What’s Christmas all about?
Well that depends who you ask, doesn’t it? Some people say it’s about being around family. Some people say that it’s about an attitude of giving. Some of the younger people say that it is about getting presents. Some try to tap into the “spirit of Christmas”. Along with these, most people recognize it is about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.
The media is a big factor in our culture’s view of what Christmas is. Movies, music, books, and toys all influence what our perspective of Christmas is. Let’s look at the top 10 Christmas movies of all time and think about what it says about the meaning of Christmas:
10. A Christmas Carol- Be nice Scrooge; you are important to other people.
9. Miracle on 34th street- Just when we were sure that Santa did not exist, we thought “what if?”
8. Gremlins- Uh, how this get on the list?
7. Elf- my personal favorite, but admittedly nothing to do with Christmas amidst the laughter. “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing loud for all to hear.”
6. The Bishop’s Wife
5. A Christmas Story- If you ask me, this has gotta be the most influential Christmas movie of our day. BB guns, tongue to the pole, dodging bullies, Ovaltine, a pink bunny outfit, and of course “You’ll shoot your eye out”. It gives you that down-to-earth, cozy-home innocent Christmas feeling.
4. 1941- Made in 1979?
3. Nightmare Before Christmas- Tim Burton’s twisted view of what Christmas is about.
2. Brazil (This list is from Forbes; I swear I’m not making this up.)
1. Die Hard- I know, you all saw that one coming. Nothing says Merry Christmas like car chases and gun shoot outs.
Even though I’m a little disappointed with this list of the most popular Christmas movies, it does help reveal what our interests are around Christmas time. None of these movies contain the message of the birth of Jesus. You would have a hard time finding anything about Jesus in them at all. I am NOT trying to say it’s always wrong to watch secular Christmas movies. Enjoy the movie to your heart’s content, but never let the message of the movie Trump the message of the Bible. Once a movie occupies the greater part of your heart then the actual, historical events of the birth of Jesus, that movie has taken an improper role in the life of the Christian. In other words, if you feel more of an emotional and spiritual connection while watching a secular Christmas movie then pondering the coming of Christ to earth, then that is a sign that the culture has too big of a grip on you. This seems to be due to a person giving themselves more to the things of this world than the things of the Spirit. “Worldly” doesn’t just mean that you desire the fancy toys. Worldly desires also deal with selfish motives and seeking fulfillment through self manipulation of your emotions. The Christian should never be in a place where blessings from God replace God himself.
For the population that is not Christian I can understand if they would seek meaning in relatively meaningless films and stories. I would hope that they find meaning in the story of Jesus birth.
Before I get into the magnitude of the Incarnation, I’d like to review the history of December 25th to determine whether it is appropriate to celebrate the holiday on this date.
The roots of the December holiday are in a Roman pagan holiday called Saturnalia. Saturnalia was a week long holiday that ended on the 25th. The week was a time of rebellion and rioting. For this week the law was lifted and everybody could do whatever they wanted. Then, at the end of the week, on the 25th, they would murder an innocent person.
In the early 300s AD in the Roman Empire, the ruler Constantine became a Christian and used his power to try to Christianize everything. Obviously a fallible ruler, Constantine decided to keep the dates of the pagan holidays and add in a Christian reason for the holiday. Thus the celebration of Jesus Christ birth became the new holiday on December 25th. Christianity was the state established religion, so people celebrated Christmas out of obligation.
It is very unlikely that Jesus was actually born on December 25th. Some say October or May are more likely times. Whatever the case, a computer program called “Starry Night” shows something very interesting. On the computer program you can go to any point on the planet and see what the sky would have look like at any date in the past or future. As it turns out, 3 of the brightest “stars” overlap each other and form the brightest “star” (appearing as one star) in history. The triple star appeared to stand still to the south of Jerusalem over Bethlehem on December 24th and 25th (3 BC?) as they slowly changed directions. This “star” is what guided the wise men to where Jesus was laying. It is evidently very likely that the wise men brought their gifts to the baby Jesus on what is now Christmas day.
Hopefully I’m not taking too much liberty with this next thought: the pagans, without knowing it, were serving as examples of Jesus’ birth and mission. (Pagans celebrated Saturnalia after the birth of Christ- Jesus was unique and did not steal from pagan tradition.) The reason the pagans would sacrifice an innocent person was in hopes to lift the dark presence of evil that surrounded them. Jesus, not only fulfilling Jewish prophecy, is even the fulfillment of these pagan desires. The rebellion would take place until the time that the innocent man was murdered. The rebellion was recognized for a week in Rome; the rebellion of the people of God had been ongoing. Our rebellion and bond with the presence of darkness and evil would have remained had not the truly innocent and perfect sacrifice and intercessor been put to death in our place.
So December 25th started out as a brutal and sinful pagan holiday. It turned into a Christian holiday, celebrated the same day, but for a different purpose. Some of the symbolism has carried over from paganism. Some of the symbolism has a Christian message to it. So now I ask you, the reader, is it appropriate to celebrate Christmas during what was originally a pagan holiday? Has it been becoming a pagan holiday again? What are the appropriate and inappropriate ways to celebrate Christmas?