by Tom Hughes, December 14, 2016: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:13, 14). The subject of Christmas has caused a lot of controversy in recent years. Secular society has tried to exterminate Christmas and every vestige of it by using the phrase “Happy Holidays.” They substituted Xmas for Christmas, unwittingly defeating their purpose. You see, Xmas is an abbreviation for Christmas since the X is the first letter of Christ’s name in Greek. Thus they failed in their goal and actually unwittingly put Christ BACK IN CHRISTMAS. Even in the Church there has been a war on Christmas. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have banned all mention of Christmas, calling it a pagan holiday. Even some Seventh-day Adventists have fallen into this trap and have condemned any celebration of Christmas. Some have even left the church in protest because of celebrating Christmas. What is a true Christian to make of all this? Should we celebrate Christmas? Should we make Christmas a curse or a blessing? Should we ignore it, condemn it, celebrate it, or shun those who celebrate it? Is the Christmas tree an idol? Are we celebrating a pagan holiday if we act joyful and give gifts to our family and friends? These are all good questions to ask, and more importantly, to answer!
A look at the history of the pioneers. Ellen White had a lot to say about Christmas.
“As the twenty-fifth of December is observed to commemorate the birth of Christ, as the children have been instructed by precept and example that this was indeed a day of gladness and rejoicing, you will find it a difficult matter to pass over this period without giving it some attention. It can be made to serve a very good purpose.
“The youth should be treated very carefully. They should not be left on Christmas to find their own amusement in vanity and pleasure seeking, in amusements which will be detrimental to their spirituality. Parents can control this matter by turning the minds and the offerings of their children to God and His cause and the salvation of souls.” The Adventist Home, p. 478, emphasis added
From this we see that Christmas is not to celebrate the birthday of the department store, not to be a day for self-indulgence and avarice, but it should be a day of giving offerings of our money and time to those less fortunate than ourselves, and to strengthen the church of God in reaching the lost.
“The desire for amusement, instead of being quenched and arbitrarily ruled down, should be controlled and directed by painstaking effort upon the part of the parents. Their desire to make gifts may be turned into pure and holy channels and made to result in good to our fellow men by supplying the treasury in the great, grand work for which Christ came into our world. Self-denial and self-sacrifice marked His course of action. Let it mark ours who profess to love Jesus because in Him is centered our hope of eternal life.” Ibid, emphasis added.
Rather than just giving your children worldly video games and videos to amuse them, we are challenged to engage our children in making sacrifices for the good of others, sacrificing their time and money to help those in need. The giving of gifts is to be for their benefit, and are not condemned but are to show love toward others and not just for their entertainment.
“The holiday season is fast approaching with its interchange of gifts, and old and young are intently studying what they can bestow upon their friends as a token of affectionate remembrance. It is pleasant to receive a gift, however small, from those we love. It is an assurance that are not forgotten, and seems to bind us to them a little closer. . .. It is right to bestow upon one another tokens of love and remembrance if we do not in this forget God, our best friend. We should make our gifts such as will prove a real benefit to the receiver. I would recommend such books as will be an aid in understanding the word of God or that will increase our love for its precepts. Provide something to be read during these long winter evenings.” Ibid., emphasis added.
So not only is it OK to give gifts on Christmas, we are encouraged to give tokens of love not just to our family and friends, but to Jesus, our best friend! Parents may have to up their game this year, and revamp their celebration to revolve around Jesus as the Savior of the world and not just around increasing our pleasure. In a world of big screen TV’s and Smartphones this may be challenging, but maybe it’s time we came up to higher ground, and elevated our eyes heavenwards! It may surprise you to learn that our prophet encouraged people to make Christmastime a blessing to our families and to other people in the communities in which we live. And why does she say to do that? Because the world did not appreciate or recognize the importance of the birth of Christ as they should have done!
“I entreat you, my brethren and sisters, to make this coming Christmas a blessing to yourselves and others. The birth of Jesus was unhallowed by the great men of earth. He was the Majesty of heaven; yet this royal subject had no attendants. His birth was unhonored by the very men he came to our world to save.” Review and Herald, December 9, 1884
Doesn’t this sound exactly like what our Christmas condemners are doing even in our own church today? And certainly in secular society? Instead of celebrating the birth of Christ as one of the most awesome events in history, they focus on the date’s being incorrect, because no one, including them, has any idea of the actual date upon which Jesus was born, and they demean the holiday as pagan. They have a narrow, legalistic, petty attitude that sucks the joy out of the season, and in a smug, self-righteous way, they act as if their looking-down-their-nose attitude is superior to those who are happy and joyful at the birth of Christ. Well, for too long, people have sat by and tolerated this disrespectful, ignorant display of pomposity, not wanting to offend the naysayers’ delicate sensibilities! These people often profess to place a high regard upon the writings of our prophet. So enough of this doom and gloom negativity, I say! If you really honor that guidance then make the Christmas season A BLESSING!
