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Of Christmas and Christmas Trees

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Every year, Christmas gets a drubbing by some Christians. Here’s one example sent to American Vision:

Deuteronomy 12:30 says that God hates these things, and we are not to inquire of them to do like-wise unto the Lord. King Ahaz did this very thing, and paid for it, trying to bring something from a pagan temple into God’s temple. It says that doing this is called, “evil in the sight of the Lord.” Not to mention that Yeshua wasn’t even born on December 25th.

Since Christians worship Yeshua and not some other god on December 25, I don’t see how Deuteronomy 12:30 applies. All one has to do is look at the many comments sent by Christians to Christians this day. Here’s just one of the many I’ve received: “Merry Christmas from our house to yours. May you have a wonderful day with family and friends celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!”

King Ahaz self-consciously worshiped other gods. He brought a competing Assyrian altar into the temple (2 Kings 16). Again, I don’t see how this applies to celebrating Jesus’ birth. No one is building an altar to a pagan god and bringing it in a temple. On December 25, Christians worship Jesus. How is worshiping Jesus doing “evil in the sight of the Lord”?

While some have argued that Jesus was born on December 25, I doubt that anyone would make this date a point of doctrine. In fact, David Chilton, in his amazing 700-page commentary on Revelation, Days of Vengeance, followed researcher Earnest Martin's strongly suggestive evidence that Jesus was actually born in 3 B.C., on . . . get ready for it . . . September 11!

December 25th is just the day Christians have chosen to given special attention to the birth of Jesus. Protestants do not regard Christmas as a holy day of obligation as it is designated in the Roman Catholic Church. There is no requirement to attend church or do any acts of supererogation. The celebration of Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ birth. This is hardly an evil thing since two of the gospels begin with the birth narrative.

Others argue that December 25th was originally a pagan holiday, the celebration of a supposed Sun god. We know the Sun is not a God. The Sun is a created thing. God created the Sun. If we follow the logic of the Sun-god argument, then we have to ask what they do with the words “Saturday” and “Sunday” and “Monday” since they refer to the god Saturn, the Sun, and the Moon. Are we idol worshipers because we attend worship services on Sunday?  We’ve taken these days back. They no longer mean what pagans claimed for them.

I suspect that we could find some pagan thing going on in each of the 365 days of the year. Should we stay at home for fear of participating in paganism? God prepared Israel to enter the land of Canaan where all types of pagan practices were going on. Israel was to take back the land. To argue that pagans did such and such on this day or that day is irrelevant. Consider these comments from James B. Jordan:

And so we show that the Romans and other pagan people had a feast at the Winter Solstice to celebrate the rising of the sun in the heavens and the change from cold to warmth—so what? All pagan feasting is a perverse replica of true Godly festivity. The pagan worship of the sun is a perversion of the Biblical analogy of the sun to Christ (Mal. 4:2; Ps. 19; etc.). The pagan recognition of the change in the year from dark to light, from death to life, at the Winter Solstice is but a perversion of the covenant truth found in the Noachic Covenant. What is wrong with reclaiming the Winter Solstice for Christ?

Long ago, Christians decided to take back December 25th from the pagans. Sounds like a good idea to me. Muslims understand this principle better than many Christians. They had no problem building one of their most holy sites on the place where Israel’s temple once stood. Secularists find it delightful in moving into abandoned churches and remaking them into restaurants and museums. On the other hand, Christians retreat from every temporal advance made by unbelievers and thereby prolong their usurpation of the culture. Defense-only Christianity is not Christianity.

There’s much more that can be said about this issue. One of the best discussions of this subject is Ralph Woodrow’s Christmas Reconsidered. But what about Christmas trees?

Symbols and dominion

Some time ago, my wife was asked by a national Christian ministry to create a quilted backdrop of a large sweeping rainbow for its presentation booth designed to be used for conventions. I happened to attend one that was held in Atlanta. I went to the booth and told the young lady behind the table that my wife had sewn the large background piece. With a frustrated look on her face, she told me that a woman had just left the booth angrily pointing out that the rainbow is the symbol of the homosexual movement and that Christians should not be using it. I reminded her that the rainbow was God’s creation, and that He had posted it in the heavens as a sign to Noah and future generations that He would never destroy all flesh by a flood (Gen. 9:12–17).

