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Scripture Studies

Does God Have A Merry Christmas?

parol“Christmas is just around the corner!" So goes one of the often heard words when the month of December comes around. In the Philippines, Christmas begins on December 16 with a tradition that is very unique in our country called “Simbang-gabi”. It is a nine-day Catholic mass celebrated before dawn in the old times presumably to allow farmers attend a Mass before they leave for work. And so today even in the most urbanized city—no arable land to till, people from all walks of life still flock very early in the morning to church services to observe a mass not really knowing what its intended purpose was.

Take note that this tradition did not come from a heathen concept nor is it borrowed from any pagan practice of old. So some people will be justifying, "Hey, who says that we are keeping a pagan celebration?" "This is our tradition—our unique way of keeping the spirit of Christmas!" "We are not worshipping the gods of the pagans like Nimrod, Marduk, Mithra, Baal, Molech, Astarte, Osiris, etc.!" And so people are much confused nowadays as to the real “reason for the Season.”

Those who are trying to follow the biblical way and keep out of this tradition are caught in the middle. We are on the defensive. Our children are the ones who are really on the forefront and exposed to these practices—they are just as confused as those who keep Christmas and not really know its true origin.

Others would now entertain ideas like: "Well, people are sincere in what they are doing, that’s what really matter!” “So what’s wrong with giving a present to your wife, children and even neighbor once on Christmas day?" Others will reason, "What’s wrong with putting those bright and tiny little Christmas light or lantern in our windows or backyard trees—isn’t it pretty?" "Besides, electric lights weren’t invented by those pagans—surely that does not honor their gods!" As they would love to say, "Doesn’t God look at the heart—surely it doesn’t matter whether these practices were rooted from paganism!" "Would God not be pleased knowing that our intentions are pure in choosing a special day to honor his birth?" "The Bible doesn’t say when His birth was, but would it be wrong to choose a date that is already familiar to many?" "After all, the Bible says that we are not to judge people!"

So we find as many reasoning and arguments as there are ways to celebrate Christmas. But the question to ask is: are all these arguments valid? Are we asking the right questions? What is really the point in all of these? Can we now say, "Hey God, we are trying to serve you better, and in doing so we have set aside a day that we thought would be comfortable for us in order to worship you—bless us on this day!" One can actually make hundreds and even thousands of good reasons for keeping Christmas, but the ultimate question to ask is, what did God say in His Words when it comes to worshipping Him? Because if we are really sincere in serving God we will be seeking His will always—not imposing "our" will—in wanting to please Him. To do otherwise, to devise our system of worship in the presence of God’s clear instructions is to commit the sin of presumptuousness which is specifically singled out and condemned in the Bible (Deuteronomy 17:12-13; Numbers 15:30; Psalm 15:30). Hence, a person maybe be sincere, but there's also such a thing as sincerely wrong! It is always better to be guided by God's word.

What do we find in the Bible? Does God have a merry Christmas? Does He really care as to how we conduct ourselves today? Is He concerned about what we are doing today—the customs we use—let alone make our own rules and traditions? So can we now use our many "good reasons" to celebrate Christmas?

First, let us read the backdrop of God’s word through Moses in Deuteronomy 12:

"When the LORD your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared [margin: entrap] to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you don not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it." Deuteronomy 12:29-32

Those who casually read these instructions will immediately say that what Moses was prohibiting was for Israelites NOT to look and worship other gods and to do so was to violate the command against idol worship. Since, we are not worshipping an idol today—no more pagan gods—the rest of the instructions above are irrelevant. But reading his words carefully, the warning was actually directed against borrowing a system of worship, which was originally intended to please the gods of the heathens. Hence, his words, "…you do not inquire…saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I will do likewise [to serve my LORD]’ you shall not worship the LORD your God in that way." (Deut. 12:30-31) To transfer such practices to honor "the LORD" were as abominable as the child sacrifices, hence the charge, "You shall not add to it nor take away from it" (Deut. 12:32.)

