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Good Morning Nanty Glo!

Seventh Day of Christmas    

Friday, December 31 2004

Jon Kennedy, webmaster

Christmas questions, nine

Ninth article in my series responding to a
proposal that Christmas should not be kept

Continuing the letter begun on Wednesday, and continuing the co-ordinating of the questions and answers by designating the questions Q1, etc., and the answers A1, etc.

The Christian congregation as described in the Bible was blessed with God’s holy spirit and thrived because they listened to the words of Jesus and obeyed (Matthew 7:24-27). (Q1) What kind of men would think that it was deficient so that traditions from other religions needed to be “brought into” the congregation (a la golden calf by Aaron)?

(A1) Having read scores of books on the early church, I'm convinced it was never lax or lacking diligence to keep any traditions of other religions from entering the church's doctrine and practice, throughout the first millenium. The Orthodox Church has changed nothing of dogmatic importance in the second millenium, though we would say the Roman church has made some unfortunate changes (forbidding priests to marry, elevating the papacy and developing the magisterial hierarchy, papal infallibility, the filioque, purgatory and its attendant indulgences, and the immaculate conception of Mary).

(Q2) Jesus did tell his followers to do many things. About him personally he told them to keep remembering his death, not his birth. (Luke 22:19).

(A2) If He didn't want us to remember His birth, why did He have it recorded in some detail in two of the four Gospels?

(Q3) The Bible does provide specific information relating to when this should be done, on the anniversary of the Jewish Passover. You said “The January 6 feast also commemorates the testimony of the Magi who came from afar to worship Him because a star had revealed to them that a new divinely appointed King of Israel had been born. Partly because the visit of the Magi was celebrated at this date, January 6, Christmas was reckoned back 12 days to account for the fact that the Wise Men came to him in a home in Bethlehem rather than in the stable in which He was born, suggesting a passage of that much time from when they began their journey at his birth until they reached Him.” How did someone arrive at January 6 as the date when the Magi visited Jesus in the house? The Bible does not say. For arguments sake, let’s say it was January 6. Then you’re saying count back 12 days because that neatly arrives at December 25?

(A3) Yes, this is a neat explanation that some have proposed, but no, there is no such official teaching that this is the case. As I said earlier, the dates were chosen arbitrarily because they fit well in the church's annual cycle of commemorations. They were chosen several centuries after the actual events and nobody claimed that if they got the date off it would invalidate what Theophany/Epiphany was remembering (and that is principally the fact that Christ is the light of the world).

(Q4) If it was only 12 days, why did Herod have “all the boys in Bethlehem and in all its districts done away with, from two years of age and under, according to the time that he had carefully ascertained from the astrologers” (Matthew 2:16). This is evidence from the Bible that it was a longer period of time than a mere 12 days.

(A4) I also addressed this earlier. Herod wasn't taking any chances. But some ancient observers also used Herod's timing to suggest that it may have been longer than 12 days. It makes absolutedly no difference in what the feast means or what is taught on it how long the journey of the Magi took. Nothing in church doctrine specifies how long it took or anything suggesting that the time of the journey has some bearing on Christians' salvation. I also said that the Theophany/Epiphany celebrates mainly Christ's baptism, and no one ever argued that that took place 12 days after his birth, or even two years (it was 30 by all the accounts I've seen). The church has never been legalistic about dates. Why do you feel it should be?

(Q5) You said “Some believe that because the Roman pagan gods' birthdays were celebrated, the early Christians were reluctant to make a feast for Jesus' birthday. But when some of them began doing it, the idea spread from one end of the church to the other very rapidly, a seal of its divine approval.” Jon, what you’re saying here is that because something is popular it has divine approval. How many examples from the Bible prove the exact opposite? Jesus told his disciples “If you were part of the world, the world would be fond of what is its own. Now because you are no part of the world, on this account the world hates you” (John 15:19).

