"and he's not just whistling dixie either!"
Christmas – Should We Adore it … or
That day of the year is fast approaching. You know, the holiday that’s adored by some, but abhorred by others. Christmas. December 25th. For some, the very mention of the word, or even the date, gives rise to those old Armstrong-induced feelings of aversion and apprehension. It’s the Woe of Woes, to hear some talk about it. It’s that time of the year when they have to be extra careful not to slip into sin by singing along with those catchy Christmas hymns that range anywhere from praising Christ to telling the tale of a reindeer that used to be laughed at and called names by the other reindeer. To have to stand before God on judgment day and acknowledge this evil would be a horrible fate, indeed!
It’s also that time of the year when they have to have the appropriate response ready on the tip of their tongue for those who wish them a pagan Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. An appropriate response might be “Thanks.” But to say, “Same to you,” or “You too,” would be a sin, they feel. Small words. But one must be very careful with these things, for after all, eternity hinges on moral decisions such as these, they reason.
Most of us, however, having escaped Armstrongism and its attendant errors, have rejected the above attitude toward Christmas, which most of us previously held, and have managed to retrain ourselves and allowed our bruised emotions to heal. Many of us now more or less eagerly anticipate the arrival of this season. Or at the very least, we no longer dread it.
I think we all now realize that there is nothing inherently wrong with Christmas. In fact, what was inherently wrong was our underutilized thinking and analyzing skills. Herbert Armstrong sold us a bill of goods regarding the evils of this day; and for most of us, it meant a 180 degree turn from our previous attitude toward it. I’m sure Herbert was pleased that he was able to present us with some fairly plausible reasons why we should jettison the observance of this day, as this could serve as another wedge to further divide us from orthodox Christianity, and from our neighbors and relatives. The more we relied upon the WCG to be our all-in-all, the less likely we were to ever depart. As an added benefit, not keeping Christmas freed up more of our household funds to feed the insatiable coffers of the Church.
While some of those still in the clutches of Armstrongism may not be terribly vocal when it comes to arguing the merits of the old covenant vs. the new covenant, etc., when it comes to Christmas (and Easter), they come alive; feeling certain that, at least in this area, they can nail our hides to the wall. As someone in one of the split-offs recently responded, when I suggested that they were stuck in a time-warp in the old covenant; “At least we don’t believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny!” As if what these two holidays are all about is defined by these two fictional creations; and that anyone other than a child would ever believe in them! As far as Santa and the Easter Bunny are concerned, none of the healthier churches that I have attended since the WCG have even so much as mentioned them in their services or in their church activities. I think they realize that they only detract from the credibility of the gospel.
The Christmas issue is probably one of the hardest areas for many former ex-COGers to take a confident stand on. Where does one go to research the moral aspect of this subject? There’s not a whole lot written on it as it’s not much of an issue with most groups, other than a few such as Worldwide and its split-offs. Various encyclopedias cover the history of some of the secular aspects of Christmas, but none delve into the moral and spiritual aspects of its observance.
After the changes in Worldwide in 1995, Mike Feazell, at a Bible study during the feast of tabernacles that fall, answered questions posed by the members. He covered the topic of Christmas, and did a very commendable job of it. Keep in mind that doctrinally most of us have no dispute with the WCG, as they are “right on” in most doctrinal areas and have provided some very valuable insights into many areas that we were once deceived about. I realize that we have no use for Worldwide’s authoritarian structure and abusive practices, but most of us would have to admit that they often can and do give us more insights into areas where there have been doctrinal changes than anyone else. I have found that on this subject, the WCG has shown itself to be a very good resource.
Following is a transcript, somewhat edited/revised for brevity and flow, which I made from tapes I acquired while still attending the WCG. It covers the excellent points that Mr. Feazell made regarding Christmas at the feast Bible study, and begins with his reading of this question from the audience:
“I understand that under the new covenant, the Sabbath and holy days are not what save us; yet does not God abhor the modern carryovers of the Canaanite festivals, such as Christmas? If so, how can the use of these customs not be worship of God in vain?”
OK, that’s a very good question (Mr. Feazell replies). First, let’s go to Deuteronomy 12, verses 28 to 31, where it’s mentioned. It says here, “Be careful to obey all these words that I command you today, so that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, because you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the Lord God.” Of course, he’s talking about the place of worship here, from back in verse 14, and about all the offerings and responsibilities for the sacrifices of the Levites…and so on.
