A previous post on ChristmasTown at The Creation Museum used photos from the website, but these were from our visit with friends to The Ark Encounter’s ChristmasTime. THAT’s a BIG boat at the Ark Encounter! And the sampling of lights do NOT do it justice! It is a phenomenon to be experienced!! Not mentioning the animals like the kangaroo that bounces around that you can pet, and the many topiary animals lit up. And remember, the RAINBOW was God’s idea to remind us of His promise, not a cultural icon of immorality. (Genesis 9:13) And our walk around the park was preceded by a TrueSong concert and some movie shorts.
Dad and Mother will be turning over in their graves this weekend. They passed into Heaven in 1973 and 1999 respectively. Christmases in ’66 and ’94, the last ones to arrive on Sundays prior to their deaths, were cause for special celebration as Dad and Mother considered Sunday to be a “Sabbath” (although they knew the Jewish practice of the true Sabbath being from Friday at 6pm to Saturday at 6pm). However, since Jesus arose from the dead on the first day of the week, Christians shortly after began meeting on Sunday rather than the Sabbath, and this was cemented in minds after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. as we Gentiles became the predominant population of Christ-followers.
Throughout the 1900s this coincidence of Jesus’ birth and our weekly worship time was a delight to ministers who would see crowds gather in greater number than any other time of the year (except possibly Easter). But something changed as we headed into the new century. Maybe it was the reaction to covid, or the development of the “Mega-Church” and the explosion of church staffs and production qualities that rival Academy Awards shows. The modern “worship service” takes more people and more tech than the Death Star development in Star Wars, especially if it is broadcast over multiple campuses and the internet! Why not just pre-record it?
Add that this year we have a “bomb cyclone❗” hitting the middle of the nation on Christmas “Adam.” (That’s the day before Christmas Eve… get it, Adam came before Eve? 😄) It seems like the weather forecasters need to cooperate with the fear-mongers at every level of government and large institutions, so they chose the most horrific words to describe what we used to call “a winter storm.” Yeah, yeah, big whoop, like we never dealt with snow and wind before. 🙄
When Christmas and Sunday rendezvous, some churches now feel the need to cancel Sunday worship so that the true meaning of Christmas can be experienced in all its fantastic, fabulous luxuriousness. After all, we know Christmas is about family and Santa Claus and presents … and eggnog! At least that’s what the agnostics and atheists say, and by actions (which speak louder than words) so does the Church when it cancels Jesus’ worship “in honor of Jesus’ birth.” Like my brother asks, “Why would I want to host a party in MY house on MY birthday!?” 😏
Happy Birthday, Jesus. We’re going to the movies rather than Your house today after we open all our presents we gave each other and not You.
Why would churches cancel worship on Sunday when it collides with Christmas?
Does the Bible say we should? No. I’ve read the entire library a few times, and neither the celebration of Christ’s birth nor Sunday worship is mentioned.
Perhaps Christians around the world are complaining, “We can’t go to church Christmas Eve AND Christmas Day! That’s just too much worship.”
Maybe they are thinking, “Well, commercial places are closed on Christmas! Why should we stay open?”
Folks really need time to marvel at Santa’s empty cookie plate, open presents, go out to eat, and still have time to go to the movies and it’s hard to fit all that in with an extra worship service on Christmas Eve.
It seems the only folks who actually say, “Let’s cancel Sunday worship if Christmas falls on Sunday” are church employees, including some ministers. After all, they spend their workdays all week celebrating Jesus; they deserve a day off from such tiring spirituality, right? But as another blogger pointed out, the extra work is “not as hard as being beheaded by ISIS for your faith or being a Christian in Saudi Arabia or India, but it is really, reeeally hard.” 😢
During the 20th century, the 25th of December was on a Sunday 14 times (*see list below). This century has started off with 2005, 2011, 2016 and now this year, 2022. Actually, I cannot recall any churches cancelling Christmas Day services before this year, but several in our fair city and many in other places are. The next time Christmas and Sunday bump into each other will be 2033 (2028 is a leap year). The following years* will probably have me watching from Heaven, unless Jesus has returned.
However, a big business needs to evaluate cost-benefit analyses, and if less than half of a church’s parishioners show up for Christmas Sunday, is the effort worth it? Don’t I recall something about“where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them?” In any case, I suspect MANY people would show up for Christmas Day services at a church building:
Nominally religious people who want to show off and need to be told the Gospel again.
Christ-followers who love to meet with other believers who love to celebrate Jesus.
Lonely people for whom the “family” orientation of the day exacerbates their loneliness; they needthe body of Christ!
Politicians: these folks need the Gospel more than our votes, but they’ll show up to garner them from the gullible.
“Out-of-town” family members who are in town for the holiday visits.
Atheists who are wondering, “What do those people do at a church meeting on a holiday?”
People who love celebrations with beautiful Christmas music.
