Cranach’s Greatest Christmas Hits

This Christmas tide I offer you blogs from Christmas past. Just as TV goes into re-run mode with all of those Christmas specials that have become family traditions, so I will do with this blog, re-running Christmas posts that left an impression.

I start with two contrarian posts that left many readers indignant. Then I move to a series that makes the case that Christianity was NOT derived from a pagan holiday and that December 25 just might be the true date of Jesus’s birthday. Then I give some other Christmas treats, culminating in some quotes from Luther relating Christmas to the overarching theme of this blog, namely, vocation.

So put “Christ” back in Christmas. And put “Mass” back in Christmas. Also put “Holy” back in holiday. You can do all of these by going to church. (As my youngest daughter the deaconness intern explained to me, the Biblical reckoning considers sunset to be the end of the day, with the new day beginning that night. “And the evening and the morning were the first day.” So Christmas Eve is actually part of Christmas. So Christmas Eve services count for going to church on Christmas day–this would normally be fodder for a separate post, but let’s get to the reruns. . . )

Merry Christmas to all, and God bless us every one!

[HT to Cheryl Banks for making my archives more accessible.]

In defense of the commercialization of Christmas

[This entry, from 2005, got a lot of people riled up who did not get what I was doing.]

I love everything about Christmas, including its commercialization. First of all, it is very appropriate for non-Christians and secularists to observe this holiday. “At the name of Jesus, every knee should bow. . .and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11). This will happen at Judgment, but it happens too in a lesser way at Christmastime.

The practically-universal holiday and its observances are signs of Christ’s Lordship, even among those who reject Him. (This is why eliminating the “name” of Christ imbedded in the word “Christmas” really is important for non-believers, though their efforts are ultimately futile.) All of their celebrating, gift-giving, family times, and warm and fuzzy feelings are tributes to Jesus, whether they like it or not. And such honor is fitting for the One through whom all things were made and the redeemer of the world.

But hasn’t Christmas become too materialistic? Shouldn’t we make it more spiritual? NO. This is the last of our worries today, when the hyper-spiritualism of the Gnostics has permeated our culture and our religious life. The Incarnation, which we celebrate at Christmas, is precisely about the MATERIAL realm.

In Christ, God has become FLESH. He is not an inner feeling, much less a vacuous deity without form or substance, as our Gnostic culture prefers. He has become material. And we are too, so that our bodies (contra the Feminists) and what we do in our bodies (contra the Gnostic immoralists) are very important. In our current moral and theological climate, we desperately need to recapture the Biblical mindsets concerning the material realm, including the Creation, the Body, the Incarnation, the Sacraments, the Resurrection of the Body.

But Christmas is not just a family holiday, as so many people are making it. No, it isn’t. But in a curiously neglected prophecy–indeed in the last verse of the Old Testament, transitioning into the New–we learn that a sign of Christ’s advent, referring apparently to John the Baptist, is the coming of a prophet who “will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6). So in our divorce-plagued culture, a time when this happens does indeed honor and point to Christ.

But isn’t there too much emphasis on presents? NO. A gift is a sign of the Gospel. Jesus is a gift. Salvation is a gift. The Word and the Sacraments convey God’s gifts of grace. In this selfish, me-centered world, giving gifts and (perhaps more importantly) receiving gifts can create a mindset necessary in understanding the Christian message.So Christians should be glad to see the secular world all decked out and celebrating the birth of Christ. Christ is not just for Christians. He is for the whole world, even for those who do not know Him and who are honoring Him against their intention and against their will. And it is a proof of His lordship that practically the whole world sets aside a day to be happy and giving in His name.

The Santa Claus Slap

[An old WORLD column]

Santa Claus had his origins in St. Nicholas, the fourth-century bishop of Myra in present-day Turkey. Known for his generosity and his love of children, Nicholas is said to have saved a poor family’s daughters from slavery by tossing into their window enough gold for a rich dowry, a present that landed in some shoes or, in some accounts, stockings that were hung up to dry. Thus arose the custom of hanging up stockings for St. Nicholas to fill. And somehow he transmogrified into Santa Claus, who has become for many people the secular Christmas alternative to Jesus Christ.

But there is more to the story of Nicholas of Myra. He was also a delegate to the Council of Nicea in a.d. 325, which battled the heretics who denied the deity of Christ. He was thus one of the authors of the Nicene Creed, which affirms that Jesus Christ is both true God and true man. And unlike his later manifestation, Nicholas was particularly zealous in standing up for Christ.

