“Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch” – John 10:22-23
The word “holiday” means holy-day. “Holy” means special, unique, uncommon. Holidays should be special uncommon times when we celebrate or express thanks to God about something He has done for us. “Season’s Greetings,” and “Happy Holidays,” are attempts to not only secularize holidays, but make them common, common enough to not offend anyone. Such “Greetings” reduce what is supposed to be a special day to a common day that loses its value and message. I’m a big proponent, for instance, of sticking with “Merry Christmas!” Let me tell you why.
Holy things and holy days are meant to remind us of important things, to challenge us to not reduce life to the common lowest denominator. The word “holy” is found 578 times in the New King James Bible. It is first mentioned in Exodus 3:5 where the ground upon which Moses stood when encountering God was said by God to be “holy.” Moses was instructed to take off his common sandals and stand barefooted before God. It’s a very holy thing to stand before Holy God. “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account” (Hebrews 4:13). Holidays should be times when we, take off our sandals, and stand in the presence of a Holy God.
“God is holy” and because of that we should worship and exalt Him (Psalm 99:9). What makes God “holy” is that “there is none like” Him (2 Samuel 7:22; 1 Chronicles 17:20; Psalm 86:8; Isaiah 46:9). There have been times when such a phrase is used in reference to a human being like Job. God actually bragged on Job saying “there is not like him on the earth, blameless and upright, one who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8; 2:3). But God alone is in a position to assess people in such a way.
When Satan thought of himself as exalted it was the epitome of pride and he was ultimately cast out of heaven for such sin in the sight of Holy God (Isaiah 14:12-17). “Self” is at the heart of everything Satan does. Selfishness, self-centeredness, self-exaltation, self-promotion, self-obsession, self, self, self. Whenever you have self oriented thoughts like “why aren’t I appreciated?” or “how come I don’t get any credit?” or “What am I getting for Christmas?” or “Why didn’t I get what I wanted for Christmas?” you can be sure it’s a spiritual attack of the supreme selfish one, Satan. “I” is at the center of sin. That’s why God is opposed to the selfishly proud, but He gives grace to the humble selfless one (1 Peter 5:5).
Jesus calls us to the exact opposite of what Satan promotes. Jesus says if anyone is going to follow Him, they have to “deny self” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). That’s the message of the cross which Jesus tells us to “take up” when we follow Him. Paul is inspired to say “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). That’s what it means to live a holy life. That’s holy living. Holy living is very uncommon, neat nonexistent, in our world today. Holy living, unfortunately, is even very uncommon in the Church today. We need to keep holidays holy so that they become a way to encourage people to holy living. We need holy living today.
Everything connected with Holy God is holy or expected to be holy. Gatherings before God are said to be holy (Exodus 12:16). Any place where God’s presence is found is said to be holy (Exodus 15:13). Days like the Sabbath are holy times of rest that God has provided for us (Exodus 16:23). Israel was particularly viewed by God as a “holy nation.” They were particularly called to be His instrument of ministry to this fallen world (Exodus 19:6). An entire book of the Pentateuch, Leviticus, is devoted to the holiness of God as it relates to the tabernacle, tabernacle related instruments, sacrificial system, priests, Holy Days, and way of living in a pagan environment even down to the diet of His people.
Unfortunately, Israel lost sight of their holy calling and inserted a self-centered world view. The consequence was that God put them on the shelf for a time. He will one day restore them to prominence and His purposes in the Latter Days (Romans 10-11; Revelation 7; 11; 14). Self will do that, it will shelve you in the Lord’s plans.
That’s what the enemy selfish Satan wants, he wants to have God shelve you. That’s why he fights so fiercely against us being holy before the Lord or having holy days of focus on the Lord. That’s why “Season’s Greetings” and “Happy Holidays” aren’t so happy. And that I believe is why Santa has replaced Jesus at Christmas time.
