Don’t you think it’s about time you stopped living like a Roman? Maybe you don’t think you live like a citizen of the greatest empire of the ancient world. But you do if you celebrate Dec. 25 as the birthday of the divine Savior. If you call yourself Christian, then it’s time you started living like a citizen of the Kingdom of God and not the kingdom of ancient Rome. And a citizen of the Kingdom of God does not celebrate Christmas day as the birthday of Jesus Christ.
No matter how well-intentioned your Christmas celebration is, worshipping Him with practices taken directly from paganism is an abomination to God.
It’s commonly acknowledged today that Jesus was not born on Dec. 25. You can easily find this in many resources on the Internet. Even many churches readily admit this truth and openly tell their membership the facts.
I recently had an experience that opened my eyes to how easily sincere religious believers gloss right over this core fact. It was eye-opening. Let me tell you about it.
Echoes of a pagan past
Some colleagues and I recently went on a study tour of Italy, visiting sites connected with the story of the apostle Paul and the early Church. While visiting the ruins of a farm villa in southern Italy, the childhood home of Poppea, Emperor Nero’s wife, our guide was telling us what everyday life was like for a Roman.
By the first century A.D., Rome had declared no less than 80 days as holidays. The most important of these holidays was Dec. 25, the birthday of the sun, at the culmination of a several-days-long festival called the Saturnalia. Coming in winter, this festival of lights, food and revelry was a very popular occasion for all citizens. The year’s darkest period was the perfect time for a party!
As our guide described this festival he asked the group, “Did Jesus have a birthday on Dec. 25?” “Absolutely not!” he quickly answered. I caught a glance at a number of fellow travelers, all of whom were Bible-believing folk, and saw they were nodding their head in agreement.
He continued: “The text shows it was warm and there were sheep in the field. In the winter months the sheep are all indoors and not in the field,” he went on to say. “But,” he said, “if this new God we are serving is the big God then let’s put His birth date on Dec. 25 and make it a big celebration.” So they did. The rest is religious history.
Today we have a term for that—syncretism. It means a blending of ideas to create something different or new. In this case they blended a thoroughly pagan idolatrous winter festival into their version of Christianity.
Never mind that a straightforward reading of the biblical account of Christ’s birth shows it was not in the dead of winter. Never mind that a little digging into the history behind the Gospel accounts points to His birth being in the fall of the year. Never mind that the New Testament gives no command to observe His birth as a festival or holiday of any kind. Never mind, as my tour guide was saying, that Jesus was not born on Dec. 25 or anywhere close to that date.
Never mind these things because syncretism says we can do whatever we want when it comes to worshipping God!
A syncretized Christianity
What I already knew that day in Italy was dramatically reinforced by the open admission of a very smart and sincere teacher. It started me thinking about how much like the Romans people are today when it comes to religion. Rome borrowed the gods and goddesses and religions from Greece, Egypt, Babylon, northern Europe and other nations. They mixed them together in their version of “faith” and went on living their lives.
The church that succeeded to Rome’s position of power syncretized in adopting many of the pagan days, chief of which was Dec. 25 and the Saturnalia festival. To their concept of Jesus Christ they gave the biggest holiday and brought in elements of the sun god to complete an image of a new god made in their image.
Paganism was baptized with a form of biblical religion, and the new church was off and running. False doctrine, a triune god and completely foreign forms of worship became accepted teaching and practice, and ultimately the tradition to which succeeding generations of church teachers would subscribe.
Christmas today is a mixture of false religious teaching and commercialism. Throw in some new age abstractions and you have a perfect holiday that adapts itself to just about any culture on earth today. Even non-Christian nations like China and Japan have parts of the Christmas traditions attached to Dec. 25. They may not care about the religious symbols, but they do observe some form of the holiday in parts of the countries. Japan does a booming retail business during the Christmas season.
So what does all this mean for us in our modern world? Christmas is the world’s single biggest and most lucrative holiday. Sales during the Christmas season determine the commercial viability of many businesses. Eliminating Christmas would mean a severe economic slump for many sectors of the economy. This commercialism isn’t going away despite the sentiments of those who desperately want the religious message to prevail.