And what about that argument about Jeremiah that talks about worshipping a Christmas tree? First, that tree in Jeremiah was more like an Indian totem pole, where they cut down the tree, took all the branches off, carved it and then nailed pieces of metal to it as an idol to be worshipped. It has nothing to do with the modern practice of having a Christmas tree as a symbol of unity and Christian love. Since the 19th century, at least among our pioneers, there has never been a teaching that embraces the negative, narrow-minded judgmentalism of today’s critics. In fact, our most important pioneer says God is pleased by having a tree!
“God would be well pleased if on Christmas each church would have a Christmas tree on which shall be hung offerings, great and small, for these houses of worship [referring to churches that need help with building projects]. Letters of inquiry have come to us asking, Shall we have a Christmas tree? Will it not be like the world? We answer, You can make it like the world if you have a disposition to do so, or you can make it as unlike the world as possible. There is no particular sin in selecting a fragrant evergreen and placing it in our churches, but the sin lies in the motive which prompts to action and the use which is made of the gifts placed upon the tree.” The Adventist Home, p. 482, emphasis added.
In fact, we are encouraged to make donations to the church and to the poor, and to consider these as OUR GIFT TO JESUS IN CELEBRATION OF HIS BIRTHDAY!
“The tree may be as tall and its branches as wide as shall best suit the occasion; but let its boughs be laden with the golden and silver fruit of your beneficence, and present this to Him as your Christmas gift. Let your donations be sanctified by prayer.” The Adventist Home, p. 482, emphasis added.
Both Christmas and New Year celebrations are encouraged to be held on behalf of those who are helpless and have large families to support. I’m so glad that all three of the churches in my district recently gave away lots of baskets of food to the poor for Thanksgiving. We do it for Christmas as well, with the prophet’s blessing!
“Christmas and New Year celebrations can and should be held in behalf of those who are helpless. God is glorified when we give to help those who have large families to support.” The Adventist Home, p. 482, emphasis added
It’s also interesting that some of the narrow-minded critics of her day were condemning trees in the Sabbath school for the children. EGW points out that some gravitate toward the superficial amusements of the season, to others it would be a highly beneficial season of innocent celebration of the Savior’s birth.
“Let not the parents take the position that an evergreen placed in the church for the amusement of the Sabbath school scholars is a sin, for it may be made a great blessing. Keep before their minds benevolent objects. In no case should mere amusement be the object of these gatherings. While there may be some who will turn these occasions into seasons of careless levity, and whose minds will not receive the divine impress, to other minds and characters these seasons will be highly beneficial. I am fully satisfied that innocent substitutes can be devised for many gatherings that demoralize.” The Adventist Home, pp. 482-483, emphasis added
Rather than discouraging Christmas celebrations, the greatest fear of the prophet seems to be that the church will make them dry and uninteresting, and not approved of by heaven! Listen to this!
“Will you not arise, my Christian brethren and sisters, and gird yourselves for duty in the fear of God, so arranging this matter that it shall not be dry and uninteresting, but full of innocent enjoyment that shall bear the signet of Heaven? I know the poorer class will respond to these suggestions. The most wealthy should also show an interest and bestow their gifts and offerings proportionate to the means with which God has entrusted them. Let there be recorded in the heavenly books such a Christmas as has never yet been seen because of the donations which shall be given for the sustaining of the work of God and the upbuilding of His kingdom.” The Adventist Home, p. 483, emphasis added
Wow! A celebration of Christmas that is warm, interesting and heaven-approved, and not only that but a record-breaking Christmas of generosity to the poor and needy! Show your joy in the birth of the Savior by taking care of His people! Yes! So isn’t it interesting, as we review the history of our pioneers, that rather than shun Christmas celebrations we are encouraged to have them for the glory of God! The prophet encourages us to make Christmas a time of great celebration and rejoicing because heaven did so when Jesus came!
WE SHOULD CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS THE RIGHT WAY!
