Happy Holidays!

Is there really a “War on Christmas” or is this a just a diversionary skirmish designed to lure Christians into error… into… sin?

There IS a great conflict, or war, between followers of Christ and the rest of the world, and there has been ever since the devil first whispered lies in the garden and a woman and man believed them. (see Genesis 3.)

But, I think the most important questions should be WHO are we fighting and HOW should we fight them?

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  -- Ephesians 6:12*

Those evil spiritual forces and dark powers use ignorance, distortions, deceptions and outright lies to wage war on Christians by discrediting their testimonies, mocking their practices, and tempting them to meet SPIRITUAL attacks with WORLDLY responses.

One of the oldest and most reliable tactics in warfare and martial arts is the “feint” or “diversion”.  The enemy makes you think his main attack is occurring one place, and while your attention and resources are misdirected there, a more dangerous attack is launched in another place.   His feint or diversion may involve actual fighters and actual damage, but worse damage is planned for, and coming from, somewhere else.

I respectfully suggest that our fight should not be with people who say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas”, or with people who write “Xmas” rather than “Christmas”, or with companies that don’t decorate their coffee cups with Holiday Symbols.  

It may be a fight about what seasonal symbols and traditions are “Christian” enough or how people should greet one another this time of year is a DIVERSION to keep us from focusing on the really important part of the battle.

Perhaps the conflict is not with people who believe -- or even spread -- lies about Christians and our beliefs, but with the “Father of Lies” (John 8:44).  Scripture says he prowls about like a roaring lion, hunting souls to devour, because he knows his time is short (1 Peter 5:8; Rev. 12:12).  

The deceiver wants you to react out of fear, not faith.  He wants you ARGUING with the confused and the ignorant, not TESTIFYING to the lost or showing them and leading them to the way and the truth and the light (John 14:6).

Our task is not to fight with people who are ignorant or to mock them (Psalm 1:1-2), it is to enlighten them, and to love them, just like He did (Leviticus 19:18; Psalm 85:10; Matt. 5:43-47; Matt. 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28; John 13:34-35; John 15:9-17; Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:13-15; Thess. 4:9; James 2:8; 1; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 Peter 4:8; 1 John 3:14).

The Lord God himself gave us knowledge of His will for us, in scripture and in the living word, Jesus Christ (John 1:1-5), and thru the Holy Spirit.  He gave us instructions and demonstrations on how to speak and act, even coming into this world to show us what true love looks like, but He doesn’t force anyone to follow Him (Matt. 23:37, Luke 13:34) or to speak and act in a loving way. 

So, maybe, WE shouldn’t try to force our ways of celebrating and commemorating any of the things God has declared to be right and just and holy on the rest of the world.  Even the hard-headed and hard-charging Apostle Peter, after being touched by the Holy Spirit, simply said “be ready to explain the reason for the hope that you have” and that we should do that with “gentleness and respect”(1 Peter 3:15).

In my opinion, the truest and most HOLY DAY -- or “holiday” – as we say, should be what we call “Easter”– which is around the time of pagan spring festivals in the Northern Hemisphere, and is celebrated in much of the world with displays of fertility symbols like rabbits and eggs and spring flowers.

But, Christians and Jews aren’t having a fertility festival at Easter-time. 

Jews are commemorating the Lord’s mercy and grace in causing the Angel of death to “pass over” their ancestors as they huddled and sheltered under the blood of a sacrificed lamb when they were slaves of the Egyptians, as God was setting them free.

 We Christians are commemorating a Passover feast in Jerusalem about two-thousand years ago, when the perfect Lamb of God (John 1:29-36) was sacrificed and resurrected, so that NONE of God’s people, covered by His blood, would EVER die, and could be eternally free from the consequences of their sins.

This commemoration is so important that most of us don’t just remember the events of that long-ago Passover in the springtime… we remember EVERY TIME we take communion – the Lord’s supper (Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14-22-25; Luke 22:19-21; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25).   And most of us remember His mercy and Grace and His sacrifice in our regular prayers and meditations, and when we gather to worship and adore him.

