|Volume 17 Number 12 December 2015||
Mark T. Tonkery
So many people this time of year stop to reflect on the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Although the Birth of Christ is recorded in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 2, there is neither biblical nor historical evidence that the first Christians celebrated Christ’s birth as a church festival or holiday. In fact, it was not until A.D. 1038 that the Catholic Church celebrated the mass of Christ, and in 1131, it was call the Christ Mass, which became known as Christmas (https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03724b.htm).
As the Catholic Church developed its Christ Mass, which to this point in history was only a special mass to celebrate the birth of Christ, it was not until 1223 that the first “Nativity Scene” appeared. The Nativity Scene was created by the Catholic priest Francis of Assisi in 1223 to teach that Jesus was born into a poor family. Francis of Assisi was known for ministering to the poor, and he used the birth of Christ to show how Jesus could relate to the poor’s plight (https://www.whychristmas.com/customs/nativity.shtml).
The Bible neither tells us the date of the birth of Christ nor that we should celebrate His birth. Many people through the ages have tried to highlight this very important event in history, many times taking away or adding to the biblical text, which only distorts the truth. However, Christians must seek the truth and understand how God intended to save the human race through Jesus Christ.
The only biblical accounts of Christ’s birth are found in Matthew and Luke; however, there are other passages in the New Testament that help to explain the importance of Christ's birth as fulfilling God’s intended purpose for salvation. John 1:14 states, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Galatians 4:4-5 reads, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Romans 1:3 says, “concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh.” Romans 8:3 adds, “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.”
Philippians 2:7 records of Jesus that He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Hebrews 2:14-17 notes:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
As these Scriptures point out, Christ’s birth was an essential part of God’s plan of Salvation. God’s plan was for Jesus to be born in the flesh of a virgin and to physically grow into a man, while yet being fully God at the same time (Colossians 2:9). Jesus later offered Himself upon the cross, and then, He arose from the dead on the third day for the sins of people.
Therefore, the next time you see a “Nativity Scene” or hear the reading of Matthew 1-2 or Luke 2, remember this is just one aspect of Jesus’ life; there is more! We must also remember that we could not have Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection if it were not for His birth. Without Christ’s birth, we have no salvation, but also remember that God did not intend for Jesus to remain in the manger either. Neither should we keep Him there. Let us learn the lesson that God intended for us to learn in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 2, and keep these passages in perspective with the rest of the Scriptures.
Mark T. Tonkery
Have you thought about the current religious and social scene in America, especially during this time of year – Christmas? Religion has once again been forced to the forefront of the news with groups fighting over whether to have a “Nativity Scene” in the public square. Others are debating about using the word “Christmas” in their sales ads, and then, we hear schools are not going on “Christmas break” but instead on “Winter Break.”
In our changing society, I wonder if anyone of us has stopped to ask what did God intend by sending His Son, Jesus Christ, to this earth? What does God think about current Christmas traditions here in America? Would Joseph and Mary have put a “Nativity Scene” in their yard? Would the apostle Paul have worn a “Keep Christ in Christmas” pin while on his missionary journeys? Would Peter go to court if his children came home from school and told him they were not going to have “Christmas Break” but “Winter Break”? Did God intend people to celebrate His Son’s birth with “Merry Christmas” and “Nativity Scenes”?
There is another dilemma, however, in the debate over having a “Nativity Scene” and whether or not to use the word “Christmas.” These are symptoms of a greater problem. We live in a society that is pushing for the removal of Christ from the public eye; it is just not about Christmas, but it is also about the Christian faith as a whole. Realize that often one cannot pray in school, before a game or before a government meeting as people once did in this country. One cannot read his Bible or promote the Bible over another faith or belief in a public way. Too often, the battle cry of the atheists and the secularist is the “separation of church and state” and “let’s be fair.” About this time of year, a school, a business, a city park or a government building wants to put a “Nativity Scene” on display, and then, the battle drums begin to beat. There are petitions and media coverage, and in some cases, judges and courts get involved.
With whom do we side? Should we side with those who cry to “Keep Christ in Christmas” or with those who cry for “separation of church and state”? Neither side represents what God intended.
I believe in the virgin born birth of Jesus. I believe Jesus was born of Mary in the city of Bethlehem. I believe that the angels appeared to the shepherds and announced the birth of Christ. I believe Jesus was born in a stable, and He was laid in a manger because there was no room in the inn. I believe Joseph was Jesus’ earthly stepfather. I believe the wise men came to Jesus within two years of His birth and gave Him gold, frankincense and myrrh.
I believe that Jesus Christ was born, but probably not on December 25; the Bible doesn’t tell us the date. I believe Jesus is the reason for every season, not only this season. I believe in worshiping Christ not just for His birth but also for His death, burial and resurrection on each Lord’s Day as I have the opportunity to assemble with the saints (Hebrews 10:25). Yes, I have read Romans 14:5, which says, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” I am of the conviction that all days are unto the Lord.
I believe Christ should be celebrated, glorified and honored, but maybe not with a plastic made in China figurine in my yard. Neither is Jesus Christ glorified with bitterness or rage. Further, I am not allowed to use a non-biblical word to express my faith. My faith is not demonstrated by a halfhearted, just for show so called once a year worship service, which reminds us more of the money changers at the Temple than of New Testament worship. I believe that I can be a Christian whether I say Merry Christmas or not. Remember, the great confession of the Christian is, “I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), not Merry Christmas. I believe Jesus is Lord, and I believe He is the Savior of the world (John 8:24).
So, if the atheists have their way with the courts and take the “Nativity Scene” from the public square, if the department stores have a “Winter Sale” instead of a “Christmas Sale” and if my children do not have a “Christmas Break” but have a “Winter Break,” it is okay because my faith is not based upon these traditions. Instead, my faith is built on the solid Rock, the living and resurrected Jesus Christ. If the government comes and tells me that I cannot worship and serve my Lord, then I can say like Peter and the apostles, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Therefore, should we keep Christ in Christmas? The answer is, “Yes,” and we should keep Christ in our New Year’s Day, our Valentine’s Day, our St. Patrick’s Day, Easter and every day that ends in “Y.” Christ needs to be our beginning and end, the first and the last, as we live on planet earth!