When I was growing up as a Jehovah's Witness one of the strongest arguments I gave against the celebration of Christmas was it's pagan origin. When talking about Christmas, I was a fire and brimstone preacher. People were taking the birth of Jesus...and celebrating it! And they also used things that could be traced back to pagan worship! I was a pioneer from the time I was 16 on, and I used Christmas time to make sure people knew how evil the celebrating of it really was. I took it as my personal mission to let people know that Jesus was NOT born on December 25th, that Christmas trees and lights were pagan in origin, and that Santa Clause was a vicious lie that people told children.
In light of the new Awake this year on the "truth" about Christmas, I thought I would write my own updated views on Christmas and its celebration, and what the Bible says and does not say about its celebration.
The article begins with a major strawman. I did not want to begin this article by being critical, but it begins with the stress and negativity associated with Christmas. It seems that the purpose is to introduce a negative light before the actual facts are discussed. Look at how skillfully the writer introduces the negativity:
"Do you look forward to Christmas? Or does its approach fill you with nervous apprehension? Millions of people ask: "Whom will I get gifts for? What should I buy? Can I afford it? For how long will I be paying off my debt?"
The obvious intention is to cast a negative light before the article even started. The article continues by saying that Christmas is now largely secular and its ads are "blatantly pitched at children". The article claims that "shopping malls...have become the new temples... Could the reasons be connected with the origin of Christmas?"
Now a person interested in coming to a true conclusion will look at both the positive and negatives of any given circumstance. This is at the heart of critical thinking. We should cast off all prejudices and examine all sides of any given issue before coming to a conclusion that makes the most sense. Does this article give the impression that it is attempting to do this? I can't say that it does. If it does, I don't see it. Nowhere is there a paragraph that says something like the following:
"While Christmas has become a secular holiday to much of the world, many Christians are trying to bring a larger awareness to the general public that Christmas should be about celebrating Jesus coming into the world to save us from our sins. They are spreading the message that it is only because of Jesus willingness to come into the world and to eventually die for our sins that we have any hope for salvation today. Are they doing the right thing?"
If something like this was said, I could at least consider that they were trying to examine all sides and come to a reasonable conclusion. But because the negative light has already been cast, you can be sure that they have an agenda to the article. They are setting out to show that Christmas is an evil and sinful holiday that does not please God.
They next article begins by introducing another strawman fallacy. It asks, "Do you care about spiritual truth?" Now, the answer is going to be "Yes" for just about everyone. It then goes on to ask 5 questions that you must answer if you are interested in spiritual truth. Reading over these questions brought me to an interesting conclusion about the relevancy of the Watchtower in 2010/11. It is this: Most Christians already know the answer to these questions. And the Watchtower will show through the article that it...DOES NOT! While they cast doubt on all of the answers to the questions, they do not have an answer. They do pretend to have a "possible" or "likely" answer, but they cannot say for sure. I will illustrate this later in the blog. Let us consider their questions that all those that "care about spiritual truth" must answer.
1. Was Jesus born on December 25? Does ANYONE think that Jesus birth was on December 25th? I can honestly say that I have never met anyone that actually believed that. The article begins with an outright misrepresentation. It says, "According to tradition, Jesus' birth took place on December 25." Actually this has never been a Christian teaching. The celebration takes place on the 25th, but it was never claimed to be his actual literal birthday. The article then goes on in the traditional Watchtower fashion of showing the pagan worship that used to occur on December 25. Again, most educated people know about the Saturnalia and the celebration of the winter solstice. The then begin to vilify "Christianizing" paganism. They wrongly say that Pope Julius I declared that December 25 was Jesus birthday. Notice the lack of quotes. Julius was actually a very important man in Christianity. He took a stand against the Arians that said that Jesus was only a human and rejected Christs divinity. He also did not claim that Jesus was born on Decemeber 25, only that since we do not know the actual date, we will celebrate it on that day. They also link the use of the "halo" to paganism although this was not really the case, as claimed by the "Encyclopedia of Religion". According to Notes on Castelseprio (1957), the early church fathers believed God to be the source of all light. They talked about the "light of divine grace", and in art when the is was pictured it came across as a light above the head of those that possessed this light. God being the source of all light was taught FAR before it made its way into paganism.
So what is their solution? Do they have another date? No. They rightly show that Jesus was not born on December 25, which we all should have already have known. But do they give us another alternative? No. They use their "likely" and "possibly" answers. They say, "The Bible does not give Jesus' birth date." Interestingly, the Bible does not directly give us any date. We have to go into history to figure out the actual dates referred to in the Bible. But I digress... They say that he would have to have been born before October. Most historians will agree with that. Their major fallacy here is that they say "Significantly, the early Christians never celebrated his birth on ANY date." Where do they come to this conclusion? Who knows. No source is given. That comment wouldn't even hold up on Wikipedia!!! Where does their argument lay? It lays in the scripture John 4:23 that you must worship the Father in spirit and truth. They also say that we were only commanded to celebrate Christs death...not his birth.
What they are employing here is what is called "hyperliteralism". Hyperliteralism (or letterism) is an intense devotion to the details of the Bible in such a way that one misses the spirit and essential thrust of a passage. We could make the claim that the Bible does not command the wearing of neckties and so the use of such a fashion is not authorized by God when teaching. We could also argue that buildings should not be dedicated because God did not authorize this in the New Testament. The fact is, NOWHERE and I repeat NOWHERE are we forbidden to celebrate Christs birth (or any other birthday for that matter). In fact, those that are condemning others for choosing to observe a day as holy are to be condemned themselves. Notice Col 2:16-17: "Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ." If one chooses to recognize a day as holy and one does not, we are not to judge either way.
My next post will deal with the issue of its pagan origins and the Awake's next question: "The Wise Men - How Many?" and "What sort of star led the astrologers."
But to conclude this post, is there anything in the Bible that indicates that we should consider Jesus birth as something worthy to celebrate? I truly believe there is. Jesus birth caused a celebration...AMONG THE ANGELS!!! Luke 2:10-12: But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: 11 Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” What would bring great joy? "Today your Savior is born."
Did humans celebrate this birth? Notice Luke 2:15-20: "When the angels left them and went back to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, that the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they hurried off and located Mary and Joseph, and found the baby lying in a manger. 17 When they saw him, they related what they had been told about this child, 18 and all who heard it were astonished at what the shepherds said. 19 But Mary treasured up all these words, pondering in her heart what they might mean. 20 So the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; everything was just as they had been told." Yes the shepherds...CELEBRATED!
Finally, as much as 2 years later, the "wise men" arrived to worship this child and celebrate the fact that he was born into the world. Notice Matthew 2:1-12.
Hence, I come to this conclusion. Christs birth SHOULD be special to us. It is something that is deserving of celebration. It deserves celebration more than any other thing (besides his death). How sad it is that Jehovah's Witnesses will celebrate their own anniversaries, and yet will not celebrate our Lords sacrifice of giving up his divine position and coming to earth to become a helpless baby, grow up around sinful humans, and be put to death for those that do not appreciate him? I cannot help but see that this is one way that the Watchtower has put limits on the importance of Jesus. One of the greatest celebrations in bethel was the graduation of the gilead class. It was a time for good food, wine, and giving gifts to the students. But we are not allowed to do the same in connection with Christ's birth. Even his death, according to the Watchtower, is not a time to be festive. The Watchtower took away Jesus divinity. They took away the importance of his birth. They took away the glory of the cross that he died on. They took away his worship. But they lifted themselves up as the ones we are to follow if we want to follow Jesus. How sad and reprehensible!