(A5) But this was not "the world's" approval or worldly popularity, it was the church's approval, and Christ Himself said that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church, that the Spirit would lead the church into all truth and more than it had in His time. The Apostle Paul said the church is the pillar and ground of the truth. The whole history of the church through the seventh ecumenical council in 787 A.D. is about the struggle against false teaching. "Orthodox" (right faith and practice) was the church's name; "apostasy" (losing its first love and straying away from its biblical anchor) was and remains a vital part of what it opposes in every Lord's Day service. The introduction of Christmas as part of the church calendar had nothing to do with Santa Claus and decorating with evergreens, of course, and still does not in any official sense. (It may be of interest to know that in Orthodoxy St. Nicholas Day is December 7. On that date or the nearest Sunday the OC has its children's program and gives all the children small gifts, in memory of St. Nicholas, who is renowned for his generosity and his love for children. There is no other church-sanctioned giving related to the season, other than alms-giving which is strongly advocated (and our parish encourages by setting up a giving tree in the vestibule to provide Christmas gifts to childen in nearby homeless shelters), but neither does the church try to spoil the fun and good intentions of those who want to give gifts at Christmas at home, work, or anywhere else; it's not something the church pays any official attention to one way or another. [As I said, we don't have a magisterial hierarchy.])

(Q6) Of the Christian congregation Paul said “as regards this sect it is known to us that everywhere it is spoken against” (Acts 28:22).

(A6) This is talking about the world, of course, especially the Roman totalitarian government, and thousands of the church's number were martyred for this worldly opposition. Hundreds, probably thousands, of Christians in the first three centuries died who would have been spared if they would have just lit incense in front of a Roman idol or likeness of Caesar. This stand was never forgotten in the true church, not for a minute, and has never been compromised even to this day. But the Gospel tells us that Christ's salvation came to make all things new, and reforming the things that the general pagan world regarded as sacred was high on the church's agenda, just as I said on Tuesday reforming New Years Eve celebration is high on the agenda of many current evangelical churches for, I would say, good and valid reasons.

(Q7) The world today is fond of Christmas. That does not give divine approval. (Q8) Men (even if they’re dressed in glorious robes and hats that make them look important) do not change God’s standards or tell Him what is needed.

(A7) No one is saying that its worldly popularity gives Christmas any status before God. Only to the extent that it faithfully represents biblical truth in the feast's intentions and the way it is carried out is it approved of God. But on the other hand bringing joy into the life of my children, especially in the name of Jesus Christ, and being generous to my friends and the poor are things He does not despise. (A8) No one that I know of teaches that the clothes make the man or his clothes confer upon anyone authority. Francis of Assisi made this point hundreds of years ago, by disrobing completely. The dress of those serving in the Christian temple is considered appropriate for the court of the king, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and is modeled after the vestments in the Jewish Temple, where worship had a similar understanding.

(Q9) You said “Giving presents is something one does to honor anyone being celebrated on a birthday or other occasion (like marriage, graduation), and certainly the gifts of the wise men were examples to the church of giving gifts to honor our King, from the beginning.” The “giving of gifts” in itself is not the problem. Remember two things. 1. The practice of Christmas gift giving is not based on what was done by the Magi.

(A9) If we say we give our gifts because the Magi gave gifts to Jesus, by what authority do you call us liars? Or even if we say we give because God first gave us His most precious Gift? What proof do you have for this great sneak conspiracy to paganize our Christmas?

(Q10) They did not arrive at the time of Jesus’ birth. (Q11) Furthermore, they gave gifts, not to one another, but to the child Jesus, in accord with what was then customary when visiting notable persons.

(A10) Again with the legalistic insistance that dates mean something. Where is it written? (A11) "And the King [Christ] shall answer and say unto them, Truly I say to you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me" (Jesus, quoted by St. Matthew, 25:40).

There will be more....

Webmaster Jon Kennedy 

Series: One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven | Eight

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

Done your Christmas shopping?

It was Christmas and the judge was in a merry mood as he asked the defendant, "What are you charged with?"

"Doing my Christmas shopping early," replied the defendant.

"That's no offense," said the judge. "How early were you doing this shopping?"

"Before the store opened," replied the perp.

— Sent by Carl Essex 

Thought for today

Let us remember that the Christmas heart is a giving heart, a wide open heart that thinks of others first. The birth of the baby Jesus stands as the most significant event in all history, because it has meant the pouring into a sick world of the healing medicine of love which has transformed all manner of hearts for almost two thousand years... Underneath all the bulging bundles is this beating Christmas heart.

George Mathhew Adams  

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