It’s Christmas Eve, and we’re among the very precious few nowadays who aren’t doing anything special. Though we are committed Christians, we don’t observe this holiday – though we love and embrace all sincere Christians who celebrate the God who entered our world of sin and misery through a virgin’s womb. Yet, unlike the masses both of saints and seculars, for us this is just another Monday. And tomorrow is just another Tuesday.
Our main reason is quite simple. We believe that all religious devotion ought to be done when and only when God commands it. Standing in the great legacy of the Protestant Reformation, we confess that “the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men …not prescribed in holy Scripture” (Westminster Confession of Faith 21.1). God has made Himself patently clear on this point. We may not invent our worship after our whim (Col. 2:23, Matt. 15:9). And we may certainly not take our cues from the darkened heathen (Deut. 12:29-31). Our watchword in worship is God’s Word. Full stop. “What thing soever I command I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it” (Deut. 12:32).
On all hands, Christmas fails the test. Nowhere in Scripture is it appointed. We don’t even know the day of our Lord’s birth. Baptism was appointed. The Lord’s Supper was appointed. And the Lord’s Day, the Christian Sabbath, was clearly appointed as well. But not the slightest hint of Christmas may be drawn from the sacred page. For this, we must turn to subsequent, post-apostolic history. To the invention of men. And dig far enough below the topsoil, and you’ll eventually hit the firm substratum of unmixed paganism. Read any historians, secular or sacred. The day, however lovely, romantic, or ostensibly ‘Christian,’ is “not of heaven, but of men.”
So that’s the Cliff Notes version of why we choose to be the odd-ducks. And while others we love and respect observe it civilly at home, we’ve elected just to bypass the whole thing. First, I think the ecclesiastical-civil distinction is too nuanced for my children to grasp. Kwissmiss is Kwissmiss. But further, I think false worship often gets into the church through the home. Folk religion has a nasty way of creeping in the back door (Gen. 31:30, 34; Gen. 35:1-4). And from there to public worship.
But for me, there’s a more subjective reason. I know, I know. Subjectivity, on my own view, is the very culprit. It’s precisely because people dream of a white Christmas, precisely because they are entranced by visions of dancing sugar plums that the day is such a force to be reckoned with. Many won’t even consider arguments like the one above because sentiment so controls them. And I don’t say that as one who is immune from all the trappings. Christmas was a part of my very American boyhood. To this day, the decision not to celebrate is a decision to suppress my own feelings.
And yet at the same time, I have to admit that my opposition to Christmas is in part the fruit of my subjectivity. Follow me here.
Jesus is everything to me. And yes, the Jesus of the manger. The Jesus who received the visit from the wise men. The Jesus of Luke 1 & 2. I am His and He is mine. And without Him, I am nothing.
And because Jesus is everything to me, Christianity – its doctrine and its worship – is everything to me as well. But I cannot believe that Jesus is everything or that Christianity is everything if it is in whole or in part the product of man.
If I should peel back the layers and find the unreal in my blessed Savior or in the dogma of His inspired apostles, I would come face to face with the unthinkable. I shudder even to type that sentence, to be frank. The hypothetical cannot even be hypothetical. I would sooner deny my own existence than deny the total authenticity of Jesus. If He is false, or the drama of redemptive history in which He played the main part, is compromised by myth, I am lost and undone! “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; and ye are yet in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:6, 7). No, I must stand with Peter on the petrine Rock. “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And “we have” most certainly “not followed cunningly devised fables” (2 Pet. 1:16).
Christmas, however, arises neither from our Lord nor His apostles. Try as one might, it lacks their sanction. Yet it presumes to be radically essential to the very existence of Christianity in the world. Can you, reader, imagine Christianity without Christmas? If you can, you’re an odd duck like me. But in all likelihood, you aren’t.
Yet if it is so radically essential and at the same time is on all hands the result of heathenism and churchly capitulation, then Christianity requires something un-Christian to be complete. And Jesus, then, requires something un-Christian to be complete. Why didn’t Jesus think of Christmas, if Christmas is so grand, and so very Christian? Jesus then becomes dependent on the mind of man. Man must contribute. Man must add. But what can He add to Truth but falsehood? What can He give to the Man who has everything? His sin, his misery, his vanity.
Maybe this strikes you as overly fine and needlessly complex. I will let the reader judge for himself. All I can do, though, is give my plain and honest testimony. As I see it – or rather, as I deeply feel it – Christmas is tells the world that Christianity is defective and needs supplementation. Or worse, it needs improvement or even rehabilitation. From below.
I, for one, will stay on side of Paul. “What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols” (2 Cor. 6:14-16)? I’ll stay there first because I am convinced it’s objectively right. But it’s also subjectively safe.