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When is Christmas?

December 22, 2013

4th Sunday of Advent4 Adviento

“How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion,
they will see it with their own eyes.
Burst into songs of joy together,
you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord will lay bare his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see
the salvation of our God”.

Isaiah 52:7-10

This is the good news that we constantly hear in the church. And we are hearing these words at this time when what we call Christmas is approaching. We recall with special mindfulness what it means that Jesus came into the world. The good news of the Gospel is about salvation and redemption. We have been saved by Jesus Christ, as he was given as a sacrifice to pay for our faults and sins before God. All those who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Messiah who was sent by God to the world can share in this salvation. That is the joy that is ours. Therein lays the good news.
We have called this time Advent, as the word means: ‘coming.’ During this time we not only think about the approach of Christmas and the holiday season, but we also think that Jesus, who came to earth once, will come back to finally establish His kingdom. This brings us even more joy.

The pastor of a church friend of mine does not share in the celebration of Christmas in the form of a Christmas party on December 25th. He does not share in the idea of erecting a Christmas tree or all of the traditions surrounding the holiday on December 25th. Is this correct?
Yes and no. Yes it is right; all of us Christians know about the origin of the festival of Christmas on December 25th. But we do not know when Jesus was born. It is most likely, according to gospel accounts, that Jesus was born during warmer months rather than during winter. We can infer this since the Bible tells us that the shepherds slept outdoors with their flocks and because a Roman census would likely not be conducted during the winter time due to bad weather, traffic and communications issues. The Bible does not leave us any written record of the exact date of Jesus’ birth. It does not even give us an approximate date for the birth of Christ. The only thing we are told is that it was during the reign of Augustus Caesar and when Quirinius was governing Syria.

Some say that our date for Christmas comes from a pagan holiday for the winter solstice that was celebrated on December 25th. When the Roman emperor converted to Christianity, he did not want to end this festivity because it was an established and popular custom. Therefore, he changed its focus to now celebrate the birth of Christ instead. I really do not know when Christ was born. In any event, we do not need to know the date to be Christians and worship Him.
If we know this, is it a sin to celebrate Christmas? No, it is not a sin at all. As long as we are aware of this and we know that the most important thing would be for Jesus Christ’s birthday to be celebrated every Sunday. And every Sunday we should also celebrate that Jesus was offered up for us in order to give us salvation. He died on a cross and rose again. We declare this every Sunday through the words of the Apostles’ Creed.

In our lives as Christians –and this applies to all Christians, even those who have from different cultures, languages and customs – it is always important to apply this good advice from Paul: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-22)
Test them all; hold on to what is good. It is nice to have good customs and traditions, to be identified with a people, a culture and a family. Today, the Christian celebration of Christ’s birth is often characterized by the search for peace in the world. Therefore, people of other beleifs or even non-believers are attracted to this festival that evokes solidarity, helps the poor, strengthens the union of families and promotes the search for inner and outer peace. Having said this, it is only good to participate in this festivity so long as it does not contradict our faith and the Gospel and so long as we maintain Christ as the center of our worship during this festivity. If this party or the party that surrounds it contradicts the gospel of Jesus Christ, then it is not right then to celebrate it.

Actually, Jesus asks us, as was just said, that every Sunday be a celebration of worshipping Him. So we gather every Sunday to worship Him. If you only celebrate and worship God once a year at Christmas time or if you only go to church once a year because it’s Christmas, then that celebration doesn’t make any sense. If we believe that since we celebrate Christmas once a year and go to church at that time, and that makes us Christians, then we understand absolutely nothing of what Christ asks of us. We should be celebrating the birth while worshipping Christ all year by showing love for others, by giving, by creating solidarity, by seeking peace and harmony, by seeking forgiveness and by maintaining good family relationships. Christmas is not a special day of amnesty. Every day of the year is worthy of amnesty and peace. Whoever thinks that since it is Christmas we have to put on a show is living a very poor and weak Christian life, unable to perceive that Christ did not want that kind of celebration. Christ came to bring abundant life for all the days of our life. Thus it is most important for us to celebrate the day Jesus was born in our hearts. It is of upmost importance that we truly celebrate the day that we decided to give our lives to God consciously and completely. The day we decided to follow God and His word with total obedience is the day that Christ would find to be more important for us to celebrate.

To have celebrations is a good thing; it does us well as long as the joy from these parties is not only caused by material things. It is good to celebrate holidays together as a family, sharing, befriending and rejoicing. But as we celebrate Christmas, remember that during this official date, the center of our worship should be Christ, the church, our brothers and sisters of the church and that we share our testimony of being Christians through our words and our works, especially with others who are not Christians. But as we said, this does not have to be fit into a single day or season. We should do so every day.

On the day that we can discover Christ in our hearts and truly give our life to Him and decide to be obedient to Him, we will be able to experience the manifestation of His blessing and have our hearts and lives be fulfilled every day of the year and we will not need a specific party to feel more happy.

You can celebrate Christmas and keep your family customs and traditions, but be mindful that these traditions do not overshadow Christ’s message: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself. And that means putting Christ and his church first in our lives and loving our neighbors every day of the year. If this does not happen in your life, no matter how beautiful you try to make Christmas by fulfilling all the rites and customs of Christmas that you learned from your ancestors, you will not be pleasing God nor be receiving favor from Him.
Let us ask God so that we can understand the joy that is coming. May we understand that He wants us to feel two kinds of happiness, regardless of holidays, traditions and our customs:

God wants you to feel certainty and joy because he was sacrificed on the cross for you to redeem yourself, so that you get salvation. He wants you to understand this and give yourself to Him. This will give you joy in your heart in an instant and you will feel joy in knowing that at any time, whether you ‘re dead or alive, He will come back to get you and take you to the right place where joy is eternal and it is always a holiday. If you can understand this, then you will be able to celebrate a good Advent or a good Christmas with the understanding that the real party happens every Sunday when we gather to worship Him. Understand this and every day of your life will be a feast of worship to God and you will receive from Him what you need for your life here and now. Amen.



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