We should celebrate Christmas because all heaven sent their best choirs to rejoice and celebrate with all who would join in on the original Christmas day! Just because we don’t know the actual date is no reason to shun the rejoicing in the fact that Jesus came and was born as our Savior! Rather than being narrow-minded, critical Ebenezer Scrooges, condemning the season, we should be loudly rejoicing like the angels and those who celebrated the first Christmas! Let’s take a closer look at the heavenly celebrations in the Bible.
- Christmas was celebrated by the angels of God
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:13, 14).
“The angels . . . appeared to the humble shepherds, guarding their flocks by night, upon Bethlehem’s plains. One angel first appeared, clothed with the panoply of heaven; and so, surprised, and so terrified were the shepherds that they could only gaze upon the wondrous glory of the heavenly visitant with unutterable amazement. The angel of the Lord came to them and said, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy. . .. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.’ . . . No sooner had their eyes become accustomed to the glorious presence of the one angel, then, lo! the whole plain was lighted up with the wondrous glory of the multitude of angels that peopled the plains of Bethlehem. The angel quieted the fears of the shepherds before opening their eyes to behold the multitude of the heavenly host, all praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men.’” Reflecting Christ, p. 373
- Christmas was celebrated by the shepherds
Luke 2:8: And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
Luke 2:15: And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
Luke 2:18: And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
Luke 2:20: And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
So, the shepherds praised God and glorified him, and told everyone the miraculous story! The people wondered and were astonished at the story.
“Then was the melody of heaven heard by mortal ears, and the heavenly choir swept back to heaven as they closed their ever-memorable anthem. The light faded away and the shadows of the night once more fell on the hills and plains of Bethlehem; but there remained in the hearts of the shepherds the brightest picture mortal man had ever looked upon, and the blessed promise and assurance of the advent to our world of the Saviour of men, which filled their hearts with joy and gladness, mingled with faith and wondrous love to God.” —Review and Herald, Dec. 9, 1884, quoted in Reflecting Christ, p. 373
So, if God Himself sent a choir to get the party started, and sent His heavenly host to celebrate with the shepherds, shall we not also remember this great occasion? Is it not appropriate to rejoice and praise God just as the shepherds did?
- Christmas was celebrated by the wise men
“[The birth of Jesus] was celebrated by the heavenly host. Angels of God, in the appearance of a star, conducted the Wise Men on their mission in search of Jesus. They came with gifts and costly offerings of frankincense and myrrh, to pay their oblation to the infant King foretold in prophecy. They followed the brilliant messengers with assurance and great joy.” Reflecting Christ, p. 373
So, the wise men, Oriental potentates from the East were guided by the angels, followed them to view the Christ Child with assurance and GREAT JOY! The Greek word used here is MEGA. Great, Mega, Huge JOY! If God is pleased when we celebrate, the angels celebrated, the shepherd’s celebrated, the Wise Men celebrated and the unfallen universe celebrated, should not we, who are the beneficiaries of Christ’s amazing sacrifice also celebrate! YES, INDEED WE SHOULD! That having been said, we must do so in a way that God can glorify. In a way that God can bless! We must be a blessing to ourselves and others.
“By the world, the holidays are spent in frivolity and extravagance, gluttony, and display. . .. Thousands of dollars will be worse than thrown away upon the coming Christmas and New Year’s in needless indulgences. But it is our privilege to depart from the customs and practices of this degenerate age; and instead of expending means merely for the gratification of the appetite or for needless ornaments or articles of clothing, we may make the coming holidays an occasion in which to honor and glorify God.
“Christ should be the supreme object; but as Christmas has been observed, the glory is turned from Him to mortal man, whose sinful, defective character made it necessary for Him to come to our world.” The Adventist Home, p. 480
Heaven itself came down to earth, and celebrated the birthday of our Savior. The world was indifferent to him, yawning in the face of God, spending their time and money on themselves. Today is no different. All the world worships at the altar of money and greed. Let us in the church depart from this degenerate ages customs and practices and make Christmas a joyful and happy time for children to learn how to turn their attention from themselves to those less fortunate than themselves. Let us encourage all our members to give gifts to Christ, his church, and the poor and needy rather than to just spend money on gifts that will pass away with no eternal consequence. Let us make Christ the supreme object of our Christmas celebrations, and ever remember that he truly is THE REASON FOR THE SEASON!
Tom Hughes is a district pastor in the Ohio Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and an evangelist throughout the denomination’s North American Division, as well as a key leader in outreach to motorcyclists around the world. He addresses these mythologies in a new book entitled The First Angel’s Message Revealed.