Whatever “holy” saintly roots Saint Nicholas has, Santa has become an excuse to indulge greed and lavish exorbitant spending. Santa has become a byword for self-indulgence. Santa is one letter away from Satan, and it shows. Santa is about self, just like Satan wants it. Santa, as far as I’m concerned is bogus. Santa is bogus!
I never lied to my kids about Santa when they were growing up. My wife and I never wanted to do anything that would cause our children to mistrust us. Therefore, we told them the truth; even about Santa. I have tried to do the same with my grandkids. It has gotten me into trouble, a good kind of trouble at times.
There have been some interesting situations with my granddaughter Nevaeh (that’s “heaven” spelled backwards; to me she’s heavenly). There were times when during Christmas she and I went to stores as part of our “adventure” time together. Inevitably we’d be on a line at a toy store and someone, a cashier or customer, would ask my cute little girl what she hoped Santa would bring her for Christmas. Well, my little Neveah didn’t blink. She didn’t miss a beat. She wasted no time in sharing the good news that, “I don’t believe in Santa. SANTA IS BOGUS!” Then this would lead to sharing how “Jesus is the reason for the season.” She’s always been a bold and brave little godly girl.
How did people react to that? Some would smile in agreement. Others would try to change the topic. Still others became visibly uncomfortable. Nevaeh and I would watch as adults would nervously smile and laugh as the kids in line would instantly look toward us with a “Say what?” expression. Then they’d look to their parents with a big eyed, “Santa isn’t real?” expression. Jesus was front and center and everyone was introduced to a deeper meaning of a holiday. Nevaeh and I enjoyed telling others about Jesus Who really is the reason for the season. We had fun doing it too.
Telling others about the bogusity (my word) of Santa certainly made for some interesting conversations and truth telling. Truth injected in conversations will do that. Ha! I’m not talking about being obnoxious. That can happen too. That’s not good. But there are times when “wisdom is justified by her children” (Matthew 11:19). I love those kinds of adventures with my grandkids. Try it, “Santa is bogus!” That’s the truth! Love it.
Not all holidays are holy or are compatible in any way with Biblical truth and holy instruction. For instance, Halloween celebrates darkness. As a “holiday,” it is particularly unholy. It goes out of its way to be unholy and celebrate unholy practices. The only possible “good” thing about Halloween is the candy. But even the candy can led to cavities; cavities in teeth and Halloween cavities in our spiritual consciousness. Celebrating the Reformation (which is recognized on October 31st) or having a Harvest party have been options Christians have chosen as alternatives.
Halloween inoculates us against the truth that there is a very real dark opposing force composed of principalities, powers, “rulers of the darkness of this age” (Ephesians 6:12). This unholy day celebrates death. It reduces to comical that which is deadly serious in regards to one’s eternal destiny. It makes light of the truth that those without Christ walk, “according the course of this world, according the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). It consequently reduces the necessity or urgency of being “saved” from our sins (Ephesians 2:1-9). But that’s because the Christ-less world are all “under the sway of the wicked one” (1 John 5:19). The devil has his claws in the people of this world. “The devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Unholy practices and urging to participate in such things can only be expected from the works of the most unholy one Satan. The world is deceived by him, “whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Be aware of this and “Resist him [i.e. the devil], steadfast in the faith, . . . .” (1 Peter 5:9). Keep your holidays holy.
But what about Christmas? Many Christians ponder the pagan impurities found in this holiday and question whether or not they should participate in its celebration. The Church by the end of the first century already had a number of practices that needed correcting by Jesus (cf. Revelation 2-3). But pagan impurities, for the most part, crept into the practices of the Church beginning in the early fourth century when the Church was made the state religion of the Roman Empire. There was a lot incorporated into the Church during this time. Praying for the dead (A.D. 300), worship of saints and angels (A.D. 394), the Roman Catholic Mass (A.D. 431), worship of Mary (A.D. 500), priests wearing clothes that distinguished them from and elevated them over the laity (A.D. 593), the teaching of purgatory (A.D. 600), to name a few. Then came the using of beads to pray (A.D. 1090), inquisitions (A.D. 1184), indulgences or the practice of selling absolution for sins yet to be committed (A.D. 1190), and transubstantiation or the idea that the elements of Communion turned into the actual body and blood of Jesus at the Lord’s Table (A.D. 1215). These were all extra biblical practices adopted by the Church.
