after Mary waited 33 days for her purification (Lev. 12; Luke 2:21-24).
- While in the Temple, Simeon—who was full of the Holy Spirit and was waiting to see the Messiah before he died—took the infant Jesus in his arms and blessed God declaring that he had now seen God’s “salvation” which had been “prepared in the presence of all peoples: ‘A light for revelation to the nations’ and the glory of [His] people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32; cf. Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 60:1-3).
- Simeon then went on to speak of the life and death of Jesus, when a prophetess name Anna, came “up at that very instant, [and] she began praising God and speaking about the Child to all those waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).
- When Jesus was two years old, wise men came to worship Him!
- A miraculous star had appeared in the sky when Jesus was born. This star fulfilled the prophecy spoken of by Balaam about a King who would later arise from Israel and rule over the nations who would be Israel’s enemies in the future (Numbers 24:15-24).
- Wise men from the east saw and recognized this star which had appeared two years prior as proclaiming the birth of the King of the Jews to whom all nations would serve, and they came to worship him (Matthew 2:1-2, 7, 9-10, 16).
- The wise men presented Jesus, the King of Jews with gifts identifying Him as King, Lord, and Sacrifice, and they worshiped Him before returning to their distant country (Matthew 2:1-2,9-12).
- The early followers of Jesus, sang hymns which spoke of His birth!
- Philippians 2:6-11 contains an early hymn speaking of Christ Jesus.
- In this hymn, Jesus’ pre-existence as God, His self-emptying by becoming a human being, His willingness to humbly die on the cross, His resurrection, His exaltation as “LORD” of all creation, and His future reign and homage are proclaimed.
- The early Christians sang songs of worship which spoke of Jesus’ incarnation!
- The Good News begins with reference to Jesus’ birth!
- The four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—are together the Gospel or the Good News about Jesus. Three of these four gospels explicitly begin their gospel with Jesus’ incarnation—with Him becoming a human being.
- Matthew traces the genealogy starting with Abraham, through David, and to Joseph who was engaged to Mary. Matthew then records the miraculous conception and virgin birth bringing fulfillment to Isaiah’s prophecy regarding Immanuel (Matthew 1; cf. Isaiah 7:14; 8:8, 10).
- Luke begins his gospel with the miraculous conceptions and births of both John and of Jesus. Both were miraculously conceived and Jesus was born to the virgin Mary. Luke then traces the events of Jesus’ birth, circumcision, dedication, and bar-mitzvah (Luke 1-2).
- John begins his gospel speaking of Jesus’ pre-existence as God, the creator of all, who then becomes a human being by taking on flesh and tabernacling among us. Jesus is emphatically proclaimed as God, Word, Creator, Light, Messiah, Lamb of God, and Son of God who has come to His people Israel (John 1).
Should we celebrate Christmas as followers of Jesus? Though it is not commanded, I think we should. The angels and shepherds proclaimed Jesus’ birth and praised God for the birth of the Savior. The righteous priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth who were chosen to be the mothers of John the Baptist both joined the celebration of John by proclaiming praises to God concerning the coming of their Lord. Mary sang and magnified the God of Israel because of Jesus who was God’s promised mercy to Abraham and his descendants. The prophets Simeon and Anna both praised God and proclaimed the Good News of Jesus to those in the Temple after having seen the promised Messiah, the salvation sent from God. Wise men from the east journeyed and worshiped Jesus as the King of the Jews. The early church sang hymns speaking of Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection. The gospels devote four chapters to Jesus’ miraculous conception and virgin birth in keeping with the promises of God to His people Israel. The churches throughout the globe have for many centuries celebrated and proclaimed the incarnation and birth of Jesus—the Messiah and Lord, the Savior of Israel and the Nations, the reigning and returning King of kings and Lord of lords. Should we not also join in company with such as these? Should we not also come and proclaim the Good News and worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for sending forth the promised Messiah? I think so.
As the hymns declare, “O come let us adore Him,” and again, “Go, tell it on the Mountain: Jesus Christ is born!” Yes, let us adore Him and make Him known to the nations that they too may experience the joy that is for all who receive the King of Israel as we await His return.
With love in the Lord Jesus, the Messiah,
Pastor Chris Montgomery
Dec. 24, 2020