Celebrating Christmas in the church and the culture takes many different forms. In the coming week we will gather with church members, family and friends to celebrate the incarnation of Jesus Christ in various ways. Some of these ways will be more a reflection of the church conforming to the world and it’s rebellious culture than it will be a conforming to Scripture. The ancient church is the inventor of celebrating Christmas or the birth of Jesus Christ. God has revealed to us in his Word the incarnation of the Son of God in his birth, but he has not ordained a day to celebrate that truth or regulated what we are to do on that day. Does this mean then that the church should not celebrate Christmas because it is not given to us in the Scriptures? I don’t think so because the incarnation of Jesus Christ is worthy of celebration. But how do we do it without being idolatrous?
The governor of the Plymouth settlement in 1620, William Bradford, struggled with this matter. In his record of the Plymouth settlement he records a Christmas day in 1621. He went to work on that day because it was not a Lord’s Day. Other men who had come from England that year believed it to be against conscience to work on that day. However when William Bradford found them later in that day playing “sport” he denied them that right saying it was against his conscience that they could play on that day while others worked. He commanded them to obey their consciences because “if they made the keeping of that day a matter of devotion, let them remain in their houses; but there should be no gamming and reveling in the streets.” William Bradford and these men were seeking to act as their consciences were ruled by some authority. And this is an important way for the church to act, but the question is what authority governs how we celebrate the birth of Immanuel?
Samuel Davies, an 18th century southern Presbyterian minister stated, “I do not set apart this day (Christmas day) for public worship, as though it had any particular sanctity, or we were under any obligations to keep it religiously. I know no human authority, that has power to make one day more holy than another, or that can bind the conscience in such cases. And as for divine authority, to which alone the sanctifying of the days and things belongs, it has thought it sufficient to consecrate one day in seven to a religious use, for the commemoration both of the birth of this world, and the resurrection of its great Author, or of the works of creation and redemption. This I would religiously observe; and inculcate the religious observance upon all. But as to other days, consecrated by the mistaken piety or superstition of men, and conveyed down to us as holy, through the corrupt medium of human tradition, I think myself free to observe them or not, according to convenience, and the prospect of usefulness; like other common days, on which I may lawfully carry on public worship or not, as circumstances require.” The church must be careful based upon God’s authority to think rightly about our celebration of the Christ of Christmas. The church must consider her Christmas celebrations as “useful” to the end that they allow us to glory in our King and Savior, and not in ourselves, a day, or a feeling produced by nostalgia. With this in mind let me offer the following four considerations from Luke 2:17-20 on how we may celebrate Christmas.
In Luke 2:17-20 we read, 17And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
First, the church can celebrate Christmas by telling others what has been revealed to her about the Christ. We see the shepherds seeing the Christ born in Bethlehem as it had been told them by the angels. And upon their seeing they made known to others what they had been told about him. Celebrating Christmas is an expression of the joy one has in the Christ of Christmas told publically to any who would hear. What the church would tell is not what the church has invented or believed to be true for them. The church tells others what has been revealed by God about the person and work of her Savior and Lord. Let us celebrate Christmas by telling others of the Christ of Christmas as revealed in Scripture.
Second, the church is to celebrate Christmas by being amazed with the truth that has been revealed about the Christ of Christmas. As the shepherds told what had been revealed to them to others those who heard this good news were in wonder, awe or amazement. This is the proper way to respond to the glorious truth of the good news of great joy for all peoples. We should take time not only to listen to the truth about the Christ of Christmas but to be amazed by what has been revealed to us concerning him. Reading this week in Zechariah 3 I stood amazed at the revelation of the Branch (v.8) and his taking away the iniquity of his people in a day (v.9). The Branch came to serve and not be served and give his life as a ransom for many (Mt.20:28). He existed in eternity, came into time and space, lived, died and was raised to be the joy of all peoples, Jews and Gentiles alike. Amazing love how can it be, that the Son of God should live, die and be raised for me as I glory in him.
Third, the church can celebrate Christmas by treasuring in their hearts all that is revealed to them about the Christ of Christmas. It is treasuring truth that allows us to be amazed by truth. Mary treasured up the things that were told to her meaning that she stored them away. She kept them in mind as a continual action of her heart. Treasuring the truth means she loved this truth about the Son. This is an important way for American Christians to celebrate Christmas where we are so apt to treasure the gifts of the Son rather than the truth about the Son of God. Treasuring Christ means that we must meditate study, think on and read about the Christ of Christmas in order to be thinking rightly about Christmas.
The fourth way the church can celebrate Christmas is by completing her joy in God by praising and thanking him for all that he is for her in Christ Jesus. These people returned praising God whom they knew as he revealed himself to them and whom they enjoyed in their knowing. Therefore they glorified him at the coming of the promised Messiah. They praised him for his glorious grace (Eph.1:14) and it was for this that they were made and this is why he revealed his truth to them.
Come let us worship the LORD this Christmas telling others of his wondrous works, standing amazed at his grace, singing and making melody to him in our hearts as we treasure what is true of him, and overflowing with joy in him who has glorified himself to us in the Christ of Christmas.