Notice that even before Moses gave these commands, God had already given them His clear instructions as to how and when we should worship Him (read the background beginning Exodus chapters 20 to 40; Leviticus 23, Numbers 3 to 10). In fact, if we read the preceding verses of Deuteronomy 12 God was already very explicit:

"These are the statutes and judgments which you shall be careful to observe…" Verse 1 "You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations …serve their gods, on the high mountain and on the hills and under every green tree." Verse 2 "You shall not worship the LORD your God with such things." Verse 4 "But you shall seek the place where the LORD chooses,…Verse 5 "You shall not at all do as we are doing here today—every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes…Verse 8 Then there will be the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide." Verse 11

"Take heed to yourself that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every place that you see…" Verse 13

"But you must eat them before the LORD your God in the place which the LORD your God chooses,…" Verse 18

So there you have it! What then is the consequence of not following these God-given directives? Can we find a record as to how God reacted and dealt with "mixed" worship? All we need to do is to read back a story that happened in Exodus 32:

"Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, ‘Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ And Aaron said to them, ‘Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.’ So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, ‘This your god, O Israel, that brought your out of the land of Egypt!’ So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron said, ‘Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD." Exodus 32:1-5

If you notice, the issue here is not really about the "golden calf" as the god in place of the true God. The focus of the Israelites was to create a god that would represent "the LORD" and so they created a calf made of gold and declared it to be the God that "brought them out of the land of Egypt." So what the Israelites did was to put the name of the LORD to this calf. They probably borrowed the calf image from one of the idol-gods in Egypt. Hence, what Aaron did was to proclaim a "feast to the LORD."

The same now is true with the most cherished "feast" of the season. A quick research in our public library—encyclopedias and books—will reveal the true source of this holiday. And so people will say, "We are not worshipping pagan gods!" But what they do is to put the name of the true God into this ancient celebration. So instead of "Saturnalia" (Dec. 17-24) and "Brumalia" (Dec. 25) which is the original name of this merrymaking, now they call it "Christmas" or "Mass of Christ." An "evergreen tree" that formerly was a symbol of fertility and sex orgies, today it is called "Christmas tree". Since we do not know when Jesus was really born and there is a date that was popular among the heathens that honors the birth of their god, in effect, we say, "Let’s remove the name of Mithra or Osiris on this date (December 25) and replace it instead with the name ‘Jesus Christ.’"

But what do the succeeding verses of Exodus 32 tell us? Did we find that God telling them, "Oh, how thoughtful are these people!"? No! On the contrary, God said to Moses, "Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of land of Egypt have corrupted themselves." (Exo. 32:7) Hence as punishment for this "great sin," 3,000 people were killed. Not only a warning has been made to effect that, "Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book" (Exo 32:32-33) These are the words of the Eternal God!

At Christmas time, people become nostalgic as to what Christmas has meant for them—happy childhood memories, etc. However, God’s memory for this season is different, He has a long memory that goes a long way back when pagans kept it to their gods. And God’s book says that every person who follow and accept a "mixed customs" will be removed or “blotted out" by God—in His book of Life (Revelation 20:15)! So we have to be serious even when these practices seem to be harmless.

The sins of Jeroboam are another classic example we find in the Bible when it comes to tampering with God’s clear command. The gist of the story is found in I Kings 12:25-33. In this story, Jeroboam the king of the northern tribe of Israel, instead of heeding God’s words, set himself up and at his own judgment, chose a date that will benefit him and his people. Instead of celebrating the "Feast of the Lord" according to God’s own calendar and timing, he chose for himself and people a different day. So, instead of keeping the Feast of Tabernacles on the 15th day of the seventh month (Leviticus 23:34), he declared the Feast on the "fifteenth day of the eighth month" justifying to the people that "it is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem". In other words, the true feast of the LORD was tampered as it no longer served their pleasure and preferences! And what did God do? When He becomes "nostalgic" about this event what did He do? What was it that He remembers?: THEIR SINS! Hence, when God visited Jeroboam later in his life He pronounced a judgment and declared, "I will take away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam…until it is gone. (I Kings 14:10)" To Israel who shared these sins, God says, "And He will give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam" (I Kings 14:16).

