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Many during this time of year start to think about Christmas and the relatives they will be able to visit. Others have their minds on activities like gift giving and receiving, which certainly is a part of the Christmas festivities. Others still contemplate what it means biblically and how it relates to the Savior of the world.
While there are good things that one can think of during this time of year, some recognize the danger of worshipping the heavenly Father in a false way. "What?," you may ask. "How can visiting with family, gift giving, and considering Christmas in the Bible, and how it relates to the Savior, be worshipping the Father in a wrong way?"
Sometimes the majority is not always right, and so it is with many religious circles today of well meaning and devout individuals and families. To get a clearer picture we have to back up and see just what happened and when. If you've been keeping Christmas as a holiday all of your life, be prepared to consider the following facts. If you already know where this is going, make sure you do observe the holy days Yahweh commands us to keep.
As truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, so is the real Christmas story. Going back about 1700 years ago, we find something happening at an accelerated pace called "syncretism." It is a mixing of true worship with pagan or false worship. Some things were mixed in before 3 C.E. and some afterwards. In the case of Christmas, the history books are full of examples of how it was adopted and utilized in worship to the heavenly Father, Yahweh.
Some things that were mixed in, and accepted for awhile, were eventually dropped over time. These included, but were not limited to, "the Feast of Fools," "the Feast of Boy Bishop," and "the Feast of the Donkey." (Fahlbusch, E., & Bromiley, G. W. (1999-2003). Vol. 1: The Encyclopedia of Christianity (455). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill).
While not all of the days initially accepted in the early centuries after the Messiah Yahshua's death and resurrection were pagan, many were. "Indeed, the background of many observances such as Christmas, Epiphany, and Ember is pagan." ( Myers, A. C. (1987). The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (1069). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Eerdmans).
Does it really matter, though, if we worship on days that we are able to attribute to Father Yahweh or His Son, Yahshua? The answer, which was explained thousands of years ago, can be found in Scripture:
Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto Yahweh thy Elohim: for every abomination to Yahweh, which He hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it, Deut. 12:30-32.
While some may reason away that this is just Old Testament, it should be pointed out that Yahweh tells us He doesn't change (Mal. 3:6) and the same is said of the Son, Heb. 13:8. Many times we find confirmation of the unity of the Bible when comparing what is written in the Old Covenant and what is written in the New Covenant. They are, in fact, parts of one Book.
What is Holy?
"Holy" basically means, "Set Apart:" something that has a special purpose and purity about it. Yahweh has the right and privilege to set something apart as holy. We do not, except for what He sets apart. For example, He has from the beginning set apart the 7th day as a holy day. We see that this is called Saturday today. Scholars recognize this 7th day pattern is unchanged from the Messiah's time. It is a time we are to keep holy, because He has set it apart from every other day of the weekly cycle. It is something we cannot change. To try to do so or to go with traditional teachings is to put ourselves in His position, or above His position, which we are not to do, 1 Cor 11:3.
There is also only One Holy Father, and we are told, in no uncertain terms,
Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I Yahweh your Elohim am holy, Lev 19:2.
In verse 3 He says,
Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my sabbaths: I am Yahweh your Elohim.
The Apostle Peter quotes the above saying,
Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy, 1 Pet 2:16.
This shows that the Old Testament was not something they ignored now that the Savior had come. No, in fact, they knew the admonition of the Savior to live by every word of His Father, Matt 4:4; Luke 4:4, Mark 4:4 (Quotes from O.T., Deut 8:3). Again, the Old and New Testaments are, in fact, parts of one Book.
The Bible gives an outline of holy days (convocations, times of meeting, appointed times, Lev 23) not to be confused with the world's holidays. They each have rich and symbolic meanings in which we are to learn about and remember each year. Note, in all of it, Christmas is missing.
There have been disputes about this particular day, as well as others throughout history, which were not found in Scripture:
"...since it’s not obvious from the New Testament that the early church observed Christmas and Easter and Trinity Sunday, these special days were cut out of the Scottish church calendar. The development of Christmas as a major Christian festival in Scotland is a remarkably recent re-emergence. There are still one or two smaller Presbyterian churches that make more of New Year than they do of Christmas." (Christian History Magazine- Issue 46: John Knox & the Scottish Reformation. 1995. Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today)
Today, we are called to repent and turn back to Yahweh to a pure way of worship and to serve Him. This He accepts and expects from us. Ancient Israel failed in presenting themselves to Him properly, even on the days He had set apart as High Sabbaths or High Holy Days. Yahweh even went so far as to start calling them their Sabbaths, since they had corrupted them by their ways of doing things.