Then he comes into verse 29, and he says, “When the Lord your God cuts off from before you all the nations which you go to dispossess, and you dispossess them and live in their land, take care that you are not snared into imitating them, after they have been destroyed before you. Do not inquire concerning their gods, how did these nations worship their gods, for I also want to do the same. You must not do the same for the Lord your God, for this abhorrent thing that the Lord hates, they have done for their gods. They even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. You must diligently observe everything that I command you, do not add to it or take away from it.”
First of all, let’s understand a few things. We’ve used this to condemn Christmas and Easter…I think most Protestants don’t like Halloween much, so that’s kind of out of the picture anyway. But Christmas and Easter; we’ve used traditionally this passage to condemn the daylights out of them, and we say, “OK, these are pagan festivals, and therefore they’re wrong for us to keep.” Now let me hasten to say, the church has already made it plain the church does not keep Christmas and Easter. We already have a Passover and Unleavened Bread celebration, in which we celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ.
More recently, we focused more on the resurrection aspect than we used to, which is what Easter is about. But with Christmas, what we have said is that members who keep Christmas…that’s up to them. Now, that’s very hard for some, because they say, “Well. OK, what about this passage?” Now we as a church don’t keep Christmas, but we don’t condemn members, or tell them that they may not or should not, nor do we say they should or must. That’s something that members can make their own decisions about. Now I know that some members would find that so abhorrent and so gross and abominable that they wouldn’t even consider it. Others see it differently. Now, we’ll talk about that as we go through this question and other questions coming up.
First of all, let’s take a look at what we’re actually being told here in Deuteronomy 12; in verse 2, we can get some specifics. “You must demolish completely all the places, where the nations you are about to dispossess served their gods. On the mountain heights, on the hills, and under every leafy tree, break down their altars, smash their pillars, burn their sacred poles with fire, and hew down the idols of their gods and blot out their name from their places. You shall not worship the Lord your God in such ways.” Now, if we studied these ways, we’d find that they had different kinds of practices around their altars, but did Israel have altars? Well, they had an altar, didn’t they? So it isn’t the altar that’s being talked about here, for after all, there was an altar involved in the way Israel was to worship God.
“Smash their pillars.” Now the pillars had to do with a certain kind of magic, incantations, and so on; of certain expectations that they had of their gods, and these gods had to respond to these pillars in certain ways.
"Hew down the idols of their gods." Well of course idolatry, bringing God down to the level of an idol, was preposterous and absurd.
“Demolish these places.” They worshipped up on these mountain heights, and on hills and high places.
“And under every leafy tree.” They had certain worship practices going on in connection with leafy trees. And we can look at that and say, “Ha! That looks like a Christmas tree!” But leafy trees and Christmas trees are quite different, so it doesn’t quite fit…
“You shall not worship the Lord God in such ways, but you shall seek the place that the Lord your God will choose…bringing there your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes … ” Now why did these people worship on high places, and under leafy trees? … Because they thought that the gods were territorial…they were gods of certain places…. Now God did not want Israel worshipping him that way. Why? Because that would indicate that he is a god that is confined to some place…But God was getting across to Israel that he is the God of everything. He’s not confined just to Israel. He does good things for other nations, too.
That’s why you notice in wording, like in the 10 commandments, it says, “You shall have no other god before me,” as though there’s such a thing as other gods. “No other god before me.” In other words, the point that he’s making at this point in time is that even if there is another god, he’s greater than they are. He’s not confined the way they are. Furthermore, they worship their gods in all kinds of goofy ways. They believed that they could get their gods to have to do stuff for them. That’s what magic is all about. That’s what incantations are all about. They believe that the gods are inconsistent, that you never know what they are going to do, that they get angry for no reason.
So in order to appease their anger, like over in the volcanoes in Hawaii, you have to throw someone into the volcano, and that appeases the anger. You’re always having to go around walking on eggshells, worrying about who did what, to appease the gods, because if the Nile rose too high, then the gods were mad. If there were storms or lightning, the gods were mad. They believed there was a meta-divine realm, impersonal, above the gods. And that if you put the bones in the right order, and you said the right incantations, and you made the right kind of smoke and powder, then that would make this meta-divine impersonal force to cause the god to do the thing you wanted it to do.
