Should Christians Celebrate Christmas and the Birth of Jesus Christ?
- Friday, December 21, 2007
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Kurt Fredrickson, director of Fuller Theological Seminary's Doctor of Ministry Program, said in a recent phone interview that he appreciates the people who are trying to downscale some of the commercial aspects of Christmas. "But," he adds, "to walk away from Christmas, at least what Christmas is really all about, is going overboard. Christ is central to Christianity. The incarnation is absolutely central to the life and ministry and work of Jesus. So, of course we have to celebrate it. We just need to careful about all the crazy stuff we get caught up in."
Prior to coming to Fuller in September 2003, Fredrickson was on the pastoral staff of Evangelical Covenant Church in Simi Valley, Calif., for 24 years, 18 of which he served as senior pastor. "December was the dreaded month," he says, laughing. "We're supposed to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but you have programs and things to get ready for. It's exhausting. To walk away from some of that is not all that bad. Yet we still have to hold onto the central meaning of what Christmas is all about."
Fredrickson has heard all the objections and says, "Essentially, they are true. We adopted a Roman holiday, which was Dec. 25, and made that the celebration day for the birth of Jesus." He says we know from the New Testament that Jesus probably wasn't born in December. The phrase "the shepherds were out in the fields watching over their flocks by night" is not a wintertime experience, according to Fredrickson.
"We don't know the date," he says. "We don't have any birth records but I think we are fairly certain that is was most likely springtime. The fact that we don't know the exact date of Jesus' birth, and kind of tied into this other holiday, for me doesn't lessen the celebration of Christmas because what we are really doing at Christmas time is celebrating the fact that God stepped into our world in the person of Jesus."
There is an underlying value to Christmas, Fredrickson adds, "which is this amazing sense of gift giving. God is a giving God and I think we get in trouble when we only emphasis that at Christmas time. You know, ‘It's a season of giving so let's be nice to people.' That should be a value that people have throughout the year. If Christmas reminds us we are supposed to be like that all year long, great. But sometimes, people are nice only in December and can't wait for January to hit so they can get back to their own selves."
Greg Peters, an assistant professor at Biola University, says he too knows all the objections, but chooses to celebrate. An expert in early church history, Peters told Crosswalk.com that there are at least two theories about the way that Dec. 25 was decided on as the observation date of Christ's birth. "One is that Dec. 25 was this pagan feast. There is also a theory that Dec. 25 was picked based on some early Christian sources that say that Jesus' death would have been on March 25, based on the year and when the Passover happened."
Peters explains that according to ancient rabbinic practice, one's death date was one's birth date. In case of Jesus, it was March 25. Also in rabbinic tradition, birth is the same as conception. Therefore, if Jesus was "conceived" on March 25th, you add nine months and get Dec. 25.
"Some scholars believe this and say you don't have to see Christmas just as a Pagan feast day," says Peters. "It's also possible to read early Christian authors and see that early Christians appropriated pagan holidays for themselves. The fact that Dec. 25 was a pagan holiday and they could usurp a pagan holiday- I'm sure it wasn't far from their minds either."
As for rejecting Christmas because of materialism, "Well," says Peters, "that is like rejecting Christmas because we are all sinners. It seems to me it's more a critique of churches than a critique of our culture, because Biblical teaching and example should be strong enough to counter the trend toward materialism."
The issue isn't whether to boycott or observe Christmas, Peters adds, "but to observe it properly, maybe recovering Advent or some sense of anticipation of the arrival of our Savior. Liturgically, Christmas is a season, not a day. It's important to keep in mind although Christmas Day or Dec. 25 may seem very materialistic, that the season itself doesn't have to be."
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