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Scripture Reading: Luke 2:1-14
A Study of Christmas
"A Thing of Brass"
(Worshiping the birth of Jesus is from man, not God)
1. Num. 21:4-9 – God’s goodness & mercy toward Israel even though they sinned against Him.
a. 2 Kgs. 18:1-4 – Over the next 700 years, Israel had developed worship (superstitious reverence…idolatry) for the brass serpent. King Hezekiah destroyed it…“Nehushtan” (“a thing of brass”).
b. Israel had once looked on the brass serpent at God’s instruction in order to obtain life.
c. Now, it was only a thing of brass they had turned into an object of idolatrous worship!
2. Serpent in the wilderness a fitting figure of Jesus Christ & the salvation He gives – Jno. 3:14-15.
a. We look to the death of Jesus on the cross at God’s instruction in order to obtain life (1 Pet. 2:24).
b. Now, the cross is only a piece of wood that people have turned into an object of worship (superstitious reverence).
3. Historical record of the birth of Jesus – Lk. 2:1-20.
a. At God’s instruction, we look at the birth of Jesus as the coming of the Son of God – Lk. 1:30-35; 2:11 (Jno. 1:14). [Faith is produced that He is the Son of God (virgin birth).]
b. People have turned the birth of Jesus into “Nehushtan” – a false worship of the birth of Christ that God never instructed or commanded of mankind. (Jno. 4:23-24)
4. We should be concerned with Christian’s involvement in the activities of Christmas:
a. Is the religious observance of Christ’s birth authorized by God?
b. What is the history of this religious holiday?
c. What is the Christian to do at this time of year?
d. What are we teaching our children about Christmas?
5. We do not want to come before God with false worship – a thing of brass.
I. BASIS FOR THE RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCE OF CHRIST’S BIRTH: MAN OR GOD? (Matt. 21:23)
A. The Bible Affirms the Virgin Birth of Jesus – Lk. 1:31-35 (2:1-7); cf. Jno. 1:14; Phil. 2:7-8.
B. The Bible Does Not Give us the Date of Jesus’ Birth.
1. Days of Herod the Great (37-4 BC) & Caesar Augustus (27 BC-14 AD) – Matt. 2:1; Lk. 2:1.
2. Shepherds in fields watching flocks – Lk. 2:8.
a. Summer months: Read Barnes’ quotation.
b. S of S 2:11 – Winter marked by cold & rain.
c. December would not have been when Jesus was born.
3. Human speculation over date:
a. Clement of Alexandria - Nov. 18, 3 B.C. / May 20.
b. Hippolytus – Jan. 2, March 25 or April 2, finally Dec. 25.
c. Others – January 6; March 28; April 18 or 19; every month has been proposed.
d. “No sufficient data, however, exists for the determination of the month or day of the event” (The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Reprint 1977, III:47)
4. God could have told us if He had wanted us to know. (Deut. 29:29)
C. There is no Biblical Authorization for the Celebration of Christ’s Birth.
1. Historical record does not authorize celebration of event. (Num. 21:8-9 – 2 Kgs. 18:4)
2. Baptism of Jesus; Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension…
3. Silence of Bible must be respected by men.
D. The Religious Celebration of Christ’s Birth is Based on Human Authority, Not Divine Authority – Matt. 21:23; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Col. 3:17; 2:22-23 (2 Jno. 9-11; Gal. 1:8-9).
II. THE ORIGIN OF CELEBRATING THE BIRTH OF CHRIST.
A. Definition of “Christmas” –- “Mass of Christ.”
1. Catholicism – Celebration of the birth of Christ by a special mass.
-(“Cristes Maesse” or “Mass of Christ” first found mentioned by that name in 1038, Catholic Encyclopedia)
2. This festival created to counter pagan festivals:
a. Roman Saturnalia (Dec. 17-24) – Honored Saturnus, a pagan god – A time of gluttony & licentiousness.
b. Roman feast of Mithrand, the Sun god (Dec. 25).
B. No Doubt that the Festival of the Birth of Christ Began After New Testament Times.
1. “There is no evidence of the existence of a Feast of the Nativity before the 4th century” (Encyclopedia Of Religion & Ethics, III:601).
2. “There is no historical evidence that our Lord’s birthday was celebrated during the apostolic or early post-apostolic times” (The Shaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, III:47).
3. See Grover Stevens booklet for addition quotes.
4. How December 25 was selected for celebrating Christ’s birth:
a. Liberius, Bishop of Rome, declared Dec. 25 celebrated as Christ’s birthday in 354 AD.
1) “There can be little doubt that the Church was anxious to distract the attention of Christians from the old heathen feast days by celebrating Christian festivals on the same days (Encyclopedia of Religion & Ethics, III:607).
2) “The indications are, that the Church in this way grasped the opportunity to turn the people away from a purely pagan observance of the winter solstice to a day of adoration of Christ the Lord” (Collier’s Encyclopedia).
b. The observance of Christ’s birth began in Catholicism & paganism, not NT Christianity!
c. “Human in its origin, arbitrary and irrelevant in its time, and Pagan in its ceremonies, it clearly has no claims whatever upon the true Christian.” (W. K. Pendleton, Millennial Harbinger, 1848, p. 22)
III. WHAT IS THE CHRISTIAN TO DO?
A. The Christian Cannot Participate in the Religious Additions of Men – 2 Jno. 9-11 (1 Cor. 10:20-22)
1. Breaks fellowship with God; fellowships errors of men – 2 Jno. 9-11.
2. Religious days of OT wrong to observe - What about the 4th century! – Gal. 4:8-11
3. Don’t be forced into adding to God’s will for your life – 2 Cor. 6:14.
B. Use the Opportunities of the Season to Explain why You do not Celebrate Christmas as the Birthday of Jesus Christ – Matt. 5:13-16 (11-12). (School activities, work events, neighbors, etc.)
1. My experience: People are surprised, but generally are respectful of my convictions.
2. Regardless, we must live by our convictions without compromise.
C. A Christian may Celebrate the Christmas Holiday Non-Religiously.
1. Many things that carry religious meanings can be practiced non-religiously:
a. cf. Circumcision – Acts 16:1-3.
b. Vows of purification given in OT law – Acts 21:23-24, 26.
c. Eating meats sacrificed to idols – 1 Cor. 8:4-8.
2. Rom. 14:5, 23 – Without violating God’s authority or one’s conscience!
a. Festive season of goodwill, exchanging gifts, visits, helping the needy, seasonal traditions which have no inherent religious significance or have lost that significance over time.
b. Should be everyday attitudes & actions – Gal. 6:10.
c. Christmas can be observed non-religiously, even though some will observe it religiously.
1. The basis for observing Christmas as the birth of Christ is man’s religious authority (Catholicism & paganism); Started centuries after the time of Christ; not commanded anywhere in anyway in NT.
2. We fully believe in & thank God for the fact of the virgin birth of Christ.
3. God has not instructed or approved the celebration of the birth of Jesus; to do so is a violation of His revealed will (Lev. 10:1-2).
4. Let us truly be faithful to Christ this holiday season & not turn the truth of His birth into “Nehushtan”.