By Steven J. Wallace
About this time of year there is a jingle that is heard throughout the season. It often sounds like this: “Keep Christ in Christmas” or “Christmas is nothing without Christ but everything with Him.” Unfortunately, there is much “Christmas Fiction” today, fables that ring as if they are good and true but upon closer investigation are found to be falsehoods.
Keep Christ In Christmas
One cannot keep Christ in Christmas because Christ was never in Christmas to begin with. This may often come across as shocking to most but it is no doubt the truth. While we read of the “what” of Jesus’ birth in the Bible, we nowhere read of the “when” and certainly not Christmas. What then of Christmas? The answer is simple; it originated with men and not God. The Bible doesn’t identify either the year or the month and day that Jesus was born and yet droves of people commemorate December 25 as his birthday? It was not until A.D. 354 that Liberius, Bishop of Rome, prescribed it to be celebrated on December 25. The choosing of this date was probably influenced by the pre-existing celebration of pagan festivals such as the celebration of Mithras, the supposed god of light and truth. Also in December the Romans celebrated Saturnalia, often filled with riotous and orgiastic behavior. It appears that Christmas was invented to assist in the transformation of pagan festivals from such carnal and depraved behavior to something more palatable to moral goodness.
However, even if we did know the birthday of Christ, there is no authority in the Bible, the word of God, for commemorating it as a religious holiday. It is his death, burial and resurrection that the Lord stresses his followers to memorialize (Matt. 26:26-30; Luke 22:14-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-29). For the first-century Christian, this was a regular and weekly practice (Acts 20:7). How can we keep Christ in Christmas when Christmas was created four centuries after he was born? We have as much authority to keep Christ in Christmas as we do the fourth of July.
Three Wise Men At The Manger
Other fables and myths are publicly preached in “nativity scenes” that show three wise men gathering around a manger to see baby Jesus. Where does the Bible show that there were only three wise men? It is very assumptive to presume there were only three wise men simply because Jesus received three “kinds” of gifts. If one should say today that he received at his birthday clothes, music CDs, and computer software, it is ludicrous to assume that he must have only had three people at his party!
We don’t know how many wise men were present to see and worship the sinless Son of God, but we definitely know that they did not see him in a manger. When Jesus was visited by the wise men, they “had come into the house” (Matt. 2:11), not into a barn. Incidentally, the wise men were not the same as the shepherds as given in Luke’s account, but distinctively different. They were from the “East” (Matt. 2:1) which is more than likely Persia. On the other hand, the shepherds were living in the fields of the “same country” (Luke 2:8) in which Jesus was born. The shepherds saw Jesus right after he was born (thus in a manger) but the Scripture implies that the wise men were expecting to see a child who was up to two years old, from Herod’s deplorable action (compare Matt. 2:7 and 2:16), thus a while after Jesus’ birth.
Born In December
As for when Jesus was born, please consider that more than likely, Jesus was born between March and November. Scholars tell us that this is the time frame when shepherds would drive their sheep out to deserts and mountainous regions and then bring them back by October or early November.
Here is a chronology that presents the facts better than these half truth dramatizations that are given today:
- Announcement to Mary (Luke 1:26-38).
- Announcement to Joseph (Matt. 1:18-24).
- Birth of Jesus (Matt. 1:25; Luke 2:1-7).
- Announcement to Shepherds and visit (at manger) (Luke 2:8-20).
- Jesus’ circumcision (eight days old) (Luke 2:21).
- Jesus’ presentation at the temple (about 40 days old) (Lev. 12:1-6; Luke 2:22-38).
- Wise men visit Jesus (at house) (Matt. 2:1-12).
- Journey to Egypt (Matt. 2:13-15).
- Massacre of children (Matt. 2:16-18).
- Return to Nazareth (Luke 2:39; Matt. 2:19-23).
Be Careful What You Teach
Having said all that, we should be careful that we teach biblical events in a truthful way, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (Jas. 3:1). Christmas is a time to spend time with family, exchange gifts, and eat good food, but there is no biblical authority for observing it as a religious holiday. To those who want salvation of the soul, we must not look into the manger, but to the cross in humble obedience (Col. 1:19-23; 1 Tim. 2:5, 6; Rom. 6:3-9).
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