During the Council of Nicea, jolly old St. Nicholas got so fed up with Arius, who taught that Jesus was just a man, that he walked up and slapped him! That unbishoplike behavior got him in trouble. The council almost stripped him of his office, but Nicholas said he was sorry, so he was forgiven.

The point is, the original Santa Claus was someone who flew off the handle when he heard someone minimizing Christ. Perhaps we can battle our culture’s increasingly Christ-less Christmas by enlisting Santa in his original cause. The poor girls’ stockings have become part of our Christmas imagery. So should the St. Nicholas slap.

Not a violent hit of the kind that got the good bishop in trouble, just a gentle, admonitory tap on the cheek. This should be reserved not for out-and-out nonbelievers, but for heretics (that is, people in the church who deny its teachings), Christians who forget about Jesus, and people who try to take Christ out of Christmas.

This will take a little tweaking of the mythology. Santa and his elves live at the North Pole where they compile a list of who is naughty, who is nice, and who is Nicean. On Christmas Eve, flying reindeer pull his sleigh full of gifts. And after he comes down the chimney, he will steal into the rooms of people dreaming of sugarplums who think they can do without Christ and slap them awake.

And we’ll need new songs and TV specials (”Santa Claus Is Coming to Slap,” “Deck the Apollinarian with Bats of Holly,” “Frosty the Gnostic,” “How the Arian Stole Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red Knows Jesus”).

Department store Santas should ask the children on their laps if they have been good, what they want for Christmas, and whether they understand the Two Natures of Christ. The Santas should also roam the shopping aisles, and if they hear any clerks wish their customers a mere “Happy Holiday,” give them a slap.

This addition to his job description will keep Santa busy. Teachers who forbid the singing of religious Christmas carols—SLAP! Office managers who erect Holiday Trees—SLAP! Judges who outlaw manger displays—SLAP! People who give The Da Vinci Code as a Christmas present—SLAP! Ministers who cancel Sunday church services that fall on Christmas day—SLAP! SLAP!

Perhaps Santa Claus in his original role as a theological enforcer may not go over very well in our contemporary culture. People may then try to take both Christ and Santa Claus out of Christmas. And with that economic heresy, the retailers would start to do the slapping.

Why Christmas is on December 25

[From an old WORLD column]

According to conventional wisdom, Christmas had its origin in a pagan winter solstice festival, which the church co-opted to promote the new religion. In doing so, many of the old pagan customs crept into the Christian celebration. But this view is apparently a historical myth—like the stories of a church council debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or that medieval folks believed the earth is flat—often repeated, even in classrooms, but not true.

William J. Tighe, a history professor at Muhlenberg College, gives a different account in his article “Calculating Christmas,” published in the December 2003 Touchstone Magazine. He points out that the ancient Roman religions had no winter solstice festival.

True, the Emperor Aurelian, in the five short years of his reign, tried to start one, “The Birth of the Unconquered Sun,” on Dec. 25, 274. This festival, marking the time of year when the length of daylight began to increase, was designed to breathe new life into a declining paganism. But Aurelian’s new festival was instituted after Christians had already been associating that day with the birth of Christ. According to Mr. Tighe, the Birth of the Unconquered Sun “was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians.” Christians were not imitating the pagans. The pagans were imitating the Christians.

The early church tried to ascertain the actual time of Christ’s birth. It was all tied up with the second-century controversies over setting the date of Easter, the commemoration of Christ’s death and resurrection. That date should have been an easy one. Though Easter is also charged with having its origins in pagan equinox festivals, we know from Scripture that Christ’s death was at the time of the Jewish Passover. That time of year is known with precision.

But differences in the Jewish, Greek, and Latin calendars and the inconsistency between lunar and solar date-keeping caused intense debate over when to observe Easter. Another question was whether to fix one date for the Feast of the Resurrection no matter what day it fell on or to ensure that it always fell on Sunday, “the first day of the week,” as in the Gospels.

This discussion also had a bearing on fixing the day of Christ’s birth. Mr. Tighe, drawing on the in-depth research of Thomas J. Talley’s The Origins of the Liturgical Year, cites the ancient Jewish belief (not supported in Scripture) that God appointed for the great prophets an “integral age,” meaning that they died on the same day as either their birth or their conception.

Jesus was certainly considered a great prophet, so those church fathers who wanted a Christmas holiday reasoned that He must have been either born or conceived on the same date as the first Easter. There are hints that some Christians originally celebrated the birth of Christ in March or April. But then a consensus arose to celebrate Christ’s conception on March 25, as the Feast of the Annunciation, marking when the angel first appeared to Mary.
Note the pro-life point: According to both the ancient Jews and the early Christians, life begins at conception. So if Christ was conceived on March 25, nine months later, he would have been born on Dec. 25.

