...for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:11
There is a great deal of confusion about Christmas and its origins. A church here in Singapore declared recently that they will not celebrate Christmas anymore because it is a “pagan festival.” Really? My heart dropped.
Christmas had a long tradition in the Church. It is a feast which is central to our liturgical year. By early 4th century, the Church was already celebrating Christmas on 25th December. Why that date? No one really knows. The Orthodox Church celebrates it on 7th January. The Council of Tours (567 AD) declared the 12 days after Christmas and before Epiphany as a unified festival, thus giving importance to both 25th Dec and 6th January. Now, everyone knows that Jesus was not born on 25th Dec or 6th Jan. (Hint - I was born very near one of these dates and this is factual!) But everybody knows that the date is not nearly as important as the spiritual truth the Church remembers and celebrates.
As both society and the Church celebrated Christmas, to be expected, there were both religious and secular traditions, which have evolved. This is also influenced by the phases societies go through, from being Christian to post-Christian in some parts of the Western world today.
In the Judeo tradition, Jews “redeemed” pagan festivals and cultic practices and put their Creator God at the centre of these. The Church do that to other festivals as well, including Jewish ones. In fact, the Church had christianised Jewish festivals. Jewish Pentecost (giving of Law) is now the Church's Pentecost (giving of Spirit). Jewish Passover is now the Christian Triduum (Maundy Thursday to Easter). The weekly Sabbath (Saturday) was changed to Sunday. In each, the lordship of Christ is celebrated.
The Church had always continued this Christmas tradition in a biblical way for purposes of worship, discipleship formation and outreach to the world. For the Church to return to Jewish festivals is to confuse her CHRISTian heritage. I met a Jew who converted and is now serving as a Pastor. He asked: “Why are some churches turning back to what I have left behind, at great sacrifice, to follow Jesus?” Good question! And I should add, we need to read the Book of Hebrews carefully.
To do away with Christmas is sad on all fronts. Our children will grow up only with fesitvals like Chinese New Year or Deepavali. Jewish festivals? So, you want to introduce Bar Mitzvah to your boys? Don’t get me wrong. I have a deep respect for other faiths. I am just being self-critical and as one of the pastors of the Church saying: we should not sabotage our own. If we drop Christmas, we no longer have a festival where non-Christians can peer in and wonder. I used to be one of those. All those biblically rich religious carols (not talking about “how I saw Mummy kissing Santa Claus last night”), traditions and practices will be thrown away. Instead of passing on a legacy as custodians, we leave future generations bereft.
Why is this happening in some churches? Ignorance of church history and our Christian heritage, the deep influence of secularism, an individualised biblicism, (where we interpret the Bible as we see fit in the here and now and ignore the Church in time and space) and a distrust of church scholarship/sound learning could be some of the reasons.
I am ranting and venting. Pause. I am glad this column has a word limit.
Blessed Christmas everyone. And continue to make Jesus Lord of everything.