Perhaps we are buying into the secularization of Christmas and are idolizing our families over the One who said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
How do we claim, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” if we add, “unless His birthday falls on the day we usually gather to worship Him,” without looking silly, inconsistent and inconsequential? So celebrate Christmas this year with worship of the God Who Is and who loves us so much that He came to live as one of us, to experience our pain, sorrows and loss, and to die in our places. Yes, celebrate Christ’s birth … but Never On a Sunday.
*Christmas fell on a Sunday in these years:1904, 1910, 1921, 1927, 1932, 1938, 1949, 1955, 1960, 1966, 1977, 1983, 1988, 1994. *In the 21st century, this will occur again in 2033, 2039, 2044, 2050, 2061, 2067, 2072, 2078, 2089, 2095.
Dr. Eli (as his hyphenated last name is even harder to spell than to pronounce! 😁) is a Research Professor of Jewish and Christian Studies at The Israel Institute of Biblical Studies in the Netherlands, and a scholar in Early and Modern Church History. He is a Russian-American-Israeli Christian author, experienced educator, and scholar in Jewish context and culture of the New Testament. Outside his expertise in the ancient languages – Biblical Hebrew, Koine Greek, Syriac and Old Church Slavonic, he has a command of three other modern languages – English, Russian and Hebrew.
One of his greatest passions is building bridges of trust, respect and understanding between Christians and Jews, overcoming centuries of difficult, but almost always joined history. He has taught Biblical, Jewish and Christian studies at the Israel Theological Seminary, at the Haifa Theological Institute, at the Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary and at Spurgeon’s College, University of Wales. He has some outstanding books relating Jewish history and philosophy to following Jesus.
What follows is his guest blog: ___________________________
Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday? Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg
Let us begin with a bit of a dark picture. Nowhere in the Holy Scriptures are we told about a celebration commemorating the birth of Christ Jesus. Nothing in the Scriptures gives us any sure evidence about the date of this magnificent event.
The lack of Scriptural specificity about the facts surrounding the birth of the Judean King stands in sharp contrast to the details available about his death. (Each of the four Gospels provides the exact timing of Jesus’ death).
[Actually, it takes a bit of sleuthing to analyze the exact timing of the days between the entry into Jerusalem, the Crucifixion and Resurrection. This is why the Roman Catholic Church in The Council of Nicaea mistook Friday for the day of the Crucifixion. This blogger believes He was crucified on Wednesday, the day before the High Sabbath of the Passover, not the weekly one. See Matthew 12:40 and Mark 9:31. Passover and began on Thursday the week of the Crucifixion. However, the FACT of His crucifixion is more important than on which weekday it occurred.]
In the late second century, the Greek Church Father Origen mocked yearly celebrations of Roman birth anniversaries, discounting them as deeply pagan practices. This suggests that Christian communities did not yet celebrate Christmas during Origen’s lifetime (c.165-264). The first church figure to discuss the date of Jesus’ birth was Clement (c. 200), an Egyptian preacher from Alexandria. However, December 25 was not even mentioned. By the middle of the fourth century [~350 c.e.], however, we find that Western churches were already celebrating the Birth of Christ on December 25, while the Eastern Churches did so on January 7th.
How did the early Christians arrive at this dating?
Surprisingly, the early church followed a very Jewish idea – that the beginning and the end of important redemptive events often happen on the same date (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashana 10b-11a). In the beginning of the third century, Tertullian [155-220 c.e.] reported that since he knew precisely when Jesus died (14th of Nissan or March 25), he also knew exactly when he was conceived! He was most-likely wrong in his conclusions, but at least we can now see how they arrived to date of Christmas.
The logic went as follows: If Jesus was conceived on March 25, then counting forward to the nine months of Mary’s pregnancy would place His birth on December 25. This is especially intriguing because January 1st used to be celebrated as the Day of Christ’s circumcision (8 days from the evening of December 24).
It is very important to note that it was not until the fourth to sixth centuries [~300-500 c.e.] of the Common Era that Christians began to “Christianize” the local pagan celebrations of the peoples they sought to evangelize. There is no doubt that it was at this time, but not before, that Christmas began to acquire some of its pagan traditions. Why? Because until c.300-320 CE, Christians were fighting a counter-cultural war with the pagans of the Roman and Persian world. Consequently, they were not in the mood for cultural adaptations just yet. [Note, Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 c.e., making counter-culturalism less significant and initiating a period of “Christianizing” pagan temples and customs.]
Since December 25 as the supposed date of Christ’s birth was circulated 100-150 years before the practice of “Christianizing” pagan celebrations commenced, it is unreasonable to conclude that this date was adopted to please the Roman pagans as popular conspiracy theory suggests.
It is true that in 274 CE the Roman Emperor [Aurelian] declared December 25 to be, “The Day of the Unconquered Sun,” (Sol Invictus). However, that was some 70 years after Christians had settled on December 25 as their Christmas date. Moreover, the decree itself may have been issued to help stamp out the newly established Christian celebration. Before answering our main question, I think we should answer few related ones:
Is Christmas a Biblical holiday? No. It was not commanded by God in the Bible.
Does the celebration of Christmas contain elements that are pagan in origin?