In 1229 A.D. the Roman Catholic Church forbid the Bible to lay people. The Bible was actually chained to the pulpits of the church. Only the priest could read the Bible and inform the people of its teachings. This was in some ways necessary since most people of this time were illiterate. But it was also a convenient development for those teaching people to follow God with unscriptural practices. Thankfully, with the invention of the printing press in 1440 A.D. and the Spirit led courage of such godly men as John Hus, William Tyndale and John Wycliff, the Bible began to make its way back into the hands of the common folk. The result was eventually the Church underwent a Reformation (A.D. 1517) and began to get back to a Bible based ministry.
Christmas, while having some pagan rooted symbols, does still have some redeeming value. Christmas celebrates the light. God is light (1 John 1:5 and 7). Jesus, is the “Light of the world” (John 8:12). There is “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). And we are, as His followers, to be light bearers too (Matthew 5:14).
But Christmas does contain some unscriptural pollutants. The name “Christmas” is derived from a reference to the Roman Catholic church celebrating a Christ Mass. It’s in the “mass: that the Catholic priest “consecrates” the bread and wine (juice) of Communion transubstantiating or supposedly transforming the elements into what is taught to be the actual body and blood of Jesus. I do not believe the Mass of the Roman Catholic church is scripturally sound and true, therefore, I do not celebrate that part of “Christmas.” I believe the elements of communion were and are symbols that powerfully represent the atoning work of Jesus on our behalf. I don’t believe the elements turn into the actual body and blood of Jesus when He says, “this is My body,” or “this is My blood” any more than I believe “Hagar is Mount Sinai” when Paul uses the similar grammatical expression to make a point (compare Matthew 26:26,28; Mark 14:22, 24; and Luke 22:19; with Galatians 4:25). I still use the commonly used name Christmas for expedience sake. But should an opportunity arise (and it does) to explain what is and isn’t scripturally sound, I trust the Lord and do so.
Easter is much the same. Easter eggs, Easter bunnies, and even the name Easter itself are all traceable to the Babylonian religion. But Easter is a time when we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because of this, I don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, I simply drop the name Easter along with the eggs and bunnies (though I do love white chocolate bunnies!) and I refer to the holiday time as Resurrection Week.
Halloween has no redeeming value. Its occult meanings are specifically prohibited in scripture and it is anti-Christian (e.g. Deuteronomy 18:10; Galatians 5:19-21). Christmas on the other hand is a celebration of the incarnation; the birth of Jesus. It’s questionable if Jesus birthday was actually December 25th. It’s more likely it was earlier in the year before the cold set in and shepherds would still be in the field to see the angels on high. But Christmas nonetheless has the chance to be a wonderful time of proclamation of how “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19). And while we aren’t specifically instructed to celebrate the incarnation and birth of Jesus, we can easily see why it is a good thing to do. The same is true for Resurrection Week and for Thanksgiving when we give thanks to God for His many blessings.
But many symbols connected with pagan religions of the past have indeed become a part of Christmas. Santa Claus, the Yule log, the evergreen tree, mistletoe, etc. have pagan roots. Statues, images, or idols, are specifically prohibited by God’s Commandments. But His Commandments also prohibit using hewn stones to make an altar (Exodus 20:25). Should we pass that principle on to our church facilities? Want to make your church or ministry building with unhewn stones? I don’t think so. What are we to do and not do? How can we keep holidays holy? What follows are some biblically based suggestions.
