Christ the Saviour is Born!
“ He was created of a mother whom He created. He was carried by hands that He formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy, He the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute."
Mithras Bless Us, Every One!
"Christmas is nothing but a pagan holiday," goes the frequent recitation from within Church Circles, having replaced the more cheerful "Keep Christ in Christmas!" of yesteryear. Cries of "Saturnalia" and "Solstice" and "Mithras" abound, nearly all, suspiciously, without proper citation or conclusive evidence beyond begging the question (assuming the conclusion is true within the premise), because of course none of these claims have much historical backing at all. Solstice is before Christmas and is a God-designed passage of nature, Mithras was never the juggernaut of Roman worship we make-believe he was (and he didn't have twelve disciples nor died and rose again, by the by), and Saturnalia is not traced back any further than Christmas. In short, somebody online (or on television) makes a connection, references some obscure rite or practice that sorta kinda maybe resembles something like Christmas if you look at it cockeyed, and the bandwagon's horse gets a good hard smack on the rump. Off it goes, and Believers grab their torches, lest God be angry with them for not. Don't misunderstand; sometimes things need burning (yes, even books on occasion), but are we burning the right things?
Do we even know what we burn when we put pyro to pyre?
All this is not to directly defend Christmas as the Christian holiday that it very much is and always has been, since far better men than myself have already done that, but to address a bigger, glaring issue facing the church today: Christians don't know what discernment is. If that sounds condemning, let me be more specific and buffer the issue, since this is not to imply simplicity on behalf of the Bride of Christ, but to examine the methods of so many that believers turn to in order to better perceive the truth around them. Look at one specific example that's become popular in recent years:
Claiming that Jeremiah 10:1-5 is about Christmas Trees is training believers to not think, or at best, to think poorly. Let's examine.
"For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. 'They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.'"
That's a Sheep, Dagnabbit; I don't Care What You Say!
Jeremiah lived around six centuries before Christ, and closer to seven before Christmas was even imagined as a festival. Christmas Trees have a long and plentiful background, and—like Santa's origins in everything from the very real St. Nicholas to the Nordic Santas myths to Washington Irving—stem from many traditions and sources.
See that? "Stem?" I knew you'd like that one.
Regardless, Christmas Trees (or some elder equivalent) were hardly a custom in Jeremiah's day, as no Ancient Near-Eastern nation carried such a custom. What they did do was to fashion idols from the wood of trees, inlay or cover them with precious metals, and use them as "conduits" for invocation of a god (no, they never believed the actual idols were gods, but more on that another day). The condemnation herein concerns idol worship, like much of the Prophets' warnings.
The problem with all this is that it trains the believer's mind in the opposite of Discernment. It muddles, confounds, and patterns us into illogical conclusions and reactive responses. Effective discernment only happens when Believers perceive what things are and not what they appear to be. This seems obvious. "A wolf in sheep's clothing" is probably the favorite accusation levied by Discernment Ministries, yet the practice of Christian discernment has become precisely the opposite. If it looks like a sheep, it's a sheep. If it looks like a wolf, it's a wolf. This is probably most rampant within storytelling industries, but we'll cover that in upcoming posts.
Calling the reference in Jeremiah 10 a Christmas Tree is teaching believers to call a sheep a sheep because it looks like one, not to examine what it actually is, wolf or otherwise. This problem is rampant within media analysis, books or films or the like, but today, stick to Christmas.
Let's Surrender God's Land, Billy! "Yay!" Cries Billy
As I said before, this isn't going to descend into a point-for-point defense of Christmas. Go read God Rest Ye Merry for that (there's a copy in my office), but I think a point about our God needs to be made that seldom few ever make.
Follow me, now.
God created everything and declared it good.
Sin perverts any good thing God made.
Paganism worships Creation, not Creator.
Anything truly pagan is a perversion of something once good.
All Creation rightfully belongs to God.
So why do we surrender every inch of ground like a retreating Christian cavalry?
If trees are part of a pagan custom, they were first Christian, in that they belonged to the Lord of Hosts. Because the devil turned sex into promiscuity, does that mean believers shouldn't marry and make love? I was recently told, "Christmas was originally a pagan holiday!" No, it wasn't, and I knew that, but that aside, my response to the gentleman was, "And? We conquered their holiday for Christ. You want to surrender it back?"
Would that our attitude be masculine enough to take every hill for Jesus!
Discernment is as much about response as it is recognition.
Dislike horoscopes? Okay, you should. That New Age belief claims that the stars control our fates. They don't. Dislike images of the Zodiac or constellations for the same reason?
"and let [ lights in the heavens] be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years [emphasis added]"
God created the lights, the signs, and the seasons. He created the Zodiac as a great celestial clock. The Zodiac itself is mentioned in Job 38, yet the same reasoning that sees Christmas Trees in Jeremiah 10 would see horoscopes in Job 38 and Genesis 1.
Man Who Cries "Racist!" Goes to Church
The image of Discernment in public eye (many modern online Discernment Ministries) is largely not teaching Biblical discernment at all, in spite of references to Bible verses, but is teaching reactionism. Several such ministries come to mind, but the point herein is to focus on method and not messenger, so I will omit names. My aim is to edify the Body, never to attack Christian brothers and sisters.
I mentioned in a recent post that such ministries inevitably had to descend into eating their own, and I want to qualify that here and now. The fundamental problem facing ministries that focus on discernment, which is code for "finding bad things in good-looking things," is precisely their premise: they are designed to sniff-out bad things. Those who cry "racism" at everything are incentivized to never want racism to end, because pointing it out is their very livelihood. Without it (or its wild-goose ghost), they would be out of a job. Discernment ministries depend on evil hiding everywhere, and so must find it, regardless of whether or not it's present, and the logical result is a mindset of Soviet-era ruin.
“Был бы человек, а статья найдется"
(Show me the man and I'll find you the crime)
—Lavrentiy Beria, Chief of Stalin's Secret Police, 1941-1953
Christmas is not a Pagan holiday, but if portions of it ever had been, I would gladly claim that hill for Jesus, celebrate His blessed advent in this season, be reminded of His provision and Creation in the keeping of a pine tree in my house, teach it to my children with the Nativity, honour His adoration by blessing those around me with gifts, gathering for a meal in His name, and singing hymns and melodies in remembrance of the event that founded the entire Christian faith.
If that isn't worth celebrating, what is?
ON THE HORIZON AT LWF:
Join us tomorrow for our two Christmas Eve services at Living Word, or if you're traveling, join us on Zoom for both! Evening service is at 4:00.
Until next time! God go with you, brothers and sisters in Christ.
~The Preacher - Daniel Holly