SINCE THE BEGINNING of recorded history, there have been certain individuals who have played major roles in influencing the masses, and thus steering the course of mankind. But no man’s birth, life, and even death has created a phenomenon as that of the Lord Jesus Christ. Approaching 2000 years since His ascension to heaven, His legacy continues to affect the lives of millions of people around the globe. This is apparent when the so-called Christian world celebrates Christmas.
Christmas, to many, is that time of the year when there is a great outpouring of goodwill to one’s fellow man through the giving of gifts, well-wishing, and all-around merriment. However, despite the general “good” feeling that permeates man’s world and the obvious commercial aspect, not many truly understand the history of this annual celebration.
History and meaning of Christmas
What does the word “Christmas” mean? The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary mentions the following:
“Etymology: Middle English Christemasses, from Old English Cristes mæsse, literally, Christ’s mass
“Date: before 12th century
“1: a Christian feast on December 25 or among some Eastern Orthodox Christians on January 7 that commemorates the birth of Christ and is usually observed as a legal holiday” (school.eb.com)
Thus, Christmas is purported to celebrate the birth of Christ. But was this custom observed by the early Christians?
“There is no historical evidence that our Lord’s birthday was celebrated during apostolic or early postapostolic times.” (The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, vol. 3, pg. 47)
So when did the celebration of Christmas begin? From the book, Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs, we can read the following:
“Soon after the end of the last great persecution, about the year 330, the Church in Rome definitely assigned December 25 for the celebration of the birth of Christ. For a while, many Eastern Churches continued to keep other dates, but toward the end of the fourth century the Roman custom became universal.” (pg. 60)
The celebration of Christ’s birth then was not practiced until the fourth century, hundreds of years after the death of the apostles. Many people do know that Christ was not born on December 25 was influenced by the fact that the Romans, from the time of Emperor Aurelian (275), had celebrated the feast of the sun god (Sol Invictus: the Unconquered Sun) on that day. December 25 was called the ‘Birthday of the Sun’, and great pagan religious celebrations of the Mithras cult were held all through the empire. What was more natural than that the Christians celebrate the birth of Him Who was the ‘Light of the World’ and the true ‘Sun of Justice’ on this very day?” (Ibid., pg. 61)
December 25th was chosen primarily because that date celebrated the feast of the pagan sun god Sol Invictus. So what many people are observing nowadays has its roots from paganism.
Regarding feasts and celebrations which are of pagan origin, Apostle Paul has this to say, thus:
“Here then is my word to you, and I urge it on you in the Lord’s name: give up living as pagans do with their futile notions.” (Eph. 4:17, Revised English Bible)
Significance of Christ’s birth
But is Christ’s birth significant? Very much so, as we can read in 1 John 4:9:
“In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.” (New King James Version)
Why did the birth of Christ manifest the love of God to mankind? Because Christ, being the Savior, brought peace to man:
“For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger’. 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, goodwill toward men!’” (Luke 2:11-14, Ibid.)
The peace that Christ has brought is absolutely vital, since man in general has been separated from God because of sin (Isa. 59:2), the wages of sin being death in the lake of fire (Rom. 6:23; Rev. 20:14). And since all men, except Christ, have committed sin (Rom. 3:23), then all should die on the day of Judgment (II Pet. 3:7, 10)
But because of God’s love and mercy, He sent Christ as the propitiation for sin that man may not die but live. However, have all benefited from this blessing? Who have benefited from the birth, life, and death of Christ? Where can those who have peace with God be found? In the “one body,” according to apostle Paul:
“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.” (Col. 3:15, NKJV)
The body is none other than the Church of which Christ is the head (Col. 1:18). Apostle Paul also makes known that the official name of the Church established by Christ is the Church of Christ:
“The common object of their labor was to bring the Christians maturity, to prepare them for Christian service and the building up of the Church of Christ …” (Eph. 4:12, Norlie’s Simplified New Testament)
So it is very necessary and important for one to join and remain in the Church of Christ or Iglesia ni Cristo in order to have peace with God and be saved by Christ. If there are those who can truly rejoice because of the birth of the Savior, it is none other than the members of the true Church of Christ.
Remembering the Savior
Celebrating one’s birth is not against biblical precepts. However, to celebrate one’s birthday, the date of birth of the celebrator must first be determined. As for Christ’s birthday, such information is unavailable. What we have is a date which was supposedly set for the birthday of a pagan god.
The importance of Christ’s birth can never be over-emphasized—it meant that a savior was born. However, Christ did not command that His birthday be commemorated. Instead, before Christ died on the cross, He instituted something that He instructed his disciples to observe in remembrance of Him:
“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat, this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me’.” (I Cor. 11:23-25, NKJV)
The true servants of the Lord remember the Savior through the Holy Supper. Through this, they also remember all of His sufferings and sacrifices for His Church (Acts 20:28, Lamsa Translation), of which they are members and by which they have peace with God and will be saved from he Father’s wrath on the day of Judgment.
Indeed, members of the Church of Christ have been richly blessed. But they know it is not enough that their recognition and acknowledgment of Christ is scripturally based but that they also have the responsibility to remain as obedient servants until the end:
“That you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ’s appearing.” (I Tim. Tim. 6:14, NKJV)
Why should the members of the Church of Christ remain obeying God’s commandments until the end? What awaits the obedient servants of the Lord? II Peter 3:12-14 states:
“Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless.” (Ibid.)
Having the true knowledge of Christ and doing the right way of remembering Him will culminate in the salvation of the members of the Church of Christ, who will be taken to the new heavens and earth, or more specifically the Holy City (Rev 21:1-2)
This is the very reason why we, members of the Church of Christ or Iglesia ni Cristo, continuously rejoice in the sending of the Lord Jesus Christ by our God and Father in heaven though not in the manner the rest of the people in the world do. For we are assured that on Christ’s return, He will fulfill His promise unto us:
“Don’t be troubled. You trust God, now trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s home, and I am going to prepare a place for you. If this were not so, I would tell you plainly. When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know where I am going and how to get there.” (John 14:1-4, New Living Translation)
By Donald Pinnock
Source: God’s Message Magazine
December 2009 Issue