This celebrates Christ’s birth in the darkest time of the year. The Celtic and Germanic tribes, who would be evangelized later, did mark this time in their “Yule” festivals, a frightening season when only the light from the Yule log kept the darkness at bay. Christianity swallowed up that season of depression with the opposite message of joy: “The light [Jesus] shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Regardless of whether this was Christ’s actual birthday, the symbolism works. And Christ’s birth is inextricably linked to His resurrection.


Evidence December 25 is the right day

In response to my column on the evidence that December 25 was not set aside as Christ’s birthday because of some pagan holiday, but for good reason, alert WORLD reader Rev. Gary Hinman sent me this article on yet another line of evidence. The calculations are based on the course of Temple duties for the clan of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. The months are laid out with precision in the Gospel of Luke, including when his wife Elisabeth visited her relative Mary, and the unborn John leapt in the womb as he came into the presence of the unborn Jesus. Counting out the months leads us somewhere after the middle of December as the time of Jesus’ birth. The article also makes an argument from when lambs are born, requiring shepherds to be out in the fields watching their flocks. But the argument from Zacharias’ temple duties is even stronger than mine, since it comes straight from the Bible.

I found the article online. It was written by John Stormer, author of the Cold War classic “None Dare Call It Treason,” who later became a Christian and a Baptist pastor.

“Lambs are born at the Christmas Season” _Is there evidence that Jesus was born at Christmas??
by John Stormer

For too many years, pastors and teachers have said, “Of course we don’t know when Christ was actually born- but the time of year is not really important.” Jehovah’s Witnesses and others have taught that Christmas was “invented” in the fourth or fifth centuries. The supposed goal was giving a “Christian” facade or influence to the wild pagan or Satanic holiday observances during the winter solstice (the shortest days of the year).

What’s the real story? Is there any real evidence that Jesus Christ _was born at Christmas? A careful examination of a number of seemingly _unrelated Bible passages gives clear indication that the Lord Jesus was _indeed born at Christmas time. Such study will give new emphasis to what _Christ came to do. It will also provide a much deeper appreciation of all _that is hidden in the Word of God which can be discovered by those who _prayerfully search the scriptures.
Every word in the Bible is there because God put it there. He has a _purpose for every one of His words. Therefore, seemingly casual listing of _periods of time, genealogical references, etc. have significance which can be _discovered through prayerful study.

In Luke Chapter 1, the Bible records seemingly unimportant details _about what a priest named Zacharias was doing when an angel announced to him _that he and his wife were to have a child. The child was to be John the _Baptist who would prepare the way for the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The Bible _further records that the Lord Jesus was conceived in the sixth month after _John the Baptist was conceived. Therefore, if the time of the conception of _John the Baptist could be determined, the birth date of the Lord Jesus could _be calculated.
The scriptures say (relevant passages are underlined): “There was in _the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of _the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name _was Elisabeth.

And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest’s office _before God in the order of his course… ” Luke 1:5,8 _At this point Zacharias demonstrated his amazing faithfulness to his _duties as a priest. Even though he had been given the wonderful news by the _angel that he and Elisabeth would have a son, Zacharias stayed in the temple _until the days of his course were completed.

“And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration _were accomplished, he departed to his own house. And after those days his _wife Elisabeth conceived, and hid herself five months…” Luke 1:23-24 _The passage then describes how an angel came to Mary to announce that _she was to be the virgin mother of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus. The _scripture says: _”And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a _city of Galilee, named Nazareth. To a virgin espoused to a man whose name _was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary…” Luke _1:26-27 _And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with _haste, into a city of Judah; and entered into the house of Zacharias, and _saluted Elisabeth.” Luke 1:39-40

Contained within these quoted passages are scriptures which point to _the exact time when Jesus was born. (Remember that God puts every word and _every detail into the Bible exactly as He wants it and for a purpose.) The _underlined words are the key.

In Luke 1:5 and Luke 1:8, we are told that Zacharias was a priest of _the course of Abia and that he fulfilled his priestly duties in the order of _his course. To understand the importance of the course of Abia and its _bearing on the date of John the Baptist’s conception, it is necessary to turn _to 1Chronicles 24:1-10. This passage describes how a thousand years before _Christ, King David established the courses for priestly service in the coming _temple. Twenty-four courses were established and numbered by drawing lots – _twelve courses for sanctuary service and twelve for the government of the _house of God.

