What does Christmas mean to you? A spiritual celebration of Jesus' birth? A special time with friends and family? Is it best expressed in the wonder of a child's eyes hanging an ornament on the tree? Or for you, is it a time to shop till you drop. Or maybe, it is a time of despair and loneliness? On Beyond Today , we're going to investigate the "Christmas Spirit," a time when people wish for peace on earth and good will to all, and take a look at The Day After Christmas .
What does Christmas mean to you? Is it a feeling that on this day you have a special connection with God? Is it a longing for a Currier and Ives picture of family gathered around a table spread with food, in the background a Christmas tree shining with decorations and gifts waiting to be unwrapped? Is it a time of sharing the Christmas spirit of love, peace and goodwill to all? Well, we asked some people what Christmas means to them. Take a look at what they said:
"Christmas is about Jesus."
"You know Jesus' birthday and the re-what is it? The birth of Jesus Christ or what not? Something like that. But besides that, gifts for the kids and the family."
"Parties in the park…"
"Family, giving…Trying to help the needy…"
"For the little kids…"
"Shopping and what not…"
"Gifts and Christmas trees…"
"Naturally, you should think of Jesus, first, but a lot of people don't…"
"I love Christmas! It's also about fun and family…"
"Celebration of Christ's birth. Um…Unfortunately all the commercial stuff that goes with it too, but I mean it's fun with the kids, but overdone."
If you could change anything about Christmas, what would you change?:
"Change anything about Christmas? I wouldn't change anything."
"Make it less stressful for people. For people to actually realize the true moral of Christmas."
"Maybe that it weren't so commercialized."
"I would change the values that people put on, the you know, the giving gifts so much."
"Grown-ups shouldn't go out and get drunk and have a big party just ‘cause it's Christmas."
"Be a little less commercialized…"
"No one talks about Jesus or about Christ in Christmas and anything like that."
"Just take a lot of the commercialization out of it. Make it simpler."
Christmas can mean different things to different people.
Now, what most people really want, and really desperately need, in celebrating Christmas is: meaningful, loving relationships, a purpose greater than themselves, and a desire to connect with God and know that He actually cares. You spend money, go to parties, give gifts, attend worship services. Trying to capture and hold onto the precious moments that make you feel connected and loved.
And then, there's the day after Christmas. You return to the grind of daily life, go from store to store returning gifts and sometimes spend months paying off the credit cards.
Sort of reminiscent of the famous line from Charles Dickens, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." For many people, the Christmas season really is the worst of times. Depression, thoughts of how life might have been better, envy over what others have, loneliness, even suicide are all common experiences during this time of the year.
Why is Christmas, for so many people, such a two-edged sword? I mean everyone is really longing for the Christmas spirit of love and peace, family and friends. But, how do we reconcile blatant commercialism with the teachings of Jesus? How do we relate the drunken parties of Christmas Eve with our desire for a connection with God?
Why is it so hard to capture this thing called the spirit of Christmas? The folklore of sleigh bells ringing on a snow covered night, Tiny Tim turning the heart of Scrooge, Santa Claus and flying reindeer, really the feelings of childhood.
Why can't the Christmas spirit continue on the day after Christmas when everyone returns to the rudeness of the workplace, the anger and hurt of family conflicts, and rushing through life with little thought of anything spiritual? The day after Christmas, you return to a society where it seems that the teachings of Jesus Christ sort of get packed up with the nativity scene and stored in the attic.
Why is it that the day after Christmas, the world seems untouched by the Christmas spirit?
You know, I'm reminded of an event from World War I. In 1914, the Allies and Germans were locked in the horror of trench warfare on the Western Front. The soldiers on both sides had spent months attempting to kill each other by any means available--I mean rifles, bombs, machine guns, airplanes, hand grenades, trench knives, even their bare hands.
Christmas Eve, men began to sing carols. A man here and there ventured out of the trenches and wandered into no-man's-land. Groups began to emerge, began shaking hands with each other, the enemy. Some even began exchanging gifts. Of course, the officers were furious. This Christmas spirit had been taken way too far. Soldiers on both sides were threatened with severe punishment if they ever engaged in that kind of activity again.
Wasn't long before the two armies resumed killing each other with barbaric ferocity. The day after Christmas, most soldiers on both sides--German, French, British--they would have told you they were Christians. Many would have said--well if they were alive the next day-- they would have said, that they had experienced the Christmas spirit on that Christmas Eve in no-man's-land.
Why didn't the Christmas spirit stop the killing and the suffering on the day after Christmas?
Well here's the problem. All the preparation and adornment has left out the supposed "key player" of this season, Jesus Christ. He has taken a backseat to mythology and greed.
You know every year signs in front of neighborhood churches remind people to "Put Christ back into Christmas." Or, "Jesus is the reason for the season." The question we really need to ask is: Was Jesus ever the real reason for the season?
