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Good Morning Nanty Glo!

Fifth Day of Christmas    

Wednesday, December 29 2004

Jon Kennedy, webmaster

Questions—round two

Continuing my series of responses to a
proposal that Christmas should not be kept

On December 22 I got a second letter from the reader of the Home Page questioning the validity of Christians observing Christmas. Incidentally, I've had no seconding of his original sentiment from other readers or to this series, except that one regular list participant seemed to cast Santa Claus and Christmas trees in a negative light. I would take those up as questions if they were meant seriously, but I'm not sure they were. I'm adding numbers to the the new letter from our original writer to better coordinate my answers (A1, etc.) with his questions (Q1, etc.). He writes again—

You said “the best ancient records show that the birthday of Jesus wasn't widely celebrated until three or four centuries later.” (Q1) What about the Bible as an ancient record? Should it not be the most important source? (Q2) What does it say about Christmas?

(A1) Yes, and it is. (A2) It has a great deal to say about what we call Christmas, that is, the birth of Christ. This event, if you believe fundamental Christian doctrine (that Christ is the Creator-God come in the flesh) is more important than the Jews being passed over by the angel of death when Egypt suffered the loss of all its first-born sons in the time of Moses (observed by the Old Testament church as Passover). It's more important than the receiving of the Law in the desert (which is remembered in the Jewish feast of Pentecost).

The Christians, from the disciples onward, were not as localized and under a single authority as the Jews were under Moses and the Judges, nor were they in a comparable state of peace and security, so it's understandable that some points were slow in dawning on them. The New Testament clearly witnesses that God had come to His people in three distinct persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), but it wasn't until after the New Testament was finished being written that the church realized there was no specific doctrine about the triune nature of the Godhead. So a council of church leaders fought over some differences of interpretation about that and propounded the doctrine of the trinity that all Christians profess today.

Christmas is similar in that it came slowly to the top of the church's agenda (the church did have to struggle with severe persecution for those first three centuries, after all), but when it was proposed that this should be one of the two most important feasts in the church's calendar (next to the resurrection feast, Pascha, which westerners call Easter), there was virtually no opposition to that proposal. No council comparable to the one that propounded the Trinity was required; no one debated it. No one is claiming that Christmas was celebrated before the closing of the New Testament canon (in laymen's terms, the New Testament was completed before Christians started celebrating Christmas).

(Q3) Did the family of Jesus celebrate Christmas? Did Jesus tell his followers to do it? Did anyone in the first Christian congregation do it? (Q4) How about young Timothy—was he taught that Santa Claus brought him gifts? (Q5) Paul wrote him “But wicked men and imposters will advance from bad to worse, misleading and being misled. You, however, continue in the things that you learned and were persuaded to believe, knowing from what persons you learned them and from infancy you have known the holy writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through the faith in connection with Christ Jesus.”

(A3) I strongly believe that Jesus' family celebrated His brithday. Otherwise, we probably wouldn't know the details of his birth that were recorded in the Gospels (which tell us that Mary, His mother, pondered—remembered, kept—the things pertaining to His birth in her heart). (A4) As a feast, Christmas was not yet kept by the church in the time of Timothy. St. Nicholas (who, by the way, was a member of the council that propounded the doctrine of the Trinity in the Nicene Creed) lived several centuries after Timothy so of course Timothy was not aware of him or his generosity, much less the myths that have grown up around him, none of which are part of the church's sacred tradition but more like the stories about Paul Bunyan or Johnny Appleseed. (A5) Yes, the church has always taught this and except in the apostasy (the humanist or modernist "church" so-called) still faithfully does so.

(Q6) Did any of these holy writings mention Christmas? (Q7) Was Timothy deprived of something, so he was an incomplete Christian? (2 Timothy 3:13-15). (Q8) Is the Bible a reliable source of information to describe how a Christian should operate? (Q9) Paul continues: “All scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16).

(A6) No. And neither did they mention the Trinity or the New Testament itself. They do say, however, that the Spirit will guide the church into all truth (indicating that not all truth has yet, at the time of the writing, been unfolded) and that the church, not the holy writings, is the ground of the truth. It also stresses that the Scriptures are of no private interpretation (meaning that its interpretation is the responsibility of the church, not "Lone Ranger Christians"). (A7) No. But what does this have to do with Christmas? (A8) Yes, but as indicated in A6, it does not claim to have revealed all that's going to be part of the church's life. (A9) No argument here. The church has no quibble with Paul on these excellent points.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy 

First article in series | Second | Third | Fourth | Fifth | Sixth | Seventh

A complete index of Jon Kennedy's Jonals for 2001 - 2004

A rhyme for the season (winter, that is)

I made myself a snowball, as perfect as could be,
I thought I'd keep it as a pet, and let it sleep with me.
I made it some pajamas, and a pillow for its head,
Then last night it ran away, but first it wet the bed.

— Selected 

Thought for today

The Virgin, heavy with the Word of God, comes down the road: If only you'll shelter her.

Saint John of the Cross  

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