Reflections on birthday and Christmas celebrations

Christians will often say, in defence of celebrating the birth of Christ, that we must put “Christ” back into “X-mas” and that we should redeem the day from what has become a commercialized celebration filled with pagan revelry, feasting and excessive spending.

Others argue that it is well known that the 25th December was celebrated as a pagan feast coinciding with the winter solstice long before the incarnation of Christ – and that through obvious syncretism, this day of revelry was adopted for the celebration of Jesus’ birthday.

Scripture gives no indication of the precise date of Jesus’ birth and no instruction to commemorate it. Is it appropriate to celebrate the birth of Jesus on a day that was traditionally a pagan celebration – and is it appropriate to celebrate the birth of Jesus at all? Is it appropriate to celebrate anyone’s birthday for that matter? There are fanatic contenders on both sides of the arguments.

Jesus said of Judas that it would have been better for him if he had not been born than to have betrayed the Son of Man and face such eternal consequence. All men are born sinners and are enslaved by sin and eternally condemned if they reject the salvation of God through faith in Jesus.

The celebration of a carnal life which is born into sin, bondage and mortality – without repentance and being born again – is the celebration of rebellion against God which will ultimately lead to destruction and eternal condemnation. Many people who celebrate their birthdays without a hint of shame or a second thought or as to the consequence of their sin will discover to their horror that their birthday celebrations were complete vanity if they were never born again of the Holy Spirit. Like Judas, it could be said of them that it would have been better if they had never been born than to have rejected the very Saviour and Author of life.

Birthday celebrations are often not a celebration of that which is truly life, but rather a celebration of our carnal existence, which remains enslaved to sin if not redeemed by faith in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus our Saviour and King.

In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:19)

The celebration of that which is truly life is actually a celebration of the death of Christ, according to his earthly body, by which he destroyed the power of sin over us so that we could also share in his resurrection. This is how we are explicitly told to remember him until he appears in his eternal heavenly glory.

A further thing to consider in the celebration of Christ’s birthday is that when we celebrate our natural birthdays we are celebrating the day we were created (or at least the day we entered this fallen world). But creation is subject to death and decay – and what matters is that we are born-again to the new, redeemed creation, through the powerful imperishable Seed, which is the Word of God.

Jesus, however, was not a created being. He did not, like other men, come into existence at the moment of conception. Jesus said, “before Abraham was, I am!” – i.e. his existence is from days of eternity – and through him all things which have been created, were made.

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans ofJudah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler overIsrael, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

When Jesus was born into this world he left behind his eternal glory to be clothed and disguised in mortality so that he could participate in our fallen condition and share our shame. He took upon himself the likeness of fallen man, not that we should glory in the flesh, but that he might become a disfigured, naked and bruised sacrifice for sin – thereby demonstrating God’s final rejection of the sinful, fallen, earthly nature.

The birth of Jesus cannot be separated from his humiliation, nakedness and ultimate sacrificial death by which he destroyed the sinful nature.

Finally, whether or not we choose to celebrate the incarnation on this particular day we should keep in mind the scriptural injunction which says that we no longer consider Jesus from a worldly point of view because the real celebration is that through death and resurrection he has triumphantly ascended again to his eternal heavenly glory and is seated upon the highest throne on the right hand of the Father.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer (2 Corinthians 5:14-16).