There is No Christmas in the Bible
People have celebrated the birth of Christ in the Christmas season for so long that many do not realize that Christmas is not in the Bible. The early church, under the oversight and direction of Christ’s apostles, did not celebrate, commemorate, or memorialize the birth of Jesus in any way. In fact, only two of the gospels tell of the birth of Jesus: Matthew and Luke. The Biblical record does not tell us the year, the day of the week, the day of the month, or the month of the year He was born. None of these things mattered to God enough to preserve them for us to know.
December seems to have been chosen as a means of incorporating the Roman’s pagan festival Saturnalia into early Christendom. Other pagan celebrations seem to have been imported as well, such as the midwinter Germanic lighting of the yule log and decorating with evergreens. Even so not all who have professed discipleship in Jesus Christ have celebrated Christmas. The Puritans in Massachusetts considered Christmas celebrations to be heresy and forbade them from around 1659 until 1681.
In the United States today, there are really two Christmases. One is a secular holiday with stories of Santa Claus, reindeer, holiday trees, fanciful decorations, gift giving, and family gatherings. The other is a religious holiday with Christmas trees topped with stars, gift giving, and a variety of special services in churches. Many attempts are made by some to bring the two together with stories that weave Christ’s love, Santa Claus, gifts, decorations, and family togetherness. And at the same time many other attempts are often made to take any, and all, religious connotation’s out of the holiday. There is much push and pull in these matters all around us.
It can be truly startling to search back through history and discover just how many of the traditions associated with Christmas came about. It can be equally startling to discover how some early pagan traditions were brought into Christmas celebrations almost unchanged for many years.
Some are offended by suggestions that Christmas has its origin in the pagan holiday Saturnalia, and one of the more interesting arguments against it ties Christmas to the festival called Dies Natalas Solis Invicti or Birthday of the Unconquered (or Invincible) Sun – a Mithraist observance celebrated on December 25th. Which one influenced modern Christmas seems irrelevant, since no observance of Christmas by professing Christians is recorded until the fourth century. So, for 300 years, no Christian church celebrated Christmas. Should we celebrate Christ’s birth in this way today?
Some time back, it became popular to wear a bracelet with these letters: WWJD. The letters stood for the question, “What would Jesus do?” Let’s turn that question just a bit and ask, “What would Jesus have us do?” Did Jesus teach us to commemorate His birthday? No. Did His apostles teach us to commemorate His birthday? No. Did the early church celebrate Jesus’ birth? No. Are we free to go beyond the scriptures in our work and worship of Jesus? No. (Rev. 22:18-19; Deut. 4:2). Should we celebrate Christmas as His birthday or memorialize it in our work and worship? No.
Then why does the Bible tell us of His birth? That is because His birth fulfilled prophecy, and that builds faith. The birth of Jesus held forth many signs that He was the prophesied Messiah or Christ. Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” This prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus, and Matthew records this truth in Matthew 1:18-19: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: when as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.”
Micah 5:2 had prophesied that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, and Luke’s account explains how Joseph and Mary came to be in Bethlehem. It also shows that Micah’s prophesy was true. Luke 2:1-7: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”
The birth of Jesus was celebrated and announced by the angel of the Lord to shepherds in Luke 2:11: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” It is a beautiful and joyful story of great excitement, but we are never told to commemorate or memorialize His birth. Study it – yes. Believe – yes. But if we look to what Jesus instructed us to do, we find that it is His death He wants us to memorialize. The apostle Paul explained it to the church in Corinth this way.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26: “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, ‘Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.’ After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, ‘This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.”
It is the death of Jesus that we are to memorialize. Jesus instructed us in this through His apostle Paul. And we see the church doing just this in Acts 20:7: “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.” The Elgin Hills church of Christ does this every first day of the week.
Early Christians assembled on the first day of the week to break bread, memorializing Jesus’ death. It wasn’t a regular meal. That was forbidden in Paul’s letter to Corinth: “What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.” They weren’t eating a regular meal. They were remembering Christ’s death till His return. They ate the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20). We should do the same thing on the same day – every first day of the week. “For God so loved…”