First, don’t lie, tell the truth. As followers of Jesus who have been given spiritual life by the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus, we are called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We are supposed to be sanctified in the truth of Gods’ word (John 17:17). To be “sanctified” means to be set apart for God’s use. It means to be uniquely set apart to God for His use. We are to be distinctively, uncommonly, noticeably truth bearers like Jesus was and is (e.g. John 18:37; 13:15; Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6). As agents of truth like Jesus, we shouldn’t lie in our celebrations of holy days. This means we shouldn’t lie about the reality of Santa Claus. If we lie in one thing it diminishes our trustworthiness in other areas. The child who learns they’ve been lied to about Santa, may wonder if the truth you tell them about Jesus is true or a lie. I know people who became atheists in part because of such lies. We are exhorted in scripture to have nothing to do with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather to expose them (Ephesians 5:11). If we connect with paganized or pagan influenced “holidays,” we should do so in a way that exposes the darkness and points out the light of God’s truth in Christ.
Second, is your symbol redeemable by glorifying Jesus or something about Him? An evergreen tree, a tree that is always green regardless of the season, can symbolize the eternal life of Jesus in nature, and the eternal life we can have by grace through faith in Him. The color red that we see all over Christmas decorations makes us think about the shed blood of Jesus for our redemption. The idea of giving gifts should make us think about God’s greatest gift of His Son Jesus. Christmas is a time when we think about helping the needy which reflects how God helped us in Christ in our time of need. Can you witness to Jesus in some way with the symbol; is it a witnessing tool? Can you redeem a part of the holy day to tell others about Jesus and the Gospel? Act redemptively.
Third, is something specifically prohibited by God’s word? Statues or images of Jesus and biblical persons are idols that do not accurately portray who they are trying to represent since we don’t know how these people actually looked. There is a clear prohibition about idolatry in both the Old and New Testaments (Exodus 20:1-4; 1 John 5:21). But what about images in movies, or on computer or phone screens or in books and magazines? I would imagine that such images are redeemable in materials that are used to evangelize. Images enable us to cross language barriers to share the gospel. They can be redeemable.
But when images and idols are given a kind of magical power so that touching them or kissing them is seen as bringing God’s power, well, I think that crosses the line. When you go to Israel, the Holy Land, there are pilgrims who come and think by touching or kissing a stone or image that they will receive some blessing or favor from God. They too often miss the experience of a true “Fifth Gospel” that can be experienced in the Holy Land. They often miss the majestic beauty and closeness to God that being on a Mount Arabel offer or the glory of a sunrise or sunset on the Galilee.
We need to guard against the worship of icons in the place of the real relationship we are to have with the Lord. Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). In light of that truth, we should be careful to follow the warning of the Apostle John who said at the end of his first epistle, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen” (1 John 5:21). Yes. Amen to that!
Our holiday attitudes should be assessed as well in this regard. Greed and covetousness are sins, as are gluttony and selfishness (Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Timothy 6). All four of these can easily creep into our holiday celebrations. We should not participate in the unfruitful works of darkness but rather expose them (Ephesians 5:11). We can have all our ducks in a row so to speak in regards to a celebration of holidays, but if what we do lacks God’s love, its’ worthless (1 Corinthians 13). Remember that.
Fourth, is the origin of a symbol so distant that it carries no influence of meaning in present day? The Yule Log has its origins in Babylonian religion, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone who associates it with Babylonian origins today. To people it’s just sitting in front of a warm fire enjoying the warmth together during a cold season. Maybe such a time leads to a holy conversation about Jesus. While we should probably point out such pagan origins if they come up in conversation, or even initiate a conversation about such things, we should be mindful of the porcupine and Scrooge factor. A person can have so many points that, like a porcupine, they can’t get close to anyone and no one can get close to them. We can squash a spirit by Scroogily hacking away at all we think is wrong or “pagan” with a holiday. We can be correct in letter but miss the Spirit in a situation. What does the Holy Spirit want us to say or do? That’s the important thing.