So when the spring festivals come around and the traditions and symbols of our pagan ancestors are everywhere, it’s just another really good time to testify that we are covered by the blood of the lamb, and that what was seemingly dead and in the ground has sprung forth and is ALIVE! 

We don’t need to condemn the traditions of our ancestors, or the practices of those who don’t know the Lord to do that… THAT’S the work of the Holy Spirit in people’s hearts.  The Holy Spirit convicts of sin and error, we just carry the good news of the forgiveness of it (John 6:44; Rom 12:1-3; 1 Thess. 2:11-12).

We need to remember and demonstrate that OUR spring festivities are not just about fertility, but about eternal life and re-birth and renewal, about growth and sanctification. 

Now, about “Christmas”…  and by the way, “Christmas” is word which in former centuries was often abbreviated as “Xmas” by Christian writers…  Xtian writers… that’s right… the X means “Christ”… About  Christmas…

Unlike “The Lord’s Supper”, there’s no instruction in scripture to celebrate Christ’s birth. 

Matthew and Luke tell us of Jesus’ birth, but they don’t tell when it happened, as far the time of year, because that’s not the important thing. 

The FACT of Christ’s birth IS VERY important… if for no other reason than “Easter” depends on it, but his exact birthday?  Not so much…

But other details of the “Christmas Story” are very important, because they show that Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies in the Old Testament about the Messiah – by some counts, there are more than four-hundred of them, all fulfilled by “the babe, the son of Mary.”

The ignorant and the deceived sometimes say Christmas is just a pagan holiday made over to help spread the power of the Catholic Church… in other words, a political play on people’s superstitions.

This is probably the “father of lies” twisting facts to launch an attack on the beliefs of Jews and Christians by casting them as no different from the superstitions of other “primitive” and unscientific people.  The old liar and murderer is trying to divert people’s attention by promoting the arrogant belief of many moderns that western scientific advances have somehow disproved the beliefs of earlier generations and supported the faiths of atheism and humanism. 

It may be his real objective is to fool people into believing that he himself, the devil, is just another superstition, because it’s had to defend against a threat you don’t believe is real.

In fact, a lot of the traditions and symbols and decorations of the Christmas season DO have their origins in pagan beliefs and practices, but it is important to understand that “ancient” does not mean “ignorant” and “belief” is not the same as “superstition”.  

I BELIEVE that when I walk out to my old truck, put the key in the ignition and turn it, that old truck is going to start up and eventually, take me where I need to go.  That belief is not a superstition, it’s a little bit of faith in the manufacturer and a lot of experience, combined with actions to keep the thing in good working order.  I didn’t use my old Harley-Davidson motorcycle in this example because, after all, there is some magic involved with Harleys.

The great deceiver and his servants will sometimes try to tell you that the ceremonies of the Pagans were meant to appease their gods, so that those gods would make sure the winter would end and the days grow long again after the Northern hemisphere’s Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night, which falls on December twenty-first and -second on our modern calendar. 

It seems to me that people that were smart enough to calculate and measure and predict the movements of the earth, moon and stars… people that were smart enough to build roads and aqueducts and buildings that have remained in service to this day… I think those people were smart enough to understand that the return of spring didn’t depend on they did at their mid-winter festivities.

Those same people did know themselves and others well enough to know that getting through a long, cold and dark winter required a different kind of work from the labors of spring, and summer, and harvest-time.

You see, almost all of Europe is north of the fortieth parallel, which is to say, north of the Mason-Dixon Line, or the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania. Winter could be hard there, and the ancient Europeans often spent most of their winter-times hunkered-down together in lodges, and longhouses, castles and keeps…  there wasn’t a lot to do other than keep the fires burning, and get on each others nerves… Maybe some crafts and some decorating.   

They also knew that, very often, the hardest part of the winter-weather could come after the solstice – January and February can be real tough in the northlands.  Sure, the middle of winter was passing, but there was more confinement ahead.

So maybe, just maybe, some parties and some feasting and some thinking about some things bigger than the way that this friend or that relative was DRIVING ME  RIGHT UP THE WALL…  maybe that would be a good idea.