Now, can you see why God said, “Don’t start worshipping me like they worship their gods.”? “I’m not like that! You go and worship me in the place I tell you. I’ll tell you where to worship me; I’ll tell you where the festival is going to be; I’ll tell you what you’re going to do on it. And then, I’ll give you the crop. You’re not going to make me do anything. I’m not compelled by anyone. I’m going to make a covenant with you. Here’s the deal. You act good, you do what I say, and I’ll bless you. You don’t – I won’t.
“In fact, I’ll kick you out of the land. I’ll let all of them come in and take it. Do what I say. You’re going to live right. You’re not going to be abominable like they are. They throw their babies in the fire to get their gods to do what they want them to do. They go get under a tree, and have all kinds of sexual activities, in order to promote their crops growing. I don’t operate like that. Your crops grow because I make them grow, because I want to.”
Also, what we have to look at is that God is not telling Israel not to do anything that the pagans did. The pagan’s prayed. God is not saying not to pray, just because pagans do. He isn’t saying don’t offer sacrifices, just because pagans offer sacrifices. He isn’t saying don’t have a temple, don’t have a tabernacle. In fact, the tabernacle was patterned much the same as the pagan tabernacles, which also had a sanctuary, and a holy of holies. The pattern for temples is about the same.
That wasn’t the kind of thing God was driving at here. Obviously they had priests. Pagans had priests. Israel had priests. It was a priesthood….It wasn’t that Israelite was being asked not to do anything the pagans did at all. Sometimes we get that thinking going, and then all of a sudden anything that the pagans did, we can’t do. Well, pagans, you know, did a lot of things we do. I imagine a lot of you have wedding rings on. That’s pagan. It doesn’t mean anything pagan to us today, but originally it was a pagan kind of a thing, in fact it had some sort of religious significance. It doesn’t today. Meaningless to us today. We’re not worshipping the devil or bowing down to false gods or anything else by having a wedding ring. It’s merely a custom. It’s become that. There’s no pagan worship involved.
Wedding ceremonies. I imagine a lot of you had a bride’s maid. I’ll bet a lot of you probably had a best man at your wedding. That’s pagan – did you know that? Do you know where that originated? That had to do with the “evil eye” that would always be out to get the newlywed couple, and so you had to have some stand-ins so that the evil eye would not know which one to go after, and might go after one of them instead … I’m serious! Now, we do that today, and it means something completely different, doesn’t it? That old custom is obliterated, passe, There’s no religious significance at all. It’s just a matter of having your best friend there to support you… Totally different meaning. And yet it originated in paganism. There are some people who won’t have a wedding ceremony for that very reason.
I remember a big controversy in the church about throwing rice. That’s why we started throwing confetti. You think I’m kidding! Throwing rice was a sin. Why? Because rice is prolific. It’s a fertility symbol. So if you throw rice, it means “have lots of kids.” And so, therefore, we must not throw rice at our wedding ceremonies. I know that when I was a kid, that was a big deal in the church. Anybody remember that? So, confetti was OK. Substitute rice, you know, fake rice. You can’t have any kids with that! No problem with confetti.
But you see the point. You can get hyper, go overboard, begin to make everything into a big pagan symbol. Remember when we couldn’t wear paisley ties as it was apparently some kind of pagan symbol. Then there was heart-shaped jewelry – that was supposed to be pagan. You can think of all kind of things. Some people in the church felt that you couldn’t wear any type of jewelry with an animal, like a little horse, or a little butterfly on it, as that was making an idol or graven image. Breaking that commandment. That’s what the commandment says! You’re going to take off your jewelry now, right? But it’s talking about bowing down and worshipping, making it to worship.
Now, I don’t know anyone that worships their jewelry. A lot of these things are born out of a desire to be very careful in obedience to God. But sometimes they go overboard. And then they begin to impose things on other people – then they begin to judge people. Then they begin to call people names. Then pretty soon big divisions occur, because they’re doing this, and we’re not. We’re pure. And instead of realizing that our ugly heart has risen up and begun to condemn our brothers, we get worried about these little things instead…..
You can worship God in vain in a lot of ways. The issue is idolatry. The issue is worshipping false gods. The issue is one of bowing down to idols and of having all kinds of worshipful practices that do not recognize the true identity of God, of Jesus Christ, of who he is and what he’s done. So if some of your brothers in the church have a Christmas tree, and you get offended at that, you might ask yourself a few questions. Are they worshipping that Christmas tree? Are they worshipping it? Because that’s the issue. Do they bow down to it? Do they worship it? Do they pray to it? I don’t think so! I don’t know anyone who does that. Now, maybe somebody does, somewhere.
