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Op-Ed

Letter to Christians on Christmas

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By EMN Updated: Dec 17, 2016 9:39 pm
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I faintly remember a sermon years ago preached by a guest preacher in our college on pre-Christmas celebration. He narrated an incident that took place as he travelled to the Northern part of India to preach the gospel. It was Christmas season, full of light decorations and Christmas trees. He got into a conversation with a Hindu devotee who told him that Christians are no different than Hindus because they too have their own way of celebrating, decorating and idolising a tree with lights and cartooning the image of a Christmas Father. The evangelist tried hard to explain that Christians are not worshipping those paraphernalia but only that it’s a form of decoration in celebrating the birth of Christ. But the Hindu devotee was not in for the argument. The evangelist left with a change of mind in place of his counterpart.

With the advent of Christmas, many Christians do know that the 25th of December is not the actual date of our Saviour’s birth. However the day has been set apart to commemorate the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. Conversely, Christians shouldn’t be more concerned about the precise date and times of Christ’ birth because it’s not necessarily about the date but the event that we celebrate. What is more important is the message of Christmas which Christ has brought to this human world.

Legions among Christians still do not celebrate this season as the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ because of the misconception that Christmas originates from a pagan sun-god called “Sol Invictus” or “Mithras” in conjunction with the concluding of the winter festival called the “Saturnalia.” It was a popular pagan festival. Possibly, with good intentions, the Church fathers of Rome tried to blend in the day with the birth of Christ, the Son of God. But they undesirably made the celebration muddied with pagan elements.

It is indeed not pleasant to bring these issues to readers after a long peaceful history of celebrating Christmas. But Christians need to be reminded that our understanding of what we call ‘adorning’ or ‘decoration’ may be interpreted by outsiders as completely different from our viewpoint. I, in no sense, call Christmas tree as something ‘abominable’ or ‘idolatrous.’ But, if today, we were to tell the Churches that Christmas tree or Santa Claus is a form of idolatry. Many would out rightly sneer or laughed at the preacher for being a completely out-dated traditional orthodox fanatic. But it’s true! How many Churches today do not have a Christmas tree or supposedly call “Christmas Father” (Santa Claus) placed and decorated in it?

Pastor John Macarthur, in his sermon on “Why do so many people miss the real meaning of Christmas?” brings out a brief glimpse on how the Christmas celebration came about. It is said that the first Christmas tree was initiated by Boniface, an English missionary to Germany in the eighth century. He supposedly replaced sacrifices to the god Odin’s sacred oak with a fir tree adorned in tribute to Christ. Certain accounts claim that Martin Luther introduced the Christmas tree lighted with candles. Although, there are accounts where Christmas tree is equated with the worshipping of trees in the ancient pagan religion, I do not wish to bring that in view. Nonetheless, these are mere traditions of men and not of God. And at times, traditions of men can blur people from the real thing.

Now the idea of “Santa Claus” is a subtraction of St. Nicholas, a Greek bishop in Asia Minor (4th century). Saint Nicholas was known for his extravagant generosity. He was later associated with giving gifts at the end of the yearand was adopted by the Netherlands as the donor saint of children. Now, it should be clear that the legendary figure of the Western culture of Santa is purely a myth and an invention of human. It has nothing or little to do with the saint or the traditions of the Church (forget the Bible). Therefore, it’s a masquerading figure of all that is true about Christ and God! And as a Bible-based Christian, I wish the tradition of men be clearly disassociated from the Church of Christ.

Post script: The Christian faith is not dictated by norms and traditions of men. This paraphernalia is not evil in and of itself but it can turn into a hindrance for the true gospel to be known to the community of other faiths. That’s where the root of the problem lies!

Vebu Khamo
Seoul Christian University

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By EMN Updated: Dec 17, 2016 9:39:25 pm