Absolutely. There is no doubt about that whatsoever.
Is December 25 the correct date for celebration of the birth of Jesus?
Possible, but highly unlikely.
And finally, is Christmas a pagan holiday? There is nothing pagan about speculating that December 25 is the birthday of Jesus. Inaccurate? Probably. Pagan? No.
Advent, a Latin-borrowed term for something that is coming into view, is mostly used to refer to Jesus’ first arrival on earth the first Christmas day. However, in church history the birth of Jesus did not get a lot of press or attention. Some Christ-followers even disdained its celebration as too aligned to pagan Saturnalia practices of ancient Roman days; a festival of debauchery associated to the winter solstice, when the days begin to get longer after the autumn’s longer shadows have stretched the night to its maximum. The Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock fame actually made Christmas celebration illegal for their colony.
“Advent” in its current incarnation, refers to the four weeks prior to Christmas, celebrated by most Christians as December 25, though the actual date of Jesus’ birth is unknown. Each week is commemorated with a special focus of a blessing that will come into the world with the “coming of Jesus.” Hope, Peace, Joy and Love are the four themes, usually marked by the lighting of candles and recitation of Scripture on these ideas. These practices of Advent probably began sometime before 400 C.E. and were established as a church practice by the second Council of Tours in 567 with monks being required to begin a regular fasting schedule from December 1 to the 25th.
Some churches will rearrange the order of the themes; some substitute Faith for one of them, and some add a fifth candle, The Christ Candle, for lighting on Christmas Day. In any case, this is not a Scriptural design, but serves as a reminder to Christians of various themes of Jesus first time on earth.
However, when the Church began celebrating the Advent season of Christ’s birth, the focus was not so much on fuzzy good feelings of the commercial season we now see. Rather they were laser focused on how He came to begin the process by which He would “judge the living and the dead,”
Evangelism was not shrouded in anger and antagonism at sin and heretics, but joyful communication of the recognition that God would set all injustices right; He would heal all diseases; He would establish His throne on earth to rule in love and holiness. What He began with His first Advent would end with His glorious return; thus, the judgement of Jesus was part of the Good News! The judgement day was not about gleefully consigning neighbors and the mass of non-Christians to eternal hell, but about helping anyone with a heart for good to participate in Jesus’ final victory over Martin Luther’s “three cosmic enemies of Christ,” sin, death and the devil.
In antiquity Christ-followers cared little about Jesus’ birthday but focused on two other major events in space-time history: the Resurrection and Jesus’ Second Coming, i.e., His Advent back into the world for the second time. He specifically warned His followers to beware of false “christs” (anointed ones) and to avoid setting a date for His return. (See Matthew 24.)
When Jesus left the earth, angels reaffirmed that He was not gone permanently, but would “come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” The disciples, some 500+ of them, waited in Jerusalem for His promise to send the Holy Ghost. This occurred 50 days after His resurrection on the Day of Pentecost, and the New Covenant He had instituted with His apostles at the last supper was initiated. Under His direction they were to tell everyone that Jesus is the Son of God and will forgive the sins of anyone who repents and follows Jesus. They proceeded to fill Jerusalem with this message, spread it to all Judea, reach out to Samaria and eventually to the “ends of the earth.”
We are there – the ends of the earth, about as far removed geographically as one can get from Jerusalem, the exact antipode being somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. And this message is being translated into almost every known language on earth, so that this Gospel (good news) has reached nearly the whole world, precipitating Jesus’ second coming. Keep in mind that of the languages in which Bible translation has not begun, many have access to Bibles in similar languages to their “heart language” and many are very small ethnic groups. Wycliffe Global Alliance estimates 6,000,000,000 people have a full Bible available with another 22% having partial translations, meaning 97% of the world’s 8,000,000,000 have access to the truth of the Good News!
Now regarding this “Second Coming” there is a lot of confusion. Jesus was intentionally vague about “the day and the hour” because He did not want someone to think, “My master is delayed,” (Matthew 24:45-51) and slip into selfish behaviors, ignoring that our Everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6) knows our hearts at all times (Psalm 139:1-16). There were even those in the first century C.E. that believed Jesus had already returned (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4). And so confusion continues today, whether Jesus will return at the beginning of a seven-year period called The Tribulation, in the middle of it or at its end. But of this we can be certain: “the day of the Lord WILL come.”
Do you believe Jesus was who He claimed He was? There is no getting around the idea that He claimed to be THE Son of God. He was not just some nice philosopher with some gentle teaching. If you read the Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, you will be struck not only by how egalitarian He was among the Jews and Samaritans (leftovers from the Babylonian captivity), but by His egomaniacal claim to be One with God. Even His enemies recognized this claim and in fact, was the basis for their intention to crucify Him.
So this year, as you sign Christmas cards or fill out ecards online, as you put up your tree or outside lights, recognize that Jesus’ first Advent was just a precursor to another Advent that will joyously tear the fabric of space and time and usher in an age of the earth such as we have never seen since the Garden of Eden.