Members of each course would serve during a month starting with the _Hebrew month of Nisan. (Because of the way the Hebrew calendar fluctuates, _the month Nisan can start anytime between early March and early April.) The _sons of Abijah (the Old Testament spelling for Abia) were in the eighth _course. Priests of Abia like Zacharias would, therefore, have each _ministered for some days during the eighth month which in some years because _of the fluctuation in the Hebrew calendar started as early as the fifth day _of our month of October. Zacharias would have returned home when his days of _service were accomplished and John the Baptist could have been conceived _sometime between October 15 and the end of the month.

After conception the scripture says that Elisabeth hid herself for _five months. Then in the sixth month of her pregnancy (which, based on the _above calculation, would have started about March 15 and continued until _April 15) the angel announced to the Virgin Mary that the Lord Jesus would _be conceived in her womb by the Holy Ghost. If this took place on or about _April 1 a “normal” gestation period of 270 days would have then had the Lord _Jesus due on or about December 25. How about that!

There are other scriptural and natural indicators that confirm that _the Lord was born at Christmas time. IN the account of His birth in Luke _2:8, we read: _”And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, _keeping watch over their flock by night.”
My son-in-law, who has a degree in agriculture, after hearing the _above presentation, told me, “Certainly, the Lord Jesus was born at _Christmas. The only time shepherds spend the night in the fields with their _sheep is during the time when the lambs are born. The ewes become _’attractive’ to the rams in the month after June 21, the longest day of the _year. The normal gestation period is five months so the ewes start lambing _about mid-December.” He added: Isn’t it natural that the Lamb of God who _takes away the sin of the world would be born when all the other lambs are _born?

This “coincidence” was too amazing for me to accept until I checked _it out. A former teacher from the school where I am the administrator is _married to a Montana sheep rancher. She confirmed what I had been told. She _said, “Oh, yes! None of the men who have flocks are in church for weeks at _Christmas. They have to be in the fields day and night to clean up and care _for the lambs as soon as they are born or many would perish in the cold.” _Isn’t that neat? God’s Lamb, who was to die for the sins of the world, was _born when all the other little lambs are born. Because He came and died the _centuries old practice of sacrificing lambs for sin could end.

There is another neat confirmation that God had His Son born at _Christmas. The days at the end of December are the shortest (and therefore _the darkest days) of the year. Jesus Christ said, “I am the light of the _world.” So at the time of the year when the darkness is greatest, God the _Father sent God the Son to be the Light of the world.

The Lord Jesus Christ came to earth, lived a sinless life and was _therefore qualified to pay the penalty for the sins of all mankind (which is _death). He paid it all- but all do not benefit from the wondrous gift God _bestowed on mankind at Christmas.

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as _received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them _that believe on his name.” John 1:11-12

John Stormer, Pastor Emeritus _Heritage Baptist Church, Florissant, MO _from the PCC Update, Winter 1996 (The ABeka magazine) _(PCC – Pensacola Christian College)

The Missionary and the Christmas Tree

[This entry from 2006, which continues the case that Christmas did NOT derive from a pagan holiday, reminds us that those of us from European, yea, Germanic stock, had pagan ancestors who were brought to faith by missionaries.]

Thanks to reader SSchaper–also to commenter Puzzled– for alerting me to an account of the origin of the Christmas tree that goes way, way back to the missionary who first evangelized the German tribes. who That was St. Boniface. His apologetic technique to get through to the barbarians was to cut down the Sacred Oak of Thor. To the Germans’ amazement, Boniface did not get hammered. This convinced many of them that Boniface had the true God after all.

According to this story, after cutting down the Sacred Oak, Boniface saw an evergreen tree nearby, which he used as an object lesson to teach about the everlasting life through Christ, who died on a tree: According to tradition, when he chopped down the pagan Thor’s Oak at Geismar, Boniface claimed a tiny fir tree growing in its roots as the new Christian symbol. He told the heathen tribes: – “This humble tree’s wood is used to build your homes: let Christ be at the centre of your households. – Its leaves remain evergreen in the darkest days: let Christ be your constant light. – Its boughs reach out to embrace and its top points to heaven: let Christ be your comfort and your guide.” So the fir tree became a sign of Christ amongst the German peoples, and eventually it became a world-wide symbol of Christmas.

One of my students wrote a paper about the Church fathers and how they appropriated Greco-Roman education. They were extremely careful about distinguishing between the true God and the pagan gods. Those who believe these guys would conflate Christianity and paganism just have never read the original sources.