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                     "THE CELEBRATION OF CHRISTMAS"

                  Should It Be The Work Of The Church?

INTRODUCTION

1. "Christmas" is an annual holiday celebrated by many...
   a. Millions commemorate the birth of Jesus on this day
   b. Many consider it as one of "the most holy" of religious holidays
   c. For some, it marks one of the few times they attend church
      services (along with Easter and Mother's Day)

2. But were you aware that...?
   a. Christians in the NT did not celebrate the birth of Jesus as an
      annual observance?
   b. Most Protestant churches did not begin celebrating Christmas until
      the 19th century?
   c. Most churches of Christ still do not have annual observances of
      Christ's birth

3. This may prompt questions in the minds of some...
   a. How did the yearly observance of Jesus' birth get started?
   b. Should not the Lord's church involve herself in such a holiday?
   c. How about observing certain elements of it as individuals?

[Focusing on the observance of Christmas in connection with the birth of
Christ, let's start with...]

I. THE BIRTH OF JESUS

   A. IN THE BIBLE...
      1. "The New Testament provides no clues in this regard."
         - Encyclopedia Britannica
      2. The NT simply states that it happened in the days of Caesar
         Augustus and while Quirinius was governing Syria - Lk 2:1-2
      3. Most scholars place the year of Jesus' birth between 4-6 B.C.
      -- The actual year is uncertain, let alone the month and day

   B. IN HISTORY...
      1. Sextus Julius Africanus popularized the idea that Jesus was
         born on December 25 in his Chronographiai, a reference book
         written in 221 AD. - Wikipedia, "Christmas"
         a. Based on the assumption that Jesus died on March 25
         b. Based on a Jewish belief that prophets died on the same date
            as their conception
         c. Thus if Jesus was conceived on March 25, then He was born
            nine months later (assuming a gestation period lasting
            exactly nine months)
      2. However, Orthodox churches celebrate the birth of Jesus on Jan
         6th or 7th
      -- The fact is that no really knows what day, month, or year Jesus
         was born

[If we don't know exactly when Jesus was born, then how did the annual
celebration of His birth begin?  For that, let's review the history
of...]

II. THE CELEBRATION OF CHRISTMAS

   A. IN THE BIBLE...
      1. There is no reference to Christians celebrating the birth of
         Jesus as an annual observance
      2. The only event of Jesus' life that was celebrated regularly was
         His death, done weekly in the observance of the Lord's Supper
         - cf. Ac 20:7; 1Co 11:20-34
      3. Paul expressed concern about observing days, months, and years
         - Ga 4:9-10
      -- The Bible does not support the idea of an annual celebration of
         the birth of Jesus

   B. IN HISTORY...
      1. The identification of the birth date of Jesus did not at first
         inspire feasting or celebration - Wikipedia, "Christmas"
         a. Tertullian does not mention it as a major feast day
         b. In 245 A.D, Origen denounced the idea of celebrating Jesus'
            birthday
         c. The earliest reference to Christmas is in a calendar in 354
            A.D.
         d. Soon after it was introduced to Constantinople (379),
            Antioch (380), Alexandria (430)
      2. Among Protestant churches, especially in the US - ibid.
         a. During the Reformation, Protestants condemned Christmas as
            "trappings of popery" (Christmas literally means "the Mass
            of Christ", or "mass on Christ's day")
         b. England's Puritan rulers banned it in 1647, it was
            reinstated in 1660
         c. Puritans of New England disapproved of Christmas, it was
            outlawed from 1659 to 1681
         d. Christmas fell out of favor in the US after the American
            Revolution, as it was considered an English custom
         e. Interest in Christmas in America was revived through novels
            by Washington Irvin and by immigrants from Europe bringing
            their customs
         f. Christmas was declared a U.S. federal holiday in 1870
      -- The annual observance of the birth of Christ has been adopted
         only after great controversy among both Catholic and Protestant
         churches

[So we don't know when Jesus was born, and we do know that an annual
observance of His birth did not begin for hundreds of years after the
church began, what about today...?]