Now, we go back to AD 300 or 400, and we say that Christmas originated back then. First it was a Saturnalia celebration. And people were worshipping a big Roman god, Mithras, the bull god. OK, I ask you this. Does anyone worship Mithras today? … People don’t worship Mithras today. People don’t have Saturnalia celebrations today. Why not? Because Christianity obliterated the worship of Mithras and Saturnalia. Obliterated them. They’re gone. They’re a page in the history book…Christianity wiped it out. Some people don’t look at it this way, but look at it the way we always did, and the way Jehovah Witnesses do, which is to say it’s a compromise with paganism. After all, the pagans worshipped their gods during this period of time.
Then the Christians came along, and they said, “OK, from now on, we’re not going to worship Mithras any more, we’re not going to celebrate Saturnalia; from now on we’re going to celebrate the entrance into the world of the Son of God…” But the fact is, history shows that that worship was wiped out, and today, people during Christmas think about one of two things, in general terms. They think about either the birth of Jesus Christ – is that bad? I don’t think so, I think that’s good – or they think about a big fat party, is that good? That all depends.
Now, one of the ways we used to condemn Christmas up and down was to say – in fact, some of our own literature said – “Well, people don’t really think about Christ at Christmas in this country, all they’re thinking about is what presents are they going to get, and they’re thinking about whether they’re going to get enough presents for other people, and get in a mad rush of purchasing stuff, and getting all the cards out. A lot of them are thinking about the office party, and who they can neck with in the back room by the coffee machine, and slipping vodka into the eggnog, and all that kind of thing. People getting drunk, and more wrecks happen during the Christmas season, and more family disputes.” But that’s because families get together and there’s more opportunity for disputes – do you notice that at the feast at all?
So we focus on the secular aspects of Christmas, and say that not many people are thinking about Christ during this time anyway, and how ridiculous that is, and how nobody thinks about Christ because they’re thinking about all this other stuff. OK. But what if they are thinking about Christ? Let’s take the argument the other way. That’s a nice way to try to condemn the season, and it justifies our position. But what if they are thinking about Christ? What if they do go to church on Christmas, and listen to a sermon about the birth of Christ where all these birth narratives in Matthew and Luke are read, especially the one in Luke. Where they read about how the angels came rejoicing and proclaimed the Son of God was born, and sang, and so on. Where’s the sin in that? Think about it. Where’s the sin? Are they worshipping the devil? Are they worshipping an idol?
No. They’re reading the scriptures, they’re remembering that God fulfilled his promise given through all the prophets to send his son. They’re singing songs about the birth of Christ and the entrance of the savior into the world, just like the angels did in Luke 2. Where’s the sin in that? We’ve got to ask ourselves that. Now, we’ve had that as sin for so long. I mean you drive down the street, and what I’d tell me kids was the same thing my parents told me – my mother told me, my dad wasn’t in the church – I’d say, “Look at those Christmas decorations. Oh, they look pretty, don’t they? Oh, yes. But that’s how the devil deceives you, with those beautiful lights, to make you think it’s good, when it’s really very bad.” OK, where’s the sin? Let’s be honest. Are we worshipping a false god?
“But he wasn’t born on December 25th, Mr. Feazell! Don’t you know that?” Where do the scriptures say that? How do you know that he wasn’t? “Well, the shepherds wouldn’t have been out in their fields in the winter time.” Really? Have you ever been to Israel in the wintertime? I’ll bet, if you went to Israel in the wintertime, you might find out that shepherds could be in the fields in the wintertime. Put that in your historical pipe and smoke it! I’m sorry, but that’s true. Let’s go further. How do we know he wasn’t born December 25th? Does it matter when Christ was born? No, it doesn’t matter. Is it a sin to celebrate his birth?
Now, if you don’t know when it was, why is December 25th worse than any other day? “Well, because it used to be a pagan holiday.” You know, virtually any day used to be a pagan holiday. Pagans did all kinds of bad things all the time. Now, if we went back and we looked at everything the pagans used to do on every day, I think that we wouldn’t be able to do much praying on any day. You can’t pray on a day when pagans used to pray? You can’t worship Christ on a day when pagans used to worship a false god?
