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A Traditional Christmas
Luke 2:1-20

 

I know that there are some in the Christian community who argue that Christians should not celebrate Christmas by decorating a tree and exchanging gifts. They say that there is no record that the early church ever celebrated the holiday, and there is no proof that Jesus was really born on December 25, and that the date was chosen as an alternative to the pagan celebration of Saturnalia.

They also point out that in early America, it was once against the law to celebrate Christmas. Anyone who took the day off of work was subject to a $25 fine. They did not ban Christmas because they were not sure of the correct day, or connections with a pagan holiday. They outlawed Christmas to rid the celebration of customs that had become attached to the holiday over the centuries. 

In Europe, the celebration of Christ's birth was often lost in a carnival type atmosphere. On Christmas, crowds took to the streets dancing, singing, and playacting. Merrymakers would dress in animal costumes, and go from house to house expecting a tip or some refreshments. Sometimes the revelers would cause trouble if they didn't like the handouts they received. Christmas had become a 12-day period of overeating, drinking, and gambling. 

Though those particular customs are no longer a part of our traditions, those encouraging the abolition of Christmas today would be quick to point out that the over shopping, overworking, and overspending in our celebration are also extreme. (http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

So my question is, are the 150-year-old traditions that most of us follow in celebrating Christmas harmful, or are they appropriate? Or to put it another way, can we honor Christ and still hold to our traditions?

First, let me say, that it is possible to leave Christ out of the celebration of Christmas. If the critics of Christmas traditions do nothing else but remind everyone that Christ is to be central in Christmas, they've done the church a great service.

Because Christ is central in our celebration of Christmas, Miss Carmen is devoting her children's story time every Sunday morning to the Advent. Each week, she has a child light a candle and she explains why we light that particular candle. And as usual, I think the adults get just as much from her story time as the children do.

Because Christ is central in our celebration of Christmas, we are exploring Christmas themes in our joint worship experiences. We're singing Christmas Carols and our sermons are centered on Christ's birth. This Friday night and next Sunday morning our Sanctuary Choir will lead our worship time with their Christmas musical: Rejoice Emmanuel.

Because Christ is central in our celebration of Christmas, our deacons will lead in a candlelight service on Christmas Eve at 5:00, followed by our I-Help ministry feeding and housing homeless men for the night.

Because Christ is central in our celebration of Christmas, we are generously giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas offering for International Missions. And we know that our gifts will be used by our missionaries to spread the gospel around the world.

Because Christ is central in our celebration of Christmas, we are buying gifts for children of prisoners and having a party for them this Saturday. We'll give them more than gifts at the party, we'll also give them the gospel.

Because Christ is central in our celebration of Christmas, we will find a time to read the Christmas story to our young Children and watch their wonder and amazement as they hear it for the first time or for the hundredth time. 

"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. [2] (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) [3] And everyone went to his own town to register. [4] So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. [5] He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. [6] While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, [7] and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 

[8] And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. [9] An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. [10] But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. [11] Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. [12] This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'

[13] Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, [14] 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.'

[15] When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.'

[16] So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. [17] When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, [18] and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. [19] But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. [20] The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told." (Luke 2:1-20 NIV)

As long as we keep Christ central in our celebration of Christmas, is there anything wrong with celebrating Christmas using the traditions of our culture? Well let's think about it for a minute.

In his book, The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman describes ways people communicate their love toward one another. He lists, "Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch" as the five love languages.

As I reflect upon Christmases past, those are the elements of our tradition. We speak words of affirmation to one another and in doing so, we express our love. We take time off from our normal labors and spend quality time with one another and in doing so, we express our love. We give and receive gifts, often times, gifts that took a great deal of time to choose, because we wanted to give, "just the right gift." And in doing so, we express our love to one another. We do acts of service for one another that range from running errands, helping assemble a toy or cooking and serving a traditional Christmas meal. And in doing so, we express our love to one another. And we touch one another-we hold our children, we hug our family and friends and when we do, we express our love to one another. (http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

Yes, I'll join in with the critics of Christmas and say that it is possible to over shop and over spend, but I have to part with them when I look at the intent, it is impossible to over love.

Some people will miss the mark and spend all their time and energy following traditions and miss the wonder of Christmas. That's a tragedy. Because if we leave Christ out of Christmas, we've done a disservice to our family.

But other people will remember the mystery of God becoming man, and ponder the love of God who gave us the best gift of all, salvation through Jesus Christ. 

Enjoy your family, enjoy your traditions, and enjoy the sheer wonder that God became man, born of a virgin, in fulfillment of prophecies. And that He was born to die, to take away the sins of the world.

And, if you've never received Christ, you can experience the joy of Christmas today. A joy of receiving a gift that ultimately cost Jesus his life. A gift that will give you eternal life. The greatest gift ever given, and the greatest gift ever received. 

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