Thursday, February 23, 2017

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What About Christmas

What does the Messianic believer do about Christmas?

Let’s first distinguish the “commercial” Christmas from the “intent” of Christmas. By this we mean that the ideal intent of Christmas was to celebrate the incarnation of the Lord Yeshua as Emmanuel (i.e., God is with us, Isaiah 7:14).

As Messianic believers, we wholeheartedly acknowledge that Yeshua was “the Word of God made flesh” in order to “dwell among us” (John 1:14). Proper Biblical Messianic Jewish doctrine has no problem acknowledging the incarnation: God made flesh. If you are part of a Messianic congregation that denies the incarnation of Yeshua, then you should leave it. Such a congregation is not Gospel-centered and may appear to be Jewish on the outside but it is not Messianic on the inside.

Many Messianic believers reject the celebration of Christmas because of some pagan overtures in the holiday. There is no getting around these pagan origins. If you are an ardent traditionalist for Christmas, please be aware that pointing out the pagan origins of Christmas as we know it is not tantamount to attacking Yeshua.

But before you condemn Christmas as pagan” you might want to consider a few things. The date for Christmas was chosen by early believers as a replacement for a pagan festival (at least in the Western Church), namely the rising of the sun from darkness as noted in the feast of Saturnalia. We can debate the wisdom of this decision, but at least realize that the intent was likely missional: replace what you know from your former life of paganism with something related to the gospel. If we destroy Christmas due to this fact, then let’s abandon some other things. The days of the week were named for gods, yet we don’t see a movement in Messianic circles to rename the calendar (maybe Wednesday can be ‘Shabbat minus three’ …). And the origins of circumcision are unclear: the custom pre-dates Abraham and the best current guess is Egypt.

But none of these points really gets to the heart of the matter about the intent of Christmas. Our real point is that there is no verse in Scripture that commands the celebration of Christmas. True, the angels rejoiced at the birth of Yeshua (Luke 2:13-14) but we are not angels. Thus, if the Bible is our authority for faith and practice, one cannot be legitimately dogmatic about enforcing the celebration of Christmas. One’s participation in the celebration of Christmas cannot be a test for orthodoxy. But why not join Christians worldwide and celebrate it?

As Messianic believers, we typically do not celebrate Christmas in our congregations (though some do) for a simple reason: Christmas is not something Jewish people identify with as Jews. Chanukah, which Yeshua himself seems to have celebrated (John 10:22-23), is something that Jewish people can identify with. But not Christmas.

For this reason, we have taken the position that the celebration of Christmas is really a liberty in Messiah issue. Christmas doesn’t fit into our vision, so we leave it up to individual families in their homes as to how they want to handle it. Granted Christmas is a universal Christian custom, but we are not trying to reach Christians with the gospel (well, we could debate this … but let’s not be too cynical).

So if you feel that celebrating Christmas, or perhaps more specifically the Incarnation of Yeshua, is important, then you have full liberty in Messiah to do this. We fully rejoice in the Incarnation for we are lost sinners without it. In our Messianic congregation, we have elected not to do so via Christmas so that we do not cause Jewish people to stumble. To our Christian Brothers, don’t interpret our skipping of Christmas festivities as a denial of the Incarnation; far from it. It is just that on the Jewish calendar we have a lot of other great holidays to celebrate.

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