I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies, Amos 5:21 ESV.
As the Apostle Paul stated, there is a way not to keep, and alternatively, a way to keep, the appointed times of Yahweh:
Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, 1 Cor 5:8.
As we look at some of the origins of the Christmas story, it may surprise some that Christmas was not even originally an American holiday.
"...when the Pilgrims came to America, they refused to celebrate Christmas in any special way, regarding it merely as another workday of the year." (George, T. (2001). Vol. 30: Galatians; The New American Commentary (317). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers).
The history of not observing Christmas in America has been contributed to the idea of the Pilgrims, specifically Puritans, not wanting to observe the papal calendar, as they were separating themselves from the corruption of false worship and the mentality of the Church of England. (Christian History Magazine-Issue 41: The American Puritans. 1994. Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today)
America did receive Christmas into the churches after it was presented into the schools to the children, who then proceeded to present it to their families, who then brought it into the realm of worship to the Father. (The Unwrapping of Christmas, Its History, Myths. and Traditions, 2005 Jeremiah Films, INC.)
While there is no good reason to worship Father Yahweh with adopted pagan means, and in fact was prohibited, it has happened nonetheless. Tradition has brought it down to us as true worship, but nothing could be further from the truth. In America, and going back to England, specifically Germany, one can see the pagan connection and parallels between sacred oaks and the Christmas tree. (Fahlbusch, E., & Bromiley, G. W. (1999- 2003). Vol. 1: The Encyclopedia of Christianity (455). Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill).
The tree has also been used in various fertility rites of pagans in the past, but the use of trees in worship goes back even to Old Testament times. Yahweh forbids such practices:
Thus saith Yahweh, Learn not the way of the heathen, And be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; For the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: For one cutteth a tree out of the forest, The work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; They fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not, Jer 10:2-4.
Birth of the Savior?
In Luke 2:7–8 we find an account of the birth of the Savior,
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
While considering pagan connections, dating the birth of the Savior to the Winter Solstice time period is not coincidental. Numerous commentaries show that the idea of the Winter birth of the Savior as unlikely:
"The actual date of [Yahshua's] birth is unknown. There is no evidence of celebrating the nativity before the third century." (Achtemeier, P. J., Harper & Row, P., & Society of Biblical Literature. (1985). Harper's Bible dictionary (1st ed.) (163). San Francisco: Harper & Row).
"[Yahshua's] birth itself almost certainly did not occur on December 25. This date became attached to the celebration of Christmas later because it coincided with a Roman holiday known as Saturnalia, when Christians had time off work to worship. Perhaps [Yahshua] was born in the spring when shepherds would have been watching their flocks by night because lambs might be born (Luke 2:8)." (Blomberg, C. (2001). Vol. 22: Matthew; The New American Commentary (62). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers)
The pagan god Saturn, the venerable day of the Sun god (sun worship), and other pagan gods all played a part in what we see today in the nominal churches because of man's inclination to combine what they see around them. It's called syncretism and it is prevalent today. Another commentary says of Luke 2:8, "Due to the proximity to Jerusalem, some scholars have suggested that the flocks here are the temple flocks raised for sacrifice. This narrative would have challenged the values of many religious people, who despised shepherds; shepherds’ work kept them from participation in the religious activities of their communities. Pasturing of flocks at night indicates that this was a warmer season, not winter (when they would graze more in the day); Roman Christians later adopted December 25 as Christmas only to supersede a pagan Roman festival scheduled at that time." (Keener, C. S., & InterVarsity Press. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary : New Testament (Lk 2:8). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press).
Tradition of Men
While some traditions of men are not necessarily bad, when considering pure worship to the Father, we must not be complacent just accepting tradition that connects pagan ways with true worship. There has to be a distinction between the two, not a combining of them, and certainly not reasoning them away as many have and still do today:
"In the church we have many traditions, too. Some of them, such as the special ways in which a congregation celebrates Christmas or Easter, help us draw closer to [Elohim] even though we may not be able to define or support the practices from Scripture. By using the words traditional and contemporary to talk about types of worship, we acknowledge that a good bit of what we do has developed from years of practice." (Gangel, K. O. (1998). Vol. 5: Acts. Holman New Testament Commentary; Holman Reference (245). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers)
The tradition of men, when it comes to covering up Yahweh's word or effectively causing false worship, is something that the Messiah was, and still is, against. It is also something that Yahweh does not desire of us, but rather He hates it. Remember how They do not change and how the Bible is one Book that is united in its presentation.
