Don’t mistake my words here. I believe all should celebrate Christmas, from the curmudgeonly to the blessed, the believer, non-believer and everyone else. However, those who have identified themselves as “bible believing” make it a point to consider rituals and other acts of Christian Tradition as unbiblical. Why, then, if they reject other meaningful aspects of the Great Tradition, do they accept Christmas with an almost zealous enthusiasm?
Christmas is not biblical in any meaningful sense of the word. There is no trace of a ritualistic observance of the birth of Jesus. The two Gospels that mention it do so in highly stylized myth, almost as if the nature of the birth is meant to recast the nature of the person of Jesus. The earliest Christians did not celebrate the day of birth, but always the death. This is why we find such a strong Eucharistic theology in the early Church — and in some quarters today as well. Yet, nothing is given for the birth of Jesus. Even in the 5th century do we find a struggle to accept this time of year as celebrating the birth of the Savior of the World. After all, Origen in the 3rd century noted only sinners celebrated birthdays.
Christmas is a ritual. Even the word itself speaks to this fact. We have Christ, word-turned-label-turned-name meaning “anointed.” The anointing took place in a ritualistic, priestly, setting. The -mas is a shortened form of the Latin Mass, the ritualistic celebration of the death of Christ. Christmas began as a liturgical celebration, set in the high church of early, post-Nicene, Christianity. It originates with Constantine Christianity, no doubt, although it reaches back into pre-Edict of Milan days. Regardless of the streams of origin, Christmas is itself a ritualistic celebration of the birth of Christ.
“Bible believing” Christians, as they call themselves (i.e., those who believe solo Scriptura – I know…), reject ritual (or they think they do) and abhor liturgy. They find anything related to Catholicism distasteful. However, these are the same people leading the fight against the so-called “War on Christmas.” Two generations before, their theological ancestors led the war against Christmas because Christmas, they believed, was a papist holiday (or pagan. Sometimes those words get confused.) Today, “bible believing” Christians celebrate one of the highest High Church holidays and do so without noting the irony.
I issue this challenge to my “bible believing” friends.
- Find your license for Christmas as a Christian holiday in Scripture, or
- Accept that the line between “Scripture” and “Ritual,” between you and us, is too gray to notice.
My contention is simple. If you celebrate Christmas as a Christian holiday, then you should accept some measure of liturgy, of Tradition, of the dreaded word you have been taught to run from — ritual — as valid to the Christian experience. If you celebrate Christmas a Christian holiday, you cannot simply say “scripture alone.”
Well, you can… of course, but this is cognitive dissonance.
I for one find great comfort in the liturgy of the Church Calendar. I await Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and the ordinary times. I love the feast days of the Paschal, Christ the King, the feast days of Our Lady. There is a certain closeness to God to be felt when Scripture is read in the Community. Scripture never once speaks of a “personal relationship” with Jesus but speaks countless times of a community where Christ dwells. It is during Christmas that Christ is felt the most, at least for me.