|Vol. 14 No. 12 December 2012||
J. Randal Matheny
Christmas is a date surrounded by myths, legends and falsehoods. Worst of all, it’s a date into which the birth of Christ was inserted out of sequence. It’s certain that Jesus was not born during this time of year. Yet ironically, the fact of His birth is what is most true, out of all the things that people think about during Christmas. The myths could be easily resolved with a light reading of the New Testament, actually, of the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which contain the story of Jesus on earth. What is most worrisome is what the yuletide myths say about religion.
Faith in Man
The faith of many today is nothing more than a human production. Their beliefs do not have their origin, as they should, in Holy Scripture, but people get their religious data for their faith from others. A secondhand faith. A faith that depends upon a priest, pope, pastor, preacher, religious Authority with a capital A for its content and exercise. However, the warning is ancient: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord’” (Jeremiah 17.5 NLT). Whenever one deposits in man one’s dependence of faith, that confidence will be betrayed.
Good, But Short Sentiments
Christmas is a moment for the expression of positive sentiments, endearing terms, family gatherings and fraternal greetings. Any occasion that cultivates the finer attitudes of humanity is welcome. When these, however, are based upon a weak or insufficient base, the house falls and the sentiments soon pass. Artificial climates cannot permanently sustain human goodness. The yuletide and New Year greetings soon give way to the frantic pace of business, school, money and materialism, if they were ever far removed.
The myths of Christmas invite us to perform a deep analysis of our faith. The hope of eternal life depends upon the truth of the Gospel. If our truth is a lie, if our light is darkness, our hope will be in vain. As Jesus said, “But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!” (Matthew 6:23). If we permit myths and falsehoods to invade a story as simple and straightforward as the birth of Jesus, the risk increases that they have also permeated other parts of the message of salvation.
The Solution: To Know Scripture
For one who desires to draw near to God, there is no substitute for the knowledge of the Scriptures, for they testify about Christ (John 5:39). By the Scriptures one reaches the conclusion that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 18:28). In Scripture God’s message is accessible, “near,” in one’s mouth and heart (Romans 10:8). In Scripture we find what cannot be discovered elsewhere. “Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled” (Romans 15:4). It is they which give “the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). We must learn the great religious principle: “Nothing beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6 NRSV). This is why the Scriptures must be read in the public meetings of the church (1 Timothy 4:13), but not only in public. Read the Bible constantly.
Inspired Scripture provides for every need. With it, and only with it, are we complete as Christians and laborers in his field (2 Timothy 2:16-17). The Christian breathes the Word of God. He lives with an open Bible. The Bible is not a mere symbol, but life itself. In the New Year, let us read the sacred Scriptures. Let us leave aside the myths of Christmas, the falsehood of religion. Let us live the true faith that depends solely on God our Father. True faith hears the voice of the Lord Jesus. With true faith, Christians travel confidently toward the eternal home.
In the parables, Jesus taught lessons with stories familiar to His listeners. While the following story is not a parable, it still may serve to teach sincere students of the Word “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26).
Consider the following fictional scenario. Many years ago, some in the world of Christendom had looked on the great and notable day of the Ascension of our Lord as a day worthy of a special remembrance once each year. Over the centuries, this celebration became quite well known. In time, I learned of this special holy day and determined to participate in the celebration. I said, “That was a great and notable day in the course of human events. I’ll join them.” Religionists finally settled on July 17th each year as the Day for the Ascension celebration, though there was some debate among them as to the actual day of the Ascension. On the Day of the Ascension celebration, young men in white apparel stand and repeat the phrase “Why stand ye gazing up into heaven?” among other things. These religious folk also pulled ideas from pagan practices and Roman Catholic traditions to incorporate in their holy day celebration of the ascension.
After some thought, I decided to try and see if I could find in the Scripture where God had directed us to celebrate the Ascension of our Lord. I read Mark 16:19, which mentions the Ascension, but there is nothing in that passage to instruct me to celebrate the Ascension. I read Luke’s account (24:51), and Luke does not say anything about a special day for celebrating the Ascension either. In Acts 1:9-11, Luke gives more details, but still there is no directive to celebrate the Ascension on a special day each year. The Hebrews writer and Peter allude to the Ascension, but still there is no command from the Lord or inspired writers to celebrate the Ascension as a special holy day (Hebrews 4:14; 9:24; 1 Peter 3:22). Whatever the origin, it certainly did not come “through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12). I do, however, find ample teaching that we are to remember the Lord’s death until He comes again (1 Corinthians 11:23ff). Well, that is interesting.
Someone might say, “God doesn’t say not to celebrate the Ascension.” Let’s see if we can find where God has said not to celebrate the Ascension as a religious holy day. We search, but there is no record of that either! To paraphrase Hebrews 7:14, “Moses [nor any other inspired writer] spoke nothing concerning [celebrating the Ascension of our Lord].” So it’s true! God did not say not to celebrate the Ascension, but that does not authorize us to celebrate the Ascension as a religious holy day.
If I were to continue in the practice of celebrating the Ascension of our Lord on July 17th as a religious holy day, I would be acting without scriptural authority. Right? I would be doing that which the Lord had not commanded (cf. Leviticus 10:1-2). I would be disregarding the revelation of God’s will and disrespecting the silence of the Scripture – going beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6). As you read this story, see if you do not find a direct correlation between this scenario and the celebration of Easter and Christmas as special religious holy days.