The following discourse was presented as a sermon to the congregation of the First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Beaver Falls, PA on December 22, 1991. It was not an easy message to preach. It is never easy to re-examine practices and patterns of thinking that have been presumed and taken for granted for a lifetime. It is especially difficult when these practices are associated with intense emotional feelings and are bound up with deep-rooted family traditions. Such is the case with the subject of Christmas. To even call into question the annual celebration of the birthday of Jesus Christ is inconceivable for most modern Christians. That anyone would even suggest that Christmas and its festivities have no warrant in the Word of God and should therefore be dismissed from the practice of God’s people seems the height of foolishness to our generation. The question which must be asked is, “Why?”
If the celebration we all know as Christmas is to be zealously upheld by the Christian Church, what is the reason? Do the Scriptures prescribe this annual Holy Day? Did Jesus Himself institute a yearly commemoration of the day of His birth to be kept by His disciples to the end of the age? Do the Scriptures even provide us with the date of our Savior’s birth?
All practices and patterns of thinking must be subjected to the scrutiny of the Word of God. If we are unwilling to lay our personal views on the table beside an open Bible, then we are indicating more than we may think about our openess to conform our lives to the teaching of Scripture. This sermon seeks to examine one of our most cherished traditions by the light of God’s Word. The question of the propriety or impropriety of any practice must always be decided on that basis alone, and never on the basis of subjective emotion. Emotion has often led well meaning people down the wrong road. God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. May God grant us the courage and character always to be willing to submit our personal viewpoints, on every matter of faith and life, to the scrutiny of His unerring Word.
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Listen to this description of the influence of paganism in the practice of the early church, offered by Joseph Duggan. He says,
One of the most prominent and popular of the pagan ceremonies was the Saturnalia running from the 17th to the 24th of December, followed by the Brumalia on the next day. It was a time of great celebration, merry-making and the giving of gifts. All this was to celebrate the victory of the unconquerable sun-god over darkness at the winter solstice, when the sun is at its lowest point and the days begin to lengthen. It was one thing for the church, now popular and dominant in Rome, to persuade the people to give an outward profession of her religion. But to persuade them to surrender age-old practices was another matter. The most expedient thing to do was to let the people keep their old pagan festivals while recasting them in an outwardly Christian form. (bold mine)
And so the imagery of Saturnalia was changed from the worship of the sun-god to the worship of the Son of God. The similarities were accentuated. The sun-god had been likened to a small child… perfect. The sun-god has been regarded as unconquerable… Gift giving was retained, but the gifts were now given in the name of Christ. All of this seemed harmless enough to the Roman Church. In fact, they were operating under what could be conceived of as a commendable motive: bringing the un-saved into the church. But the end does not justify the means, especially if the means are clearly condemned by the Word of God. In the end, principle had been compromised for the sake of expediency, and this is always a dangerous course.