At Yule-tide, or Saturnalia or whatever they called their mid-winter celebrations, they did things to renew friendships and strengthen family ties, to brighten a depressing season and to remind themselves that the light would return as a new year was born.

So, the origins of many of our Christmas traditions and their links to our Savior’s nativity story aren’t mere superstitions, they are symbols of what our cultural ancestors understood about the way the world works, and our use of these symbols to tell the story of the world’s most important baby is just a demonstration of our readiness to explain the reason for our hope, in a respectful and gentle way.

The ancient Romans, Greeks and northern Europeans decorated their winter solstice parties with boughs from evergreen trees, which showed life thru the darkest and longest of nights, they exchanged gifts and did role reversal (masters as servants and servants as masters) They  dressed in costumes and did anonymous gift-giving and good-deeds, and they feasted one another, too.

A few decades ago, a biker friend gave me a pair of half-chaps, black leather leggings that strap onto my legs below the knee.  These half-chaps had fringes on their outside edges, and another biker once looked at them and said:  “You know those are woman’s chaps, right?”

I looked down at the chaps, and back at him, and did my best Spock eye-brow lift, saying “Not anymore, they’re not.”

The mid-winter traditions of Northern Hemisphere pagans and their celebrations may have meant something else to them at one time, but now, they have become Christian traditions and Christian celebrations. 

Pagan Holidays? 

“Not anymore, they’re not.”

It’s Christmas… Christ-Mass… Christ-Worship…

“Mass”, means“church services”, it’s a modern version of an old English word borrowed from the Latin “missa”… same root of the word “dismissed”, which might tell you what the old English thought was the most important part of THEIR Church services.

Some of the Germanic, Celt, and Norse people would burn whole trees thru the days and nights surrounding the solstice and their celebrations, starting at the broad base of the tree and working up to the top.   Nobody’s sure whether the tops of evergreen “Yule logs” might have been the first “holiday trees” or whether they were just more “evergreen” decorations, but in any case, now, they’re Christmas Trees.  Or, if you don’t know Christ and the salvation he brought into the world when he was born in Bethlehem, a “holiday tree”… a Holy Day tree.

The first Christians among those pagan Europeans, sitting around those burning logs, with evergreen decorations and solstice parties and gift exchanges and masquerades, must of felt it was entirely appropriate to show love for their friends and families and neighbors by telling them about the prophecies of how “the people walking in darkness would see a great light” (Isaiah 9:2; Matthew 4:16), and how that light had come to the world in the person of Jesus. 

They used the evergreens’ boughs to talk of the eternal life he came to bring as the most generous of all possible gifts, the traditions of role reversal to speak of the servant King and his substitutional sacrifice, and later on, they used the story of one of the early saints, called Nicolas, who’s anonymous generosity was an example of Christian love for the family of man.

This Christmas – this CHRIST-MASS season, this holiday, this HOLY-DAY season, remember the great news… the “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to ALL people.”  (Luke 2:10), and be ready to gently and respectfully give that good news as a gift whenever and wherever you can.

And, remember the eleventh commandment – which is not, contrary to popular opinion – “don’t get caught”  The eleventh commandment was given by the Lord as one of the last things he did before he did  the thing He was born in Bethlehem to do, in accordance with prophecy, His crucifixion and resurrection. 

At the last supper, he said:  “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” -- John 13:34-35(NIV)

Remember, also, how He told to us how to fight the darkness, and ignorance, and hostility.

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”  – Matt. 5:43-47

Paul expanded on our Savior’s instructions, saying:

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  – Romans 12:9-18

That’s the kind of thing that might just make it a little easier to get thru a hard winter, huh?

I keep seeing posts on the internet that say “Why can’t we say Merry Christmas any more?”  And I reply… “You Can!”  The time may come before the Lord returns, when you can’t say “Merry Christmas” or when you might be punished for saying it, but it’s not here, yet.

And the loving response to someone wishing you “Happy Holidays” might just be “Thanks!  You too!”

Just remember to invite Christ into your Holidays, and every other day and feast and party and dark night and long day… or short one… and I know you’ll have many, many Happy and Holy days and a really great New Year.

*All annotated quotations are from the New International Version (NIV).