So what should you do? Is it even possible to remove secularism from Christmas? Is there really a way to keep the Christmas spirit alive the day after Christmas? Should Christians even give up Christmas?
Now before we tackle those questions, let me tell you about today's special free offer.
If something is missing in your Christmas celebration, this easy to read free booklet, Holidays or Holy Days: Does it Matter Which Days We Observe? can help you discover what's missing.
Do you know that Jesus wasn't born on December 25th? The date was actually chosen because of an ancient Roman pagan celebration. What does decorating a tree have to do with Jesus' birth? It's all explained in Holidays or Holy Days . Now before you say, "That's not important. Christmas is for children," ask yourself this question: Does it matter to Jesus Christ, whose birthday we're supposed to be celebrating?
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Let me share with you some pictures from the old family scrapbook.
Christmas was a very special time for us. The cute baby, it's me. I remember decorating the tree, the feelings of being loved by my family, gift giving, going to church and the time Santa Claus showed up at our house, and he looked strangely like my dad.
One day, when I was around seven years old, my parents came to me and said that we weren't going to observe Christmas anymore. They explained that they had discovered that Jesus wasn't born on Christmas. Now, I wasn't very upset over the news, like most people think a child would be, but I was confused. I was confused because I couldn't figure out why adults would celebrate somebody's birthday if He wasn't born on that day? It just didn't make sense to my little seven year old mind.
Now I tell you this story because there are Christians who don't observe Christmas. Christians who believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Who confess that He is the only way to salvation. And yet, we don't observe Christmas.
Why don't we celebrate Christmas?
Well first, the earliest Christians didn't celebrate Jesus' birthday. Its celebration isn't mentioned in the Gospels. It is impossible to calculate the day when Jesus was born. And quite frankly, modern Christmas traditions have little to do with the teachings of the Bible. Does that seem shocking?
A number of years ago, I discovered a book that really sheds light on Christmas observance.
Episcopalian priest, Dr. Earl W. Count, relates his personal discovery of the origins of Christmas in his book, 4000 Years of Christmas: A Gift from the Ages. Now remember Jesus was born only 2,000 years ago. Dr. Count enthusiastically relates historical connections between modern Christmas celebrations and customs originating in pagan Bronze Age Babylon. He shows that decorating with mistletoe was adopted from Druid mystery rituals and that the December 25th date was selected, not because it was the date of Jesus' birth, but because of the ancient Roman pagan festival of Saturnalia.
You know there has been plenty of research supporting Dr. Count's claim that Jesus wasn't born on December 25th. It's common knowledge that the origins of Christmas are rooted in the ancient Roman celebration of Saturnalia and the sun-god Mithra. What happened was church leaders in the fourth century simply adapted pagan customs and declared them holy, as a way to attract pagans to Christianity.
Now I know you don't feel a spiritual connection to the sun-god Mithra or ancient Druids when you observe Christmas. You observe Christmas to celebrate the birth of Jesus and to share a time with loved ones. But Jesus wasn't born on December 25th and the earliest Christians didn't observe His birthday. I remember the simplicity of the issue when I was only seven years old. Why would you celebrate someone's birthday on a wrong day?
At this point you might be saying, "As long as we honor Jesus Christ and celebrate love and family, what does it matter?"
Actually, it matters a lot. It matters a lot to Jesus Christ, the Person who Christmas is supposed to honor.
Now I want to illustrate this point in a story from the life of Jesus. I mean, if you want to celebrate the life of Jesus, let's see what He really taught.
In first century Judaism, there was a religious custom known as the Corban Vow. With a Corban Vow, a person could show a great obedience to God by dedicating all his possessions to the temple in Jerusalem. Sounds like a very spiritual thing to do, doesn't it?
The person was allowed to keep those possessions during his lifetime. Of course, if anyone asked for a loan the answer was, "Oh, I can't lend you any money. I'm under a Corban vow. Everything I have is dedicated to God." Now some people were actually ignoring the needs of their elderly parents by invoking the Corban Vow.
Jesus confronts these people and claims that "you have made the commandment of God…"--in this case the commandment to honor your parents. He says, "you have made [it] of no effect by your tradition."
Jesus claims that this human tradition, no matter how religious it seemed, had no connection with God. Their religious traditions had made God's way of no effect in their lives.
Now here's the tough question that I'm going to ask you. I want you to think about this. Have Christmas traditions, based on a false date for Jesus' birth, customs that are non-Christian in origins, and let's face it, materialism and greed, made the way of God of no effect in your life? Is this the reason the Christmas spirit seems to dissipate on the day after Christmas?
I mean, you're trying to connect with God. You want to experience the Christmas spirit of love and peace, but what if, in reality--think about this--Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus Christ?