III. SHOULD CHRISTMAS BE A WORK OF THE CHURCH?

   A. PAUL GAVE WARNINGS REGARDING FEAST DAYS...
      1. He expressed his concern for the churches in Galatia - Ga 4:
         8-11
         a. Not that their practice was wrong per se, only but he was
            concerned
         b. From the context, his concern pertained to "why" they were
            doing these things
            1) If they believed it was necessary to be saved, then
               Paul's labor among them was in danger of being in vain
            2) For seeking justification through the Law, religious
               feast days, etc., causes one to fall from grace and
               become estranged from Christ! - cf. Ga 5:4
      2. Paul admonished the Colossians not to let anyone "judge" them
         - Col 2:16-17
         a. Some were seeking to bind the Law upon the Gentile believers
            - e.g., Ac 15:1,5
         b. Gentile Christians were told not to let any one judge
            (condemn) them, for salvation is in Christ, not in the
            keeping of the religious feast days of the Law
      3. Yet Paul himself was not averse to observing certain feast days
         apart from the church
         a. He did not hesitate to keep Jewish customs when expedient
            - 1Co 9:19-20
            1) He had Timothy circumcised - Ac 16:1-3
            2) He took a vow - Ac 18:18
            3) He sought to keep a Jewish feast in Jerusalem - Ac 18:
               19-21
            4) He participated in purification ceremonies, which
               included animal sacrifices - Ac 21:17-26; cf. Num 6:13-20
         b. However, his teaching made clear:
            1) It should be kept on an individual basis - cf. Ro 14:5-6
            2) It should not be bound on others - cf. Ga 2:3-5
            3) It had nothing to do with our justification in Christ
               - cf. Ga 5:4-6
      -- Where Paul drew the line was in making such matters church
         doctrine or practice, in which people would be compelled to
         participate in them

   B. JESUS WARNED OF THE DANGER OF HUMAN TRADITIONS...
      1. He rebuked the scribes Pharisees for their use of traditions
         - Mk 7:1-13
         a. They made their traditions necessary for all to observe - Mk
            7:7
         b. In keeping their traditions, they laid aside the commands of
            God - Mk 7:8-9
      2. Traditions of men are wrong when they:
         a. Become matters of doctrine or required practice, bound upon
            all
         b. Displace the commands of God by the very keeping of the
            traditions
      -- Feast days are therefore like traditions; in certain situations
         they can be matters of expediency, but they can become a
         stumbling block to others!

   C. MAKING APPLICATION IN REGARDS TO CHRISTMAS...
      1. The Bible is silent regarding any observance of Christ's birth
         a. God and Jesus evidently did not deem it necessary for the
            church
         b. Any observance is based upon human tradition, not God's Word
      2. As a human tradition, we must be very careful - cf. Mk 7:7-9
         a. It cannot become a matter of doctrine, which is bound upon
            others
         b. It cannot displace the keeping of God's commandments (do
            those who come only on Easter believe that it renders the
            command in He 10:25 of none effect?)
      3. An annual observance by the church is certainly unwise, if not
         wrong
         a. It intertwines human traditions with God's commands for His
            church
         b. It forces people to observe what is a human tradition
      4. On an individual basis, if one wishes to esteem one day above
         another:
         a. It is between him and the Lord - Ro 14:5-6
         b. Be careful not to condemn those who differ - Ro 14:4,10-12
         c. Be sensitive to the convictions of others - Ro 14:13-19
      5. As for pagan elements that have become intertwined with the
         Christmas holiday...
         a. Perhaps this is best left on an individual basis
         b. My own understanding is that we are free in Christ to change
            what may have been a religious practice at one time for
            personal use as an expediency
            1) E.g., using circumcision for hygienic purposes
            2) E.g., exchanging gifts among friends and family

CONCLUSION

1. My view of Christmas is similar to how I view Thanksgiving...
   a. I know the idea of an annual observance is foreign to the
      Scriptures
   b. As Christians we should give thanks and celebrate Christ's birth
      year around

2. But seeking to "continue steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine" (Ac
   2:42)...
   a. The Lord's church should refrain from adding human traditions to
      its work and worship
   b. Even so, I am grateful that at least once a year people think
      about Jesus' birth

3. My prayer is that people will do more than think about His birth once
   a year...
   a. That we be thankful for His coming to this earth every day
   b. That we will submit to His rule and be citizens of His kingdom
      foretold long ago:

   For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the
   government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be
   called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father,
   Prince of Peace.

   Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no
   end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order
   it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time
   forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will
   perform this.
                                                    - Isa 9:6-7

Unless we submit to the authority of Jesus Christ, His birth means
nothing to us.  Have you been born again of water and Spirit that you
might enter that wonderful kingdom of God? - cf. Jn 3:3-5
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