Many Adventists I have met were in some way opposed to the celebration of Christmas. For some it was the thought that Christmas is not in scripture, and that it came into Christian tradition as a replacement for some pagan festival. Others looked at the way the world celebrates it, and were appalled by the consumerism, the vanity, and the gluttony often displayed in Christmas celebrations. While those are valid concerns, I was always fascinated by what Ellen White had to say on the topic:
“As the twenty-fifth of December is observed to commemorate the birth of Christ, as the children have been instructed by precept and example that this was indeed a day of gladness and rejoicing, you will find it a difficult matter to pass over this period without giving it some attention. It can be made to serve a very good purpose.” Adventist Home, 478.
“The holiday season is fast approaching with its interchange of gifts, and old and young are intently studying what they can bestow upon their friends as a token of affectionate remembrance. It is pleasant to receive a gift, however small, from those we love. It is an assurance that we are not forgotten, and seems to bind us to them a little closer. It is right to bestow upon one another tokens of love and remembrance if we do not in this forget God, our best friend. We should make our gifts such as will prove a real benefit to the receiver. I would recommend such books as will be an aid in understanding the word of God or that will increase our love for its precepts. Provide something to be read during these long winter evenings.” Adventist Home, 479.
“God would be well pleased if on Christmas each church would have a Christmas tree on which shall be hung offerings, great and small, for these houses of worship. Letters of inquiry have come to us asking, Shall we have a Christmas tree? Will it not be like the world? We answer, You can make it like the world if you have a disposition to do so, or you can make it as unlike the world as possible.” Adventist Home, 482.
Let us be real here, Jesus was very probably not born on December 25. The Bible does not tell us anything at all about the exact date of the birth of Christ. It did not even occur at the start of 1 AD, but most likely in 4 BC. And yes, I deem it likely that the date for Christmas was chosen to supersede a pagan festival.
So if it is not the real birthdate, why celebrate it? What is real is the birth of Christ. And while we are not told when exactly this event took place, we know it was worthy of celebration. The angels sung, the shepherds worshiped, and God even utilized the heavens to direct all who were truly searching to Bethlehem. (Well okay, the wise men did not arrive at the date of Christ’s birth but not too long after–compare Mt 2:7, 16 and Lk 2:21-24.)
Truly, God’s incarnation, his coming in the flesh, is an extraordinary and unique glimpse into the character of God. Christ “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant” (Phi 2:6-7). As the angel said to the shepherds: “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Lk 2:10-11). If the joy of Christ’s birth is for all people, then it is appropriate to make a celebration to commemorate it. Some argue that Christ’s death and resurrection are more important than his birth in terms of salvation history, but comparing the importance of these events is like asking which of its wings a bird needs more to fly. Jesus could not have died for us without becoming one of us. And there are aspects of God’s character displayed in the incarnation: boundless generosity, love, and humility. To have a day on which the church remembers and displays what the love of God is like, seems a very fitting response to what he has done for us.
Then what should we do at Christmas?
The first coming of Christ was joy to the world—so in remembering it, we should be joyful. It was an unmerited gift to humanity—so perhaps it is not too far off to give unmerited gifts to our fellow humans. It also was a gift to those who were poor and in desperate need—so it would be in the spirit of Christmas to help the poor (It is always important to help the poor though. Especially not on Christmas. Everyone helps the poor on Christmas.) It was an event proclaimed by shepherds and wise men—so maybe it is a good opportunity to proclaim it still today.
Written by Valentin Zywietz