Monday, 6 December 2010

Why I don't celebrate Christmas

Don't get me wrong - I love the fact that Jesus was born - and thank Him every day for it. Just as I thank Him every day that He died and rose again - I just don't like the commercialism of Christmas - probably any more than any other follower of Jesus - (so prefer to keep away from it all) and since He wasn't born at this time of year anyway, but more likely in the middle of our September, depending on the Jewish lunar/solar calendar, I prefer to think of His birth around that time - which corresponds to Sukkoth - when God's people spend a week in tabernacles. Doesn't John say that the Word came and tabernacled among us? It is possible, at least to my mind, that He was laid in a manger in a makeshift 'Sukkah', as the Roman census could very well have coincided with Sukkoth.

 Have a look at the duties of priests in 1 Chronicles 24 :10 and you'll see that the 8th lot fell to Abijah, to whose order Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, belonged. The religious year beginning in Nisan, and each order being on Temple duty for two weeks, (there were 24 orders in all) meant that Z. would have been on duty for the last two weeks of Tammuz, so Gabriel appeared to him during that time. Give him enough time to get home to a village in Judea somewhere afterwards, Elizabeth would have conceived at some point at the end of Tammuz/beginning of Ab. John would have been born the following Passover, which fits perfectly with the Jewish tradition that Elijah would show up at Passover.
 6 months after Z. is visited, when Gabriel appears to Mary, is the end of Kislev. The 24th of Kislev and the next 8 days are the celebration of Hannukah. I believe Jesus was conceived at this time. Approximately nine months later falls the Feast of Trumpets, and shortly afterwards Tabernacles. So either could have been the time of His birth. Give or take a few days.
 Shepherds weren't on the fields in November/December/Kislev anyway - much too cold. Ploughing was past - it was the time for sowing - when the Son of God, the seed of Mary, the Word of God, was 'sown' into the world. So I like to celebrate the Incarnation at this time. The several Magi came later, possibly even two years later, when Jesus, Mary and Joseph were already in a house.
 It seems to me that the Biblical feasts are perfectly fulfilled in Jesus - and just as Passover and First Fruits perfectly fulfil His death and resurrection - so the other feasts foreshadow the fulfilment of some other part of His Mystery.
 Hannukah is mentioned in John, as the Feast of Dedication, but apart from that it's hidden - just as the Incarnation was hidden from the eyes of men. It celebrates the rededication of the Temple in 164 BC after its descecration by Antiochus Epiphanes, the sanctification of the people of God from the world, and is the perfect symbolic foreshadowing of Mary offering herself to God as the 'temple' through which the Glory of God would come into the world.
 Nowhere in the New Testament are we told to celebrate His birth - that came in with Constantine, who legalised what was already a pagan feast and christianized it.

 Some church leaders… opposed the idea of a birth celebration. Origen (c.185-c.254) preached that it would be wrong to honor Christ in the same way Pharaoh and Herod were honored. Birthdays were for pagan gods.
 Not all of Origen’s contemporaries agreed that Christ’s birthday shouldn’t be celebrated, and some began to speculate on the date (actual records were apparently long lost). Clement of Alexandria (c.150-c.215) favored May 20 but noted that others had argued for April 18, April 19, and May 28. Hippolytus (c.170-c.236) championed January 2. November 17, November 20, and March 25 all had backers as well. A Latin treatise written around 243 pegged March 21, because that was believed to be the date on which God created the sun. Polycarp (c.69-c.155) had followed the same line of reasoning to conclude that Christ’s birth and baptism most likely occurred on Wednesday, because the sun was created on the fourth day.

 The eventual choice of December 25, made perhaps as early as 273, reflects a convergence of Origen’s concern about pagan gods and the church’s identification of God’s son with the celestial sun. December 25 already hosted two other related festivals: natalis solis invicti (the Roman “birth of the unconquered sun”), and the birthday of Mithras, the Iranian “Sun of Righteousness” whose worship was popular with Roman soldiers. The winter solstice, another celebration of the sun, fell just a few days earlier. Seeing that pagans were already exalting deities with some parallels to the true deity, church leaders decided to commandeer the date and introduce a new festival.
 Western Christians first celebrated Christmas on December 25 in 336, after Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the empire’s favored religion. Eastern churches, however, held on to January 6 as the date for Christ’s birth and his baptism.
 Most easterners eventually adopted December 25, celebrating Christ’s birth on the earlier date and his baptism on the latter, but the Armenian church celebrates his birth on January 6.
 The beginning of the celebration of Christmas occurred because of the church's reaction as a whole, to the way the Jews had persecuted the followers of Jesus. As the church increased in Gentile numbers, they threw out every connection to Hebrew thinking, sadly throwing the baby out with the bath-water, in many cases.
 In the end though, it doesn't bother me if people want to celebrate His birth at this time - we're not under Law but under grace - so if it doesn't offend you that I prefer to remember His birth in September, if not every day, that's fine. I still think that if by any means people can be brought to think about all that He has done for us, then let His birth be remembered now. Better than not at all.
 I personally hate the pressure and stress which comes on mothers particularly, at this time of year. I refuse to try to keep up with my German neighbours who are in competition with each other to see who can bake the greatest variety and number of 'Plätzchen' and since my husband and I had very different Christmas traditions growing up as children, we decided to find our own way.
 I won't be dictated to by the Catholic Church. It horrified me to learn that satanists see Christmas as the high point in their year, and that children often disappear then and are used in human sacrifice. It also shocked me to learn about the numbers of divorces, family violence and murders which take place at Christmas, not to mention drunkenness, gluttony and pure selfishness. Saturnalia/Misrule indeed. It seems to me that the pagan roots are still there, just with a different name. If anything, we need to be using the time over Mithrasmas to intercede for children, and pray for God's protection over them, rather than indulging ourselves.
 I always thought that this time of year ought to be particularly significant, spiritually, and always felt bad that I felt further away from God at this time, than any other time of year. I won't have my walk with my Lord affected by a ruling of the church calendar, however well meant. So, in obedience to Him, I gave it all up. I don't believe that everyone else should, unless the Lord tells them to. He told us to. So we did. So for the last 5 years, I have been in peace about it.
We'll still visit my husband's parents on the 24th and 25th - he's their only child and they'd be alone otherwise. Showing love to his parents, who don't know the Lord, is more important to me than sticking dogmatically to something for its own sake, and rejecting them and what is meaningful to them. But I won't sing, 'Oh, Tannenbaum!'

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