Sunday, December 2, 2012

Are Christmas and Easter Christian Holy Days?

It is interesting that the New Testament – the only contemporary record we have of the early Christian church – gives us no indication that believers celebrated either the birth of Christ or his resurrection as specific holidays (or holy days) in the first century B.C. The birth of Christ, despite all those wonderful stories in the early chapters of Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels, is subsequently completely ignored. And, although the life proclaimed by Christ’s victory over the grave is a central part of the Church’s message, there is no indication that early believers celebrated it more elaborately on any particular “Easter Day” than they did every time they gathered to worship.

Some have attempted to show that the celebration of those Christian holy days (especially Christmas) are merely the adaptation, by Christians, of pagan holidays; attempts to convert “heathen” practices, to which many converts insistently clung, into Christian-themed celebrations of events at the beginning of, and end of, Christ’s life. It seems that there is good evidence that such is the case, and especially, as I say, in the case of Christmas.

So what? Assuming those critiques of Christmas and Easter are true, do they diminish the “truth” those days represent to believers in Christ? It is rather like asking a young couple who has chosen as their wedding day, the same day their grandparents were wed to each other, if the fact that they are being wed on a “borrowed” sacred day diminishes the validity of their love for each other. Of course it does not. It could even be argued that it gives richer meaning to their special day. We are always changing the meanings of days. With only 365 days per year and thousands of years-worth of events to celebrate, all days must be prepared to serve multiple duty.

So Christmas and Easter are not “merely” adaptations of previous – sometimes pagan – holidays; they are, or at least have been for several centuries, days set aside to remind us of God’s great gifts to us. If, in order to remind us of the birth of the Savior, the death and resurrection of the Savior, we have turned attention away from previous pagan superstition and practice, it is only for the purpose of presenting the very truth and joy those days were feebly reaching toward.

The danger in our day lies not in the “discovery” that our sacred holidays are celebrated on days previously devoted to pagan ideas; it is that we will allow them, once again to become “pagan” in nature rather than proclamations of God’s love for us and provision for us through His Son.

The vast majority of the world, even in “Christian America,” still celebrate pagan holidays while the Church – when it is truly being “the Church” – insists that Christmas and Easter are spiritual holy days, not because they are commanded in Scripture, but because the Church has sanctified them (set them aside) as days of thankful celebration of God’s greatest gift to the world.

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