As much as I don’t relish weighing in on the ‘reason for the season’ debate, my conscience compels me to do so. A certain number of Christians have long held that we should not celebrate Christmas because of its pagan origins. I get that, even though I don’t agree with it. But there is a more sinister argument now at work. It involves Christians saying that Jesus isn’t the reason for the season. Instead, we are.
This sounds to me like one more attempt to make Christianity about us. So let’s talk about it. Let’s unpack the idea behind it and compare it to what Scripture has to say. Before we do that however, we need to briefly address the argument that Christmas is a pagan holiday.
Traditions with Pagan Roots
It is asserted that many of the traditions associated with modern Christmas celebrations have their roots in pagan religions. The Christmas tree, the yule log, Christmas lights, and even gift giving are all popular targets. The problem with such assertions is that the facts are murky.
The early church didn’t celebrate Jesus’ birthday for two reasons. First, no one was really sure about the date. Based on Scriptural texts describing Jesus’ birth, it’s unlikely he was born in December. But we still don’t know when he was born. Second, the church had a general objection to celebrating birthdays because they associated it with pagan worship.
It wasn’t until the fourth century that Christmas became a recognized holiday in the Christian church. No one knows for certain why December 25 was chosen. Like so much surrounding Christmas, there are multiple opinions on this. What we do know is that plenty of other cultures celebrated the winter solstice about that same time. Once December 25 was settled on, Christians combined their celebration of Jesus’ birth with other celebrations that were already part of the culture.
Jesus Can Redeem Anything
That final point is what so many Christians get hung up on. The fact that the birth of Christ was combined with celebrations of the winter solstice automatically causes problems for them. But don’t forget that Jesus can redeem anything. His life, death, and resurrection can redeem the conifer just as well as the cross.
Bear in mind that prior to Jesus’ death on the cross, the crucifix was a symbol of torturous death. Rome had perfected this form of execution as a way to cause great suffering, thereby warning people to mind themselves. We don’t look at the cross today and see torturous Roman suffering and a warning to behave. We see it as a symbol of Jesus’ redemptive work on our behalf.
Jesus has redeemed what used to be a symbol of torture and made it a symbol of glorious redemption. Likewise, he can redeem a pine tree with ornaments and lights, using it as a reminder of his first advent. The same goes for Christmas carols, lights, gifts, yule logs, and so forth.
We Are Celebrating Jesus
Now, let’s move on to the more serious of the two arguments. In recent weeks, this argument against Jesus being the reason for the season as circulated on social media. It states as follows:
Jesus is not the reason for the season because he didn’t come to earth for himself. He came to earth to save us. Ergo, Jesus isn’t the reason for the season. We are.
You might find such a statement progressive, inspirational, and as profound as profound can be. I find it blasphemous.
First of all, I get the fact that Jesus didn’t come for himself. He came to save sinners. But the purpose of Christmas is not to celebrate our own depravity or our need for a Savior. The word itself speaks of Christ’s first advent. The day is about him and his birth. We are celebrating his birth irrespective of why it occurred.
To say that Jesus is not the reason for the season is like saying the point of your birthday is not the celebrate your birth and life. If we are the reason for the Christmas season, then the family and friends who eat your cake are the reason for your birthday. It’s an absurd and ludicrous assumption.
What Scripture Says
I don’t like to make any assertions of this nature without backing them up with Scripture. In the interest of brevity, I will mention only two Scripture references here — though I could mention dozens. The first is Isaiah 42:6-8. Speaking of sending Jesus to the earth, God the Father said:
“I the LORD have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand, and will keep you, and give you for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house. I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.”
Verse 8 is of particular interest. It says that God will not give his glory to another. His glory is his alone. Being that Jesus is God in the flesh, Jesus deserves the same glory as the Father. Not only does he deserve it, he actually possesses it. He won’t give it away any more than the Father or Holy Spirit will.
To say that we human beings are the reason for Christmas is to steal Jesus’ glory from him. God has not willingly surrendered his glory, so we are assuming it upon ourselves when we make ourselves the center of Christmas.
Next, consider Revelation 4:9-11. This portion of Scripture explains why we human beings were created to begin with. It says:
“And when those beasts give glory and honor and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for you have created all things, and for your pleasure they are and were created.”
If you buy the argument that Jesus is not the reason for the season because he didn’t come for himself, this text from Revelation disputes that. It all boils down to the purpose for our creation.
God created us — and everything else in the universe, for that matter — for his pleasure. That’s the only reason we exist. The problem is that God cannot take pleasure in sinful creatures. Thus, sin has interrupted God’s pleasure in mankind.
God, in all three persons, devised a plan of salvation in order to restore what was lost. Mankind is restored through the redemptive work of Christ because it pleases him. Yes, God loves us. Yes, he loved us enough to indwell human flesh and die for us on the cross. But in the end, we don’t deserve his love and grace. He does what he does because it pleases him.
Ultimately, that means Jesus inhabited flesh and laid in a manger because God was pleased for him to do so. The birth of Christ brought God pleasure. God was pleased with Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross. Get the point? Christmas is about an obedient Son pleasing the Father by indwelling human flesh.
God received glory from Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. He does not surrender that glory to feeble human beings who seem to have this never-ending need to self-validate.
Don’t fall for modern thinking that seeks to up-end what the church has long held as sacred. If someone chooses to oppose a long-held tenet of the Christian faith, let him do so with Scripture to back up his arguments. In this particular case, citing Scripture that says Jesus died for the ungodly is insufficient evidence to say that Jesus isn’t the reason for the season.
Jesus is the reason for the season. We are celebrating his birth regardless of when and why it occurred. To make us the reason for the season is to steal God’s glory and assume it for ourselves. It is yet another symptom of a church that wants to make Christianity all about us.