I think there’s a place for grace in all of this. We can’t step beyond the lines of truth, but in not doing so, we should be gracious in our explanations and sharing of truth. Ultimately, we want people to see Jesus in a holy day. How does the Holy Spirit lead us in such holy circumstances? That is the question we need to consider. I’m not talking compromise, I’m talking a closer awareness and attentiveness to the Holy Spirit. Jesus was a friend of sinners (e.g. Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34). Jesus had a winsomeness about Him that attracted the lost to Him and caused them to hunger for more of Him. When He spoke of the communion of His body many turned away from Him. The key to those who stayed was found in His words, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). We need to ask ourselves, “Are my words ‘spirit,’ are they ‘life’ to those I’m talking to?
And Jesus was that “without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus did not indulge in sin in order to reach sinners. Neither should we. A holy day ceases to be holy for us, if we use it as an excuse in any way to indulge our flesh and sin. We have to follow the Spirit so that we can follow in the steps of Jesus in the holiday circumstances of life (e.g. John 8:7). That means we are holy in all we do on holy days.
Fifth, give freedom for faith to work. In the gray areas use Romans 14 and 15 to guide you. Stand on essentials of the faith. Be gracious in nonessentials. Be loving toward all. Value and protect the faith of others. Be aware of how your attitude and actions affect others. Be “all things to all men, that I might be all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).
Finally, here are five questions to ask when deciding whether or not to do something:
- Will it build me up spiritually? – 1 Corinthians 10:23; Hebrews 12:1-2
- Will it bring me under its power? – 1 Corinthians 6:12; Romans 6:14
- Do I have an uneasy feeling about it? – Romans 14:23
- Will it cause someone else to stumble? – Romans 14:15
- Will it bring glory to God? – 1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17,23.
You might be thinking right here, “Boy, I didn’t know that Christmas and Easter were originally pagan holidays or at least extra Biblical.” Well a close examination of history will confirm this fact. But what is a Christian to do? I think the Christian should do what Jesus did, USE THE DAY FOR WITNESS.
In John 10 we see that the Jesus went into the Temple on “the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem.” (10:22). The Feast of Dedication was a holiday which we know today as the more familiar Hanukkah. J. Vernon McGee describes this holiday as a feast that, “celebrated the time when Judas Maccabaeus delivered the temple from Antiochus Epiphanies, the Syrian, who had polluted it. This took place in 167 b.c. and was still celebrated in our Lord’s day.”  The thing to note here is that, though this holiday occurred between the Testaments, Jesus was in the Temple on this holiday to witness to the religious (John 10:22-30). Jesus used the circumstance of this “unbiblical” holiday to make one of His most bold declarations about Himself.
During the circumstances of Hanukkah and its celebration, Jesus stated, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28). What a message of hope! Jesus then continued, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10:29). What a blessed and comforting statement! And then, to top it all off, Jesus gave one of His crowning statements of His deity. Jesus declared, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30). A little earlier John records Jesus to have said, “all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23). Wow! What a wonderful message for Hanukkah! Maybe we should be sharing that message with our Jewish friends this year.
What should the Christian do with the holidays? The Christian should use the holidays to share the light of Jesus. People today, for the most part, don’t have any idea of the pagan roots of the holidays. Sometimes explaining those roots can lead to enlightenment about the true light, the eternal light found in Jesus. For many, Christmas and Easter are the only times they step foot in church during the year. Christians should seize the day to share the light of Jesus during these times. Holidays are times to proclaim the superiority of the Gospel of relationship with God in Christ over against dead religion. That’s what it means to keep holidays holy.
Let’s keep Christ in Christmas. Let’s get back to saying “Merry Christmas!” and throw “Season’s Greetings,” and “Happy Holidays,” in the dumpster fire of history. Let’s make this our prayer this year and from now on. “Lord Jesus, please help us to keep holidays holy. Help us to use the circumstances of holidays to proclaim You and share Your Gospel with the lost. Holy Spirit help us to witness to Jesus. Help us to be light and truth bearers. Use us to ‘by all means save some.’ In Jesus’ name. Amen!”
J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible commentary [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1981 by J. Vernon McGee.