The Birth of Christ
John Telgren


Christmas is here again. Look at what it does to people. Some people who normally look as though they were weaned on a dill pickle may become full of holiday cheer. Someone who might normally be a tight scrooge may become generous and compassionate. For some this is when they get together with family. For others, this is the time of year to drink, get drunk, and party. Then there are those who see this as an opportunity to make extra money with advertising and slick ads. Children dream of talking snowmen, a jolly fat man who brings presents, and sledding down a big hill with family and friends. Still, others take the time to remember that the Son of God came into the world in the most humble of circumstances to provide a way of salvation to all who believe.

What does the Bible say about this holiday? Nothing. As far as we know, a day set apart to remember the birth of Christ came some fifteen hundred years ago. It did not originate with the Bible or the Apostles. One motivation for setting apart this day was to combat heresy concerning Christ, particularly those who claimed Jesus was not really human. Observing the human birth of Christ emphasized his humanity. Having the observance at the time of the pagan winter solstice also served to counter this pagan observance by providing something that would strengthen Christian faith. As a result, pagan symbols became Christianized. The evergreen tree, a pagan sign of fertility has become a holder for an angel to remember the angels in the nativity story. The pagan practice of gift giving during the winter solstice was transformed into remembering how Jesus give of himself and how we give to others, or simply to remember how the magi gave gifts to Christ. As Christianity transformed the image of the cross from something shameful into a symbol of victory, Christianity also later transformed these other symbols. They no longer have pagan meaning any more than throwing rice at weddings, which was originally a pagan fertility symbol.

Clearly, this day is not a holy day prescribed by God. However, as a human tradition, there is nothing inherently sinful in setting aside a day to observe a biblical event or teaching in order to solidify its teaching in the minds of children and adults. Like other human traditions, it can be meaningful or vain, depending on what you do with it. Without the trappings of consumerism and other worldly messages that can be infused into it, it can be a time of meaningful edification. One family may choose to help in a soup kitchen rather than exchange gifts. Another family may adopt a family in need. One group of believers may provide for a family out of sheer Christian kindness. Things such as these can be powerful ways to teach believers about how Christ came into the world in humble surroundings to give of himself sacrificially for the benefit of others and how we need to give of ourselves in the same way. Or one can choose to do nothing different than what he does at any other time of the year, which is also okay. So long as this is not passing off traditions of men as though they were from God (Mt 15:9), and it is done or not done for the Lord (Rom 14:2-6), it is acceptable to God so long as we don't judge each other's hearts (Rom 14:10).

Is there benefit in commemorating the birth of Christ? If so, should we do it only once a year? When Jesus sat with his disciples around the table toward the end of his earthly ministry, he said, "This is my body, given for you, do this in remembrance of me." That is a call to remember his birth as well as his death. We remember this weekly, not annually! Jesus, the creator and sustainer of the word, took on a human body! He came into the world in humility and weakness. He identified with the "least of these." Naked he came into the world and naked he returned. He became like us in every respect. This human being would endure our suffering, our pain, and our sin. He didn't come into the world as a dictator to enforce his rule, but came as a servant of servants to change hearts. Jesus lived before he died, and that life is the greatest life ever lived. His life ended at the cross only temporarily. He rose from the grave and continues to live to make intersession for us.