Celebrating Christmas

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The Charles Dickens story A Christmas Carol is a classic — one that continues to be retold, most recently in 3-D. The central character is a less-than-loveable old man named Scrooge whose most famous line is “Bah, humbug.”

In my lifetime I have met a few people like Scrooge — those dear folks who delight in raining on the Christmas parade. They are the kind of people who think that being godly means we must shun all signs of joy and steer clear of celebration. They seem to live in constant fear that somebody somewhere may be having a good time.

Okay, we can agree that not all celebration is good. It is true that some will celebrate the season with too much booze and too little sense. Others will go on wild spending sprees, spending money they don’t have for things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.

The problem is not with celebration — rather with how we celebrate. God is a celebratory God. When the universe was created the morning stars sang for joy together and the sons of God shouted for joy. The conversion of one sinner is celebrated by angels in heaven. Jesus joined the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. The prodigal’s return is celebrated with all day singing and dinner on the ground.

The point is — we must learn wholesome ways to celebrate and the best place to learn that is from the Bible. I know that will surprise some people, but even more surprising is the fact that Biblical directives for celebrating are found in the book of Deuteronomy — right smack, dab in the middle of the Old Testament law.

Most everyone knows the Law said, “Thou shalt not kill.” Not everyone knows that it also says, “Thou shalt feast!” In Dt. 16, Israel is commanded (that’s right, commanded) to celebrate:

  • Feast of Passover (v. 1)
  • Feast of Pentecost (Feast of Weeks; vv. 9-10)
  • Feast of Tabernacles (v. 13)

In Israel’s celebrations two ideas were prominent:

  • Sacrifice
  • Feasting

Sacrifice points to relationship — it was the means by which the people came into relationship with God. The meal was a celebration of that relationship in feasting (keep in mind that to the Hebrews the table was a place of intimacy, friendship, and trust).

God has provided a sacrifice for our sins (the reason Jesus was born) — we dare not suppose there is any reason for celebration unless that relationship has been established. But on the grounds of our relationship with God through Christ, the Bible invites us to celebrate in a spirit of liberty and joy.

Biblical celebration includes four main elements:

Remembrance: “that you may remember” (v. 3). Passover was a reminder of their deliverance from Egypt. At Pentecost they remembered to be thankful for the harvest. The Feast of Tabernacles was a remembrance of their sojourn in the wilderness. All of this was focused on perpetuating their faith to future generations.

Rejoicing: “you shall rejoice before the Lord” (v. 11). Let your worship and thanksgiving be joined with gladness and joyful praise.

Feasting: “you shall rejoice in your feasts” (v. 14). Feasting is not a license for gluttony but a celebration of relationship — first with God, then with family.

Giving: “every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you” (v. 17). They gave, not only to God and family, but to the orphans, foreigners, and servants.

Christmas is a time to remember God’s indescribable gift and teach our children … to rejoice “and be exceedingly glad for born to us is a Savior which is Christ the Lord” … to feast (what a wonderful command!) … to give (most of the things bought at Christmas are given away).

So, don’t be Scrooge (or a Grinch). Go ahead … celebrate Christmas.

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