So, 364 days you may worship the Lord your God, but not on December 25th! Don’t pray, don’t go to church whatever you do, don’t think about the birth of Christ on that day, and definitely don’t read scriptures. And whatever you do, don’t sing songs about it. That’s so stupid, isn’t it? But that’s what we said. Is it OK to think about Jesus Christ on Christmas day? And talk about the birth of Jesus Christ with the family? Let’s look at Romans 14 in this connection. It talks about judging others. That’s what we’re good at. We’re good at judging each other. We’re not the only ones. All Christians seem to be awfully good at that. There’s a whole chapter devoted to it right here….
“Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike.” Now, we could go round and round about what he (Paul) is referring to here, but one thing’s for sure…he’s trying to tell us something about judging each other, about how we look at certain things. One of those “certain things” is about days. “Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord.”
OK. If you’re going to observe a day, observe it in honor of the Lord. If you decide to keep Christmas this year, do it to the Lord. If you decide not to keep Christmas this year, or any other subsequent year, that’s fine.
Because, he goes on to say, “Those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord. Since they give thanks to God. While those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord, and give thanks to God.” So two people can do opposite things on something, and both do it to the Lord, and it can be an issue that you have to be warned not to judge each other about. But you need to do it to the Lord. There was one question here that said, “Are we going to…or, I’ve heard a rumor that people might keep Christmas as long as they do it ‘to the Lord,’ in quotes, and I presume that it was a little bit pejorative, and I understand that.
But yeah, that’s what Paul says. Make sure you do it to the Lord. Now, if you get drunk, you’re sinning. If you worship the Christmas tree, you’re sinning. If you commit fornication, you’re sinning. OK? That’s where the sin lies. So maybe mistletoe is kind of a lousy custom for Christians. Maybe that’s one of the things that’s been carried over that kind of stinks. Maybe Christian homes ought not to have mistletoe, at least if they do, they ought not to have it in the way that where you get underneath it and you kiss so and so. That’s a pretty lousy custom. I think it is. I think that you could probably think of a few others.
“We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your bother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, as I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bend to me, every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then, each of us will be accountable to God. “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve never, instead, to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.” So here comes a responsibility.
If you’re sitting down with somebody that you know has trouble with bacon, or might, it wouldn’t be very thoughtful to order it in front of them, would it? On the other hand, if you’re having bacon, it wouldn’t be appropriate for everybody in the restaurant to search you out, to find out what’s on your plate. You know, craning necks, and looking around corners, “I wonder what they’re ordering.” That’s over there…they didn’t do it up your nose, nor should we do it up someone’s nose.
“I know, and I am persuaded, that in the Lord Jesus, nothing is unclean in itself.” But it is unclean for anyone who thinks it’s unclean. So you’re dealing with a conscience issue. If your brother or sister is injured by what you eat, you’re no longer walking in love. Let’s not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. “So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not food and drink.” Powerful statement. “But righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” Listen to that. “And not for the sake of food destroy the work of God. Every thing is indeed clean, but it is wrong to make others fall by what you eat.”
Now, that’s a two way street then, isn’t it? So we don’t go out and try to seek out and make it our business to find out what everyone else is doing so that we can find a way to judge them. On the other hand, when we suspect that there might be a problem with someone’s conscience about something, we don’t do it up their nose. We don’t stick our Christmas tree up their nose.
What have we learned from reading the above, and from a general analysis of the subject? I think we have learned that the answer to the controversy over whether Christmas is evil or not can be boiled down into the following two points:
1. In observing Christmas or any other “days,” we need to put that observance to this litmus test:
Are the people bowing down to idols and are they having all kinds of worshipful practices that do not recognize the true identity of God, of Jesus Christ, of who he is and what he’s done? I think we would be hard pressed to find anyone who uses Christmas or any other day to worship anything other than God and Christ. Therefore, the observance of Christmas appears to go against no injunction in the Bible
2. If you’re going to observe a day, observe it in honor of the Lord. If you decide to keep Christmas this year, do it to the Lord. If you decide not to keep Christmas this year, or any other subsequent year, that’s fine. It’s a personal choice. But don’t judge others who do or do not keep certain days, as there is an injunction against that in the Bible.
So, should Christmas be adored … or abhorred? Probably a better way to phrase the question would be, “So, should we observe Christmas… or avoid it?” I think that it is readily apparent that none of us should scorn Christmas, or those who observe it. And if we decide to observe it – well and good. But whether we choose to observe Christmas or not is strictly a personal matter. In either case, no sin is involved, as long as our intent is to please God, and we aren’t judgmental of others regarding how they observe it.
Till next time, here’s whistlin’ at ya! ;o)