Religious leaders of the time said,
“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” Yahshua replied, “And why do you break the command of Yahweh for the sake of your tradition? For Yahweh said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to Elohim,’ he is not to ‘honor his father’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of Yahweh for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men,’” Matt 15:2–9 NIV.
Our Heart and Mind
While it is true that Yahweh looks at the heart. Do we understand that it is not just faith or good feelings that He is seeking after? What did He expect in the past and what does he expect of us today? Does He have a different standard to live by for us than He did with ancient Israel? 1 Chronicles 28:9 NASB says,
As for you, my son Solomon, know the Elohim of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for Yahweh searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever.
Here we find a separation of the heart and the mind; they can work in unison. Though speaking to Solomon, Yahweh expects us to turn to Him with both our heart and mind. Another point to notice is: this is not a New Testament reference. Yet, it speaks clearly of the heart and mind.
So, did Yahweh expect Solomon to be obedient or to just have faith through his heart and mind? Wouldn't both be required to be a good servant of Yahweh? Yahshua, Himself, said,
Yahweh is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth, John 4:24.
This would be His Spirit and in His truth. The word (i.e., truth, Psalm 119:151, 160) that we are to live by includes the one about not worshipping Him with pagan ways. He does not want to be reminded of the pagans and their detestable acts.
We can sugar coat dirt all we want, but in the end, it still has the taste of dirt. Yahweh commands proper worship that is acceptable to Him. Let's take a look at what else the Apostle Peter says in addition to quoting the Old Testament (the only Bible they had at that time) saying,
Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Yahshua Messiah. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY,” 1 Pet 1:13-16 NASB.
To have Yahweh's Spirit is to have a portion of His heart and mind working within us to guide and direct us in proper worship toward Him. It is not out of line with His Word. It was prophecy given hundreds of years before the Messiah's time - the time when the Spirit would be given and we would have a deep longing desire to obey Him and to walk in His Spirit:
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them, Ezek 36:26–28.
This was also quoted in the New Testament in the book of Hebrews. While Yahweh applied the law outwardly to Israel on stone tablets for their mind, for example, He still wanted them to get it into their hearts,
For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living Elohim speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? Go near and hear all that Yahweh our Elohim says; then speak to us all that Yahweh our Elohim speaks to you, and we will hear and do it. Yahweh heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and Yahweh said to me, “I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They have done well in all that they have spoken. Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!” (Deut 5:26-29)
He gives us the desire within our hearts as He calls us and plants the word in our minds as we earnestly seek Him and study His Word.
We should reflect on what the man after Yahweh's own heart (that is, the one who sought the things of Yahweh's own heart and mind) says:
O how love I Thy law! It is my meditation all the day. Thou through Thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: For they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: For Thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Thy precepts. I have refrained my feet from every evil way, That I might keep Thy word. I have not departed from thy judgments: For Thou hast taught me. How sweet are Thy words unto my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through Thy precepts I get understanding: Therefore I hate every false way, Ps 119:97–104.
The straight and narrow path or gate that leads into eternal life (Matt 7:13-14), does not include worshipping Yahweh in ways that He forbids our hearts and minds, Acts 5:32.
Traditions vs. Truth
The Christmas story is multifaceted with adopted traditions such as the mistletoe and Santa Claus, each one having a history of their own. While some may feel there is no harm in introducing these various things into the melting pot of the so-called "Christ's Mass," this holiday that so many gravitate toward is not something Yahweh commanded His people to do in the past, nor is it something we should do today.
We have been told what days have been made holy. In fact, they are said to be lasting ordinances (perpetual statutes). In other words, these appointed times are times that were kept both in the Old and in the New Testament times as well as to be kept in the future coming Kingdom. There is no time period in which we are told not to observe them.
The wording "holy convocations," found along side "perpetual statutes" (Lev 23), is significant in that we are given specific appointment times in which we are to meet with each other and with Him, to worship Him. You wouldn't want to miss a doctor's appointment, would you? Why then would we want to miss the specific times Yahweh wants us to come before Him together?
The Christmas story is a history filled with traditions that we, as a people, do not need to be involved in. What we should be involved with is the truth, not tradition. This is especially true when that tradition has been gathered from the nations and incorporated together to worship Yahweh. He doesn't like such things and calls them for what they are, an abomination. He wants us to come together and worship Him in Spirit and in truth; that is what He wants,
But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. Yahweh is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth, John 4:23-24.
-Elder David Brett
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