Jesus said that human traditions can cause people to worship God in vain . In other words, our traditions can cause us to have unrewarding worship.
I want you to understand what I just said, because it is very, very important, and very few Christians want to face these words by Jesus. It's just not, it's just not politically correct, even in religious circles. Jesus said that human traditions can cause people to worship God in vain . In other words, our traditions can cause us to have unrewarding worship.
You're now faced with a very personal question, that if you're really honest, you're going to have to ask yourself: Have Christmas traditions, based on a false date for Jesus' birth, customs that are non-Christian in origins, and materialism and greed made the way of God of no effect in my life? Ask yourself that question.
I mean Christians who lament over the secular way many people observe Christmas, claim that if we could just strip Christmas of commercialism, then we could get Jesus back into the day. We could then recapture the Christmas spirit and bring peace and goodwill to all. Then the world would really change the day after Christmas.
Well friends, you can't put Christ back into something he was never part of to begin with. Christmas has been mythologized, commercialized and secularized.
At this point you're saying, "But if I give up Christmas, what will my family do as special days of worship of God and of Jesus Christ and family togetherness?"
You know in the Bible the earliest Christians didn't observe the birth of Jesus as a Holy Day. But, they did observe an annual calendar of special times of worship. Most Christians don't observe these days today because they are considered Jewish. Celebrations like the Passover, Pentecost, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles.
The earliest Christian families observed God's days as times of community worship. They saw these days as memorials to every aspect of the work of Jesus as the Messiah and the plan of God for humanity. In observing the Passover, they honored Jesus as the Passover lamb. And the Feast of Trumpets, they proclaimed the return, in the future, of Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The Day of Atonement pictured Jesus Christ as the High Priest.
And these times of family celebrations, you can discover the reality of the person we call Jesus, and experience the deep spiritual meaning by observing the times when the earliest Christians honored Him as the Christ.
Now I want to really share more of what it is like to be a Christian who doesn't observe Christmas. But first, let me tell about how you can begin to discover the real differences between traditional holidays and the observances of the earliest Christians, like Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles.
If you've ever felt unhappy, confused, or spiritually unfulfilled during Christmas, you need to read Holidays or Holy Days: Does it Matter Which Days We Observe?
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Well we're joined by my two fellow Beyond Today hosts, Darris McNeely and Steve Myers, as we discuss about Christians who don't keep Christmas. What is it most people are looking for in the Christmas spirit?
I think one of the things people look for is hope. You know, the hope that there would be peace on earth. We all know the catch phrases that are surrounding Christmas. And certainly we want hope. We want the warmth of good relationships; we want family that can get along for a change. And I think we look forward to those kinds of things and at least maybe that one day we could have it.
Capture that, yeah.
Yeah, I think its connections that people want. They want relationships. And that's probably what's mixed up and brought out through the whole approach towards Christmas, the nostalgic aspect of it. They are looking for something through family connections, a lot of times. You know I was watching a television program, one of my favorite programs here this past season, Christmas season. They did their annual traditional Christmas program, like they always do, and it dawned on me as I watched the program, it was really about the character's relationship to his father, the main character, that was the most important. And that's what the whole vehicle was about. They just used to use Christmas to kind of transport and convey that idea. But the individual wanted a relationship with his father and he was trying to recapture that; something that he probably never had, or had lost and was wanting it. And I think that it hit me, that's what people want. That's what they are trying to find, and very often it's not there. And that by itself is not wrong, but when you look at, and you put that into a religious context and what God wants for us. He wants it as well, and He's given us a far better way, a way of truth to find that and to accomplish that every day of the year.
In Christmas people are also looking obviously for a connector with God.
Now this is going to be shocking to many people, but here's three Christian pastors and none of us observe Christmas. So share with everyone why you gave up Christmas.
At first I didn't give it up by choice. I suppose in a way, I was challenged. That Christmas was not in the Bible and when someone confronted me with that, I was like, oh come on, of course Christmas is in the Bible! And sure enough, you get it out, and it's not there, there's no command and then you realize Christ wasn't born on Christmas. And then all these dominos begin to fall that I had taken for granted my whole adult life. And so, as I began to look into those things, it was shocking to find that what I had been taught as a child, and grew up with, wasn't really there. And then I had to really examine it, well does it matter? Does it really matter?
That's the important question.
And that was a question that I had to begin to have to answer and came to some very different conclusions of what was found in the Bible and what I had been taught.
