Sunday, June 7, 2015
Christmas or Epiphany? Which should Christians celebrate?
In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Omnipotent, the Omnipresent, and the only Redeemer of the world. To Him do we cling for truth, love, and mercy. Amen.
It would appear that the world is changing, and not exactly for the best. Take America. This was once a culture that bowed to God and put their trust in the Lord Jesus. Even though we have sinned in many areas, including how our nation was conceived, the Lord provided us with abundant blessings. Just like Israel, however, we have become too comfortable, and with that less insightful, then less discerning and more permissive. Now, many true Christians are looking around and noticing what our society has come to and are asking, "What happened?"
A good example of how far America has sunk is in the holiday of Christmas. This holiday began in the fourth century when it was implemented by Emperor Constantine when he declared the birth of Christ a holiday. Later in that century, Pope Julius I declared that December 25th would be the day that the birth of Christ would be celebrated. This date was deliberate; it was the same day that European pagans celebrated the Winter Solstice. Hence, Pope Julius I coincided the pagan holiday with the birth of Christ in order to win over new believers. Before that, however, it was commonly understood that Christmas was a Jewish Christian holiday, as this commemorates how Jesus first manifested himself to the Jews (shepherds). Epiphany, on the other hand, was when Jesus was first made known to the Gentiles (therefore the rest of the world) as a toddler (The Magi or the Three Wise Men). After a while in Europe, only Epiphany was observed, and the Birth of Christ was made part of the festivities. Later, in many parts of Europe and what was to become The United States of America, this holiday became less popular until there were generations of those who did not celebrate at all. Even the Puritans outlawed the holiday due to charges of paganism, only to have such laws overturned by the British Empire. Even so, celebrating Christmas was considered a cultural taboo. Christmas became popular again in the 19th Century throughout Europe and the USA, and it became an official holiday in our land in 1885. While the cause of the Christmas revival was due in part to many historians and authors who fantasized of celebrations from the days of old, no one provided more influence to revive this holiday than Charles Dickens by his book "A Christmas Carol."
Before you start hailing Dickens as a saint or a prophet, be very clear of one fact: Christmas for him was not meant to be a spiritual/religious festival. Instead, it is meant to be a time for fun, games, and family gathering. To this day on television sitcoms, when discussing the meaning of Christmas, all of the characters point to being with loved ones, charity, and joyfulness. Because of this, atheists, agnostics, and people of other religions see no problem with trying to secularize Christmas to be politically correct. There are even those who profess the Christian faith who fall into this trap to please others.
If this is not bad enough, there is another distraction to what is supposed to be a holy-day--Santa Claus. While Santa Claus, or Saint Nicholas, truly existed, he was not a fat, jolly man with a long beard who climbed down people's chimneys on Christmas Eve with presents. He did not ride a sleigh with flying reindeer. He is incapable of knowing who is bad and good. He was not even from the North Pole. The truth is, he lived in a part of the Roman Empire that is now in Turkey, and he was a bishop in that area--all in the fourth century. There are many parents who mean well who tell their children about the myth of Santa Claus in order to make their childhoods "magical." This is wrong for two reasons: first, believe it or not, you are introducing your children to idolatry when you tell them about Santa.
This may shock some people, but telling them about a magical man who rewards the good and knows what children are up to makes Santa Claus into a god. Plus, the Bible is very clear that ANYTHING that takes glory away from God is idolatry. After all, the birth of Jesus is the TRUE meaning of Christmas! Second, nearly all parents know that either their children will learn the truth about Santa's existence on their own or they will need to tell them. The first thing that tends to happen is that the child feels hurt that they had been lied to for years. Second, a point exemplified by my pastor, they will become skeptical about the Christian faith that their parents taught them. Think about it. A child is told for years, simultaneously, about Santa Claus and Jesus Christ. Then, their parents tell them that Santa does not exist. It would only be human for a child to then question their faith. To them, maybe that is also untrue. Maybe if Christian parents would stop telling their children about Santa Claus, there would be fewer apostates. Just maybe.
Then, of course, there is consumerism--the American way. People cannot even enjoy Thanksgiving because of the pre-Black Friday sales. People will trample over and even stab each other for such great deals. And Christmas Eve is not much better. To play the devil's advocate, how can Christmas be a time of fun, games, and family when recovering from wounds or visiting a grave because Dad died trying to get that 25% down game console for Junior? What about when Junior, who was very good, lost his father on Black Friday, and asked Santa to bring him back only to not get his wish?
Because of all the reasons I mentioned, I regretfully feel that Christmas has been ruined for true believers. It is ruined for me, and it doesn't even seem sacred anymore. While it is very possible that the true Christmas spirit can be revived among all Christians, I am not one to hold his breath. Instead, I feel compelled to consider Epiphany as an alternative as it is a holiday that has been relatively neglected and therefore not corrupted. I may change my mind, and even if I do, I urge all Christians to learn more about the beauty of Epiphany and, at the same time, focus only on Jesus Christ and lean not on your own understandings--and customs.
"Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?"--Galatians 4:16