Christmas presents a conundrum to many believers. Do you withdraw from the world and its materialistic excess at this time of year? Or do you lean headlong into the celebration, hoping to sanctify the festivities through your participation?
Given the wide chasm between those two extremes, it’s no wonder that the Christmas holiday can be a cause for division within the church. But some biblical and historical context can help bridge that gap.
It’s Not How You Celebrate, But Why (and Why Not)
Christmas as a holiday was not observed until well after the biblical era. The early church of the New Testament celebrated Jesus’ resurrection, but not His birth. In fact, Christmas was not given any kind of official recognition by the church until the mid-fifth century.
Partly because so many Christmas customs seem to have their roots in paganism, Christians have often been resistant to some of the rituals of the holiday. The Puritans in early America rejected Christmas celebrations altogether. They deliberately worked on December 25 to show their disdain. A law passed in England in 1644 reflected a similar Puritan influence; the law made Christmas Day an official working day.
Christians today are generally not opposed to celebrating Christmas. The holiday itself is nothing, and observing it is not a question of right or wrong. As Paul wrote,
One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. (Romans 14:5-6)
Every day—including Christmas—is a celebration for us who know and love Him.
How we observe Christmas is the central issue. Do we observe it for the Lord’s sake or for our own sinful self-gratification? Do we even think about why and how we celebrate it? That is the heart of the matter. Christmas is an opportunity for us to exalt Jesus Christ. We ought to take advantage of it.
What About Christmas Presents?
Folded into the discussion about how to celebrate Christmas is the matter of Christmas presents. Is it appropriate to give gifts to friends and family? Does that inherently shift the spotlight off of Christ, or can we splurge on loved ones in a way that still honors the Lord?
Christmas is undoubtedly a good time for giving. After all, we are celebrating the greatest gift ever given—God’s Son: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
God’s great Gift was first of all a gift of love to an unworthy world. He gave not because He had to, but because He loves us. And our giving should reflect His love. If we can keep that perspective—especially in the minds of our children—this can be one of the most blessed and enjoyable aspects of the holiday.
It isn’t easy to keep one’s perspective so focused. Christmas has become too commercial, too carefully merchandised, too crassly materialistic to lend itself to teaching any spiritual truth about giving. Every year at Christmas, the buying frenzy gets worse. Have you ever noticed, for example, how much stuff is sold that nobody needs? It doesn’t have any practical use. It just sits there, collecting dust.
Our society is literally filled with the unnecessary, the insignificant, and the meaningless. And people spend a fortune on that kind of junk for Christmas. Why? Often, it is the quickest and easiest way to complete an obligatory Christmas list. What meaning is there in that?
Ask yourself this year if your giving reflects the spirit of Him who gave His best for us—just because He loves us.