This is the second instance that the children of Israel caused a great sin before God for the same reasons: mixed practices of worship that resulted in idolatry. The punishment? All the same: Removal—or "blotting out"—of Israel. If Moses prevailed in the story of Exodus 32, this time with Jeroboam God enforced the punishment. As a consequence, the northern tribe of Israel lost their identity—today, they are called the "ten lost tribes"—erased in the pages of history because of this sin (which is rebellion).

There are two major sins of Jeroboam: the profanation of the Sabbath and Holy days and idolatry. These two sins always go hand-in-hand. When a person profanes the Sabbath the next thing that will happen is to create an idol for himself. Nowadays, when we think of the sins of idolatry, we think of a carved image—a statue—idol. So we don’t easily recognize the idol that this Christmas holiday perpetuates which is materialism.

But as somebody would now say, "But, these are all Old Testament stuff!" "We are now under the New Covenant of Grace!" As if God’s covenant is His way of experimenting with two classes of people. If something doesn’t work here, what God needs to do is to change the plan. As if we are dealing with two different Gods—a very strict and wrathful God of the Old Testament and a loving and permissive God in the New Testament who freely grant everyone wishes. This idea of Christian "freedom" today can be represented by an article written by our former affiliation that wrote:

"The central issue regarding Christmas observance is this: How much freedom do Christians have in new covenant, either individually or as a church, to express their faith, worship and thanks toward Christ in forms not found in the Bible? Are Christians ever free to innovate in worship? May church leaders establish especial days to celebrate the great acts of salvation?" (Christmas, Is it a sin? by Ralph Orr, Worldwide News, November 14, 1995)

In other words, Christian freedom means to be free from any obligation to obey God’s words! To "innovate" and "express" whatever they feel right in their own eyes (Deut.12:8). To this people the "law of liberty" (James 1:25) has become a burden—a "yoke". Hence, after so many years of keeping God’s holy days they are now obsessed to get their freedom back and keep Christmas. I can’t help but compare this "freedom" thing to the freedom and rights that the some filmmakers, and "pro-right" advocates are shouting in the streets today! No wonder, they are not far from the scribes and Pharisees who have set themselves up to establish their own form of “righteousness”. Make their own rules based on one’s personal preference or "freedom". Hence, as Jesus Christ would declare:

"Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching for doctrines the commandments of men…All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition." Mark 7:6-9

What about Christ’s apostles, what did they say about the practice of mixing truth and error, of lawlessness and righteousness, of light and darkness? Let’s read it from Paul’s writings to the Christians in Corinth:

"O Corinthians! We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections…For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial [margin: devils]? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols…Therefore, ‘come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touched what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.’

"Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." 2 Corinthians 6:11-18;7:1

So Paul’s word is quite clear here. Instead of allowing the Corinthians to have "freedom" and "innovate" methods of worship, probably wanting to adopt the customs of the pagans such as "Saturnalia" during their time, he says: Christians were to have nothing to do with them!

In another occasion, Paul (who also wrote the "love" chapter in 1 Corinthians 13) even goes as far as to call those heathen practices as "sacrifice[s] to the demons". He wrote:

"What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? But I say that the things which the Gentiles [heathens] sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealously? Are we stronger than He?" 1 Corinthians 10:19-22

Knowing therefore, that God did not leave us void of any command as to how we can properly worship and honor Him, all we need to do is to go back to His words. And we will find that God is very clear and specific. He has given the Sabbath, the Holy days and His written words preserved for us today. All we need to do is to search out His Will and do it without presumptuousness and compromises.

Jesus Christ’s words to the Samaritan woman was also instructive as recorded:

"God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." John 4:24

Hence, we cannot just say, "We are keeping the spirit of God’s love at Christmas time! "or "We are worshipping God in spirit as we celebrate Christmas!" No, if one is truly honest and sincere in seeking God, a person must worship Him in "Spirit and Truth"! And this knowledge is clearly written for us in the Bible. This understanding will in turn lead us—not to be "blotted out" (Revelation 20:15)—but to be preserved in the "book of Life" in His kingdom!

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