So then, who owns the rainbow? Just because homosexuals (and New Agers before them, and Leprechauns before them) have misappropriated something of God’s creation similar to the way they have done with sex, marriage, and the word “gay” itself [1] does not mean we cannot continue to use the rainbow and give it its proper meaning. In fact, we should work to restore the image to its original redemptive meaning. Instead, many Christians refuse to display the rainbow because it has been hijacked by sodomites.

Should we stop using wood because some people seek out for themselves “a skillful craftsman to prepare an idol that will not totter”? (Isa. 40:20). Are all trees pagan because pagans have used trees to create idols? Of course not. God has designated a tree to represent life:

And he showed me a river of water of life, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the midst of the street thereof. And on this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve manner of fruits, yielding its fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:1–2).

The Bible tells us, even in a post-fall world “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude” (1 Tim. 4:4; cf. Gen 1:31), even meat sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 10:14–33).

For millennia, idol worshipers have bowed down before heavenly bodies—sun, moon, and stars—calling them their gods. There were people in Isaiah’s day who sought guidance from “astrologers, those who prophesy by the stars, those who predict by the new moons” (Isa. 47:13). The people of Israel were warned by God not to lift their “eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven” (Deut. 4:19).

God created the heavenly bodies to “be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years,” and to “be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth” (Gen. 1:14). Even with the misuse of the heavenly bodies, this did not stop God from choosing sun, moon, and stars to symbolize His chosen nation Israel (Gen. 37:9–11; Rev. 12:1–2). Neither did it stop Him from using a star to announce the birth of Jesus (Matt. 2:2). Jesus is also said to be the “sun of righteousness” (Mal. 4:2; also see Isa. 30:26; 60:1–3).

Pagans believe there is power in inanimate objects like the sun, moons, and stars, but we know better. Notice how the Bible ridicules those who turn God’s good creation into things they claim should be worshiped (Isa. 44:12–20). God’s people know better. We are not fooled or intimidated; it’s just a piece of wood created by God to be used for our benefit and enjoyment. We can burn it for heat, fashion it into a tool, build a boat, or construct a house. Should we cut down the trees in our yards because Jesus was crucified on a tree?

Some will turn to Jeremiah 10:1–10 to make a case against “Christmas trees.” Jeremiah is describing idol worship, and he ridicules it: “Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot walk! Do not fear them, for they can do no harm, nor can they do any good” (10:5). Who among us believes that a “Christmas tree” is a god to be worshiped? There are carved engraved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers in the inner and outer rooms of the temple (1 Kings 6:29). The two doors are made of olivewood with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers (1 Kings 6:32). God was not opposed to the use of symbols; he was opposed to the worship of them.

If any Christian bows down to the tree, seeks advice from it, attempts to communicate with God or the devil through it, or worships it or God through it as he would a medium (1 Sam. 28:3–25), then that Christian is an idolater. But using a tree for such things is a far cry from the way Christmas trees function in a faithful Christian’s home. Christians decorate trees with lights and ornaments because it brings them joy and delight as they commemorate the birth of Jesus. If you don’t like it, don’t buy a tree. But don’t accuse another believer of idolatry based on the supposed pagan origin and function of evergreen trees. What happens when the Christmas season passes? The tree is either taken to a recycling center or burned in the backyard. No one would ever do this to an idol.

Conclusion

Instead of condemning the setting up of the Christmas tree as some pagan practice brought into our homes from the pagan cold, it should remind us that God promises us “the right to the tree of life” (Rev. 22:14). If the Bible tells us “to go to the ant . . . to observe her ways and be wise” (Prov. 6:6), certainly we can learn similar things from God’s other good creations, including trees.

Just because pagans might have used trees to worship their gods does not mean Christians can’t use them to teach something about God who has given us the “indescribable gift” of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 9:15). The Christmas tree is an evergreen that reminds us we have “eternal life” in Jesus Christ (John 6:40). The shape of the tree reminds us that we are “born from above” (John 3:3). The needles on the branches remind us that Jesus was “pierced through for our transgression” (Isa. 53:5). The lights hung on the tree remind us that Jesus is “the light of the world” (John 8:12) and through Him we are to be “the light of the world” to others (Matt. 5:14). The objects we hang on the tree remind us that “every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:17).

Don't let your conscience be burdened by superstitions or legalism—whether from pagans or Christians. Remember what the Bible teaches you about Christ, his creation, and his salvation, and exercise his dominion over the symbols.

Notes:

  1. The commandeering of the word “gay” has made it difficult to watch The Gay Ranchero (1948) starring Roy Rogers and Trigger, or even The Gay Divorcée (1934) with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.[]

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