In fact, Christ cannot be “put back into Christmas,” as many call for, because He never was in Christmas in the first place! Further, Jesus wants nothing to do with a holiday deeply rooted in pagan worship to which His name was vainly attached. The fact that most people do not care about this truth makes it all the more serious when we consider what God says about such customs!
God doesn’t accept syncretized worship
Isaiah the prophet addressed this same kind of matter to Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah in the seventh century B.C. Judah had adopted customs and worship traditions contrary to what God had given to them at the beginning of their national history.
In the first chapter of Isaiah God states the problem with idolatry and forgetting who He was to them. In Isaiah 1:12 He shows a problem with the feasts and Sabbaths they had altered on the days they were to “appear before Me.” Their worship resulted in empty rituals on days God had specifically designed and commanded as His appointed feasts (Leviticus 23:1).
While people in Jerusalem still went to the temple of God on days He had designated, their actions rendered those days effectively meaningless for them. They incorporated elements of idolatry into the worship of God, and their attitude and actions were wrong in many ways. God hated their defilement of His time and occasions through living contrary to Him: “I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; they are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them” (Isaiah 1:13-14).
Regardless of any additional feast days or their calendar, the fact that they polluted something sacred to Him made it meaningless. That is an important lesson for us today. Today’s Christian world has a festival calendar completely different from the one God gave to His people for all time. Holidays like Easter and Christmas, to name only two, are steeped in pagan origins and symbols. God hates these days. They have no place in a biblically defined Christian form of worship!
The people of Isaiah’s time did not listen to the warning. In time God completely drew back His hand of blessing from them, and they were invaded by a foreign power. Their time on the world stage drew to a close. Their national sovereignty ended. The same will happen today to any nation that claims God’s name yet insults that name with the indignity of pagan trappings. America, Canada, Australia and Great Britain, along with other nations, will be judged by God for this and other sins.
Christmas and other pagan days presented as Christian celebrations are an abomination to God. Let’s paraphrase Isaiah’s words to hear what God says and feels about this: “I have had enough of your pious worship and take no delight in what you offer of your life for Me. You presume to appear before Me with something I value. Your offering and worship is empty and meaningless. Your religious celebrations mean nothing to Me. They trouble Me. I turn My eyes away and do not see. Though you make many prayers, I do not hear them. Your way results in death and not life” (Isaiah 1:12-15).
This sounds harsh and judgmental to a modern ear. So be it. It is far less than the reality God visited on Israel and Judah for their sins. God’s direct judgment on the nations has always been fair and not without warning to give anyone who hears the opportunity to repent.
It’s time to choose: Follow God or follow pagan traditions
Earlier I mentioned the home of Poppea, Nero’s wife. The home was near Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius. It was covered with volcanic ash in the devastating eruption of A.D. 79.
The home we were in had been excavated, and you could still see the effect of the lava and ash that had covered the villa. That place and that event were a reminder to me that no culture—neither pagan Rome nor our neo-pagan world today—is exempt from judgment. Rome and its empire eventually went the way of all empires. Its time of power was eclipsed by the God of history whose determined purpose moves forward toward the day of final judgment (Acts 17:26; Acts 17:31).
Our tour guide acknowledged that Jesus wasn’t born on Dec. 25, the time of celebration following the end of the ancient Saturnalia. In his few words he admitted what is commonly known today among those interested enough to have looked into it. But he then moved on to another subject as if it didn’t matter. I wanted to say, “Wait—do you realize what you just said?”
Can you grasp what this fact means? How can you stand before God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ and defend worship that is effectively meaningless and even defiant? It doesn’t matter how sincere you are. No matter how well-intentioned your Christmas celebration is, worshipping Him with practices taken directly from paganism is an abomination to God.
No matter how warm and family-oriented your festival is, it is futile and empty before God. Even if you don’t care, He does. He is a God of righteous judgment, and He commands all who hear the truth to repent—to put away such pagan trappings and begin to worship Him in the joyous meaningful manner He designed from creation. God is also merciful, and He desires us to worship Him in humility and sincerity.
It is time to stop living like a citizen of ancient Rome and begin living like a citizen of the coming Kingdom of God. This holiday season, you should turn things around and begin worshipping God in spirit and in truth. God is waiting to receive your sincere worship in spirit and in truth and hear your prayers!