For Steve, it was a challenge. For me, it was probably more challenged. I was 11 or 12 years old, when my mother began to learn these very things that you are covering in the program today about Christmas. She was seeking a deeper connection with God. She was seeking truth. And she began then to take Christmas away from the family. She did it in a balanced way, I think. She took it gradually in one sense, but eventually it was gone. So it was challenging for me as a 12 year old to have to deal with that where it had been a part of our life. I understood the intellectual arguments as I grew older and then I had to prove that for myself, but it was not something that, eventually was very difficult to choose--truth or error. And I really began to appreciate what my mother had done. She had the courage to teach me the truth at a very young age and I realized what a challenge that was for her-- what a courageous act. And it, you know, it's made obviously a major difference in my life, but it has been filled with something far greater.
I can remember as a teenager, actually skipping classes, and going to the library and studying what are the origins of Christmas and I found all kinds of sources, and they all said, whether it was encyclopedias or any kind of writing I could find, showed that it wasn't based in the Bible, it was based in ancient paganism. And I just could not accept paganism and Christianity connected like that. Now all three of us though do observe a different set of Holy times, of Holy Days in worship of Jesus Christ. What's that like?
Well, I think once you're faced with that issue of tradition or truth. It kind of boils down to that. This is tradition, this is the biblical truth; you have to make a choice. And as you see what's mapped out in the Bible, God had a plan. And that plan is mapped out through His Holy Days. They are not Jewish days but they're days that He designed to show His plan. And as you realize the tremendous meaning in His days, when you look at the Passover and you see how it's based on the fact that Jesus Christ sacrificed His life for me, for my sins, for the sins of all humanity. And it begins there and goes through each and every one of those days that have amazing intrinsic value, that has so much meaning. It doesn't leave you empty the day after. That it, it really has deep spiritual meaning mapping out what God has in mind for all humanity.
Isn't it amazing, many Christians will say that Jesus is the Passover Lamb, then why don't we celebrate the Passover?
Every one of those festivals, the Holy Days that God gave to mankind from the Bible, every one of those days has substance to them because they deal with Jesus Christ. They show an aspect of Christ's life, death and His resurrection and His future reign and rule and His whole life, His whole plan and purpose. Every one of them has Jesus Christ embedded in those days, so there's far more substance there than anything that can be manufactured out of some pagan past or just a human desire to manufacture some day that is not, or some custom, to worship God when God is not there. God does not back it. He does not condone it.
I think that's a really good point. That we don't have to put Christ into something…
That He's already there…
That he wasn't there to begin with, but God laid out these days…
Get to the real thing…
And they're there. He is in those days, the meaning is there. You don't have to put them there. God says He's there. These are the days to keep and this is what you should do.
These days are Christ-centered.
And if you read the New Testament, Jesus and His follows all observed these days.
So, if that's the example, why don't we keep it? Which really leads me to the last question I want to cover here: So what does it matter if we keep Christmas as long as we are honor Christ? What does it matter? How would you answer that?
I would answer it, do we want to please God? Do we really want to do what God wants us to do? Is God powerful enough to be worshiped the way that He says He should be? And if He is, if He really has created the universe, then He should be able to tell us how to worship Him. And so He says, worship me on these days, and that's what we should follow.
I would say it's the height of folly and vanity, and really, self-idolatry for any human being, any human group of human beings, to think that they can manufacture something apart from God, as a means of worshiping the true God.
Then call it holy…
And call it holy. No human being can do that. God has laid out a perfect way by which we can understand Him. We can approach Him. We can come into His presence. And He guards that very, very carefully and He tell us to do the same thing, and it takes courage and it is a challenge for us, but it takes courage to do what God says, rather than what we may think is right. Because it's convenient, it's what we've always known, what we've grown up with.
You know it really comes down to who determines what is holy.
Does God determine what's holy? Or do we? Can we somehow declare what is holy? If it is God who makes something holy, then we need to ask, how did Christmas become holy? And why are we not as Christians observing the days that Jesus and His followers, in the New Testament, observed? And they are called Holy Days!
Well, if you are one of those people who want to know how to put Christ back into your religious life, then you need to read: Holidays or Holy Days : Does it Matter Which Days We Observe? And remember, today when you order your free copy, we'll also send you a free one-year subscription to The Good News magazine.
In every issue, you'll find articles on subjects like: marriage and family, what the Bible teaches about the most vital questions in your life, how to make sense of today's confusing world news, and how to understand the Bible in the post-modern society and you'll also find God's amazing plan for humanity and for you personally.
Now if you didn't get the number earlier, here it is again, toll-free: 1-888-886-8632. Or read Holidays or Holy Days online at BeyondToday.tv. And follow Beyond Today on Twitter and join us on Facebook.
Christian who don't keep Christmas. It's not as strange as it sounds. Christmas is based in the attempt to use non-Christian celebrations to attract pagans.
The Christmas spirit, love, peace and goodwill, is a wonderful idea. But, Jesus Christ wants disciples, imitators of His life. Not just a day dedicated to Him and filled with, what He called vain traditions.
You can watch this program again online. And join us next week on our journey to discover what God really wants in your life.
Thanks for watching.