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Unwrapping Christmas
24 December 2014
 
 
It’s that time of the year again, when a large portion of humanity celebrates, in one way or another, that beloved, heart-warming holiday called Christmas. Tis the season to be jolly ... peace on earth and good will towards men ... fa la la la la, la la la la!

But if you take a good look below the façade of idealistic peace and jolliness, all is not as it may seem. Although Christians insist that Christmas is “all about Jesus,” the reality of the season paints quite a different picture. On this yuletide holiday, let’s pause for a moment to unwrap Christmas.

Because Christmas is all about Yeshua (Jesus), and the story of His life was originally recorded in the Bible, our first step will be to take a look at what the New Testament says about celebrating Yeshua’s birth. Here’s a list of all the verses in the New Testament which instruct followers of Yeshua to celebrate His birth:
Pretty short list, huh? But that is not conclusive proof that celebrating Christmas is a bad idea. As it has been said, “Everything in the Bible is true, but not all truth is in the Bible.” Electric guitars and iPads are not in the Bible either, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily against God’s will to own one.

Who would not want to celebrate Christmas? It’s all about a harmless, innocent little baby. It requires little sacrifice, beyond giving a few gifts in imitation of the Magi. Christmas is the holiday of warm fuzzy feelings, family, food and drink, fun and laughter. Even if God didn’t command it, what harm could there be in celebrating Christmas? On the other hand, there are a number of warnings in the Bible about adding to (or taking away from) God’s Word. For example, at the end of the entire Bible, in the the last chapter of the last book, it is written:
I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book: If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book. And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book. (Revelation 22:18‑19)
Although this warning is referring specifically to the book of Revelation and not to the entire Bible, it is a very scary and sobering warning indeed! And I could easily believe that God takes the rest of His Book as seriously as He takes this last portion. This is evident is some other passages in the Bible. One New Testament author wrote:
The sanctuary was a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” (Hebrews 8:5, quoting Exodus 25:40)
This also seems to be the case with David when he was making preparations for the building of Solomon’s temple:
“All this,” David said, “I have in writing as a result of the hand of Yahweh on me, and He enabled me to understand all the details of the plan.” (1 Chronicles 28:19)
In both cases, God did not want His tabernacle or temple to be built in just any old way, according to human whim, but strictly according to HIS design. But why? First of all, because these earthly buildings were representations of the true temple in Heaven, as the author of Hebrews explains. Perhaps more importantly, these earthly buildings where God was worshipped were foreshadowing the spiritual temple of God revealed in the New Testament. The apostle Paul referred to this a number of times, as well as the apostle Peter:
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16,17b; also 2 Corinthians 6:16)

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own. (1 Corinthians 6:19)

We are carefully joined together in Yeshua, becoming a holy temple for Yahweh. Through Yeshua we are being made part of this dwelling where God lives by His Spirit. (Ephesians 2:21‑22)

As you come to Yeshua, the living Stone — rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him — you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual House to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Yeshua the Messiah. (1 Peter 2:4‑5)
For His earthly temples, God gave Moses and David the Divine pattern to follow. For His spiritual temple, the Ekklesia (Church), God gave us the New Testament as the Divine pattern which we are to follow. We are not to be adding to the pattern, nor taking away from it. Furthermore, during His sojourn on earth, Yeshua addressed these words to the Jewish religious leaders, which are just as applicable to the “Christian” religion today. This sounds a lot like our modern Christmas:
“Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“‘These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.
They worship Me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’
“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.... You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! ... You nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” (Mark 7:6‑9,13)
Referring to my list above, which shows that there is nothing in the New Testament instructing followers of Yeshua to celebrate His birth, it is obvious that Christmas is NOT a command of God, but merely a human tradition.
While in the New Testament we are not instructed to celebrate Yeshua’s birth, we ARE commanded to remember and celebrate His death. Yeshua Himself, as well as His followers, gave such instructions:
For I received from the Master what I also passed on to you: Yeshua the Master, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim Yeshua’s death until He comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23‑26; see also Luke 22:19‑20)
It is interesting to note in these passages that Yeshua refers to the unleavened bread (matzah) of the Passover as His body, and commands us to eat it in remembrance of Him. Earlier in His public ministry, Yeshua had said,
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.... It was not Moses who gave you the manna from heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

“Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which I, the Son of Man, will give you.... I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

“Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For My flesh is real food and My blood is real drink. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:35,32,33,27,48‑51,54‑58)
When Yeshua said to not work for food that spoils, I believe that it is likely He was paraphrasing the words of Yahweh in the Old Testament:
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to Me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. (Isaiah 55:2)
Yeshua Himself is the true unleavened bread from heaven which the Father has given for the followers of Yeshua to feed on. When Yeshua first said these words, on hearing it, many of His disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (John 6:60) This was also the reaction of many in the Ekklesia of Yeshua after the time of the apostles.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites had similar complaints when Yahweh provided the bread from Heaven, manna — which Yeshua said was a symbol of Himself — to eat:
They began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost — also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:4‑6; see also Exodus 16)
God knew what the Israelites needed, so He provided the bread from Heaven called manna. But for the Israelites, that was not enough. They knew what they wanted in order to satisfy the lusts of their flesh.

God knew what humanity needed, so He sent His Son to nourish the spiritually-famished human race. But like the Israelites, the early leaders in the Ekklesia became dissatisfied with the heavenly bread God had provided. Feeding on Yeshua alone was not enough. These leaders began to crave other food. Thus was born the man-made religion of Christianity in order to satisfy the lusts of their flesh.

They remembered the pagan traditions they used to indulge in. They started to complain: We are tired of this flat, boring, Jewish, unleavened bread! We have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna, Yeshua! We want something with a nicer texture and better taste! The New Testament recipe for bread is not good enough — we need to modify the recipe and ADD more ingredients.

So leaders in the Ekklesia began to add human traditions, often of pagan origin, to the Divine pattern for the Ekklesia given in the New Testament. For example, there is some evidence that the tradition of celebrating the birth of Jesus started to be observed even before the time of Constantine.

Well, that sounds innocent enough doesn’t it? What harm could their be in honoring the birth of the Savior? Yet however “innocent,” still, it was a human addition to the Divine pattern for the Ekklesia, which began to subtilely change its character. After many unsuccessful attempts to destroy the Ekklesia, Satan finally got the upper hand by creating the man-centered, institutional, counterfeit church through the “conversion” of Constantine in the early fourth century — see The Empire Strikes Back for all the tragic details.

That newly-established Harlot Church System — as opposed to Yeshua’s true Ekklesia — eagerly promoted Christmas. This was an attempt to “Christianize” the pagans, who were already celebrating numerous winter festivals like Saturnalia, Yule, Koliada, and Dies Natalis Solis Invicti.

Christmas traditions such as gift-giving, merrymaking, greenery, lights, charity, yule logs, feasting and more, find their sources in these pagan winter festivals. By celebrating the birth of Jesus around the same time, the “Christianized” pagans in the institutional church could literally have their cake and eat it too!

Through the addition of these new, unsanctioned ingredients into the Divine unleavened bread, worldly church members found “Christianity” to be much more tasty and satisfying.

As the centuries progressed, human imagination and desire found even more illicit ingredients to add to the Divine bread. A one-day celebration was not enough, so more yeast was added to enlarge the loaf. The forty-day period before Christmas was observed as Advent. The twelve days of Christmas were celebrated as Christmastide.

More delicious ingredients were added — indulgence in eating, dancing, singing, sporting, card playing, drunkenness, promiscuity, gambling, caroling, ivy, holly, and other evergreens. Through the powerful influence of the book A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, from the mid-1800’s Christmas has seen an increased emphasis on family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, dancing, games, and a festive generosity of spirit. Decorated Christmas trees, Christmas cards, the secular Santa Claus, and the commercialization of Christmas are more recent additions. You can read all of the details in the excellent Wikipedia article about Christmas. If you add enough extra ingredients to a recipe in order to “improve” it, the result is totally different from what the original recipe produced. Take pure, simple unleavened bread — then add yeast, milk, sugar, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins, pecans and frosting, and your for SURE do NOT have unleavened bread anymore, even though you started out with that basic recipe. Of course, adding the new ingredients one at a time, little by little over many centuries makes the changes less obvious and easier to swallow.

In their provocative and hard-hitting book, Pagan Christianity?, authors Frank Viola and George Barna explain some of the practical consequences resulting from adding man-made traditions to the Divine pattern for the Ekklesia. As I explained in an article presenting the book:
OK, let’s say that some non-Biblical, pagan practices have been incorporated into church practice. It’s not that big of a deal, is it? If we still have the core values of our Christianity, what’s the harm of professional pastors or church buildings, or any of the other issues the authors address?

The point is, these are NOT just harmless additions to, or variations of, Biblical Christianity. As the authors so ably demonstrate, these pagan practices actually CHANGE the intrinsic character of Biblical Christianity into something altogether different, so that it no longer remains Biblical Christianity. These pagan practices, which most Christians consider to be normal Christianity, actually HINDER, and even PREVENT, the practice of Biblical Christianity. Thus, Biblical Christianity has been transformed into Pagan Christianity — and it happened so long ago, we don’t even realize it.
Through the celebration of Christmas, the man-made institutional church has added yet one more ingredient which was not in God’s original New Testament recipe for the Ekklesia, thereby changing its original flavor. This has helped transform the Ekklesia into what we know today as the church, which had strayed so far from the Divine pattern that it is no longer recognizable as the Ekklesia. So, what can true follower of Yeshua do about all this? One day Yeshua told His disciples,
“Be careful! Be on guard against the yeast of the religious leaders.” Eventually, His disciples understood that He was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the religious leaders. (Matthew 16:6,12)
We have already seen that part of that false teaching was the introduction of man-made traditions which ended up nullifying the commands of God. Later in the New Testament, Paul wrote that followers of Yeshua are to be unleavened bread, just as He is — see 1 Corinthians 5:6‑8.

In order to conform to the Divine recipe for the Ekklesia, we must get rid of all of the additional ingredients man has added to the recipe over the past 1,700-plus years. We must deny our lust for exotic religious food and return to the simplicity of feeding only on Yeshua, who is our Passover matzah and our heavenly manna.

Over the centuries, various expressions of the Pilgrim Church — like the Puritans, the Anabaptists, and the Quakers — have turned their backs on the celebration of Christmas. Their example can inspire us to make our own break with the Harlot Church and its man-made traditions. Most people who consider themselves Christians are still in the stable, repeating their “gitchy gitchy goo” to the adorable little baby Jesus. I hate to break it to them, but they are in the stable alone with themselves. Yeshua is not lying in the manger any more. He left it behind, grew up into an adult, and died on the cross for our sins so that we could become children of God.

The way to that adoption by God as children (Galatians 4:5‑7) goes through the cross — not only Yeshua’s cross, but our own as well! In order to be Yeshua’s disciples and God’s children, we must take up our own cross and die to ourselves, as Yeshua clearly explained:
“Whoever does not take up their cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38‑39)

“Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Me.... Whoever does not carry their cross and follow Me cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 9:23;14:27)
Just like when Yeshua talked about feeding on His flesh, and His disciples exclaimed that this was a hard teaching, so this call to discipleship by taking our crosses daily and following Him can seems like a hard teaching. Those who love their lives in this world may have the same response as those early listeners: “From that time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him” (John 6:66).

The birth of Yeshua is only part of the Gospel, and in the end a partial  Gospel is a false  Gospel. Our devotion to Yeshua is not measured by how much we admire Him as a cute little baby. It is measured by how well we die with Him on the cross, and how well we live His resurrected life. This is what Paul was writing about:
Since you have been raised to new life with Messiah, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Yeshua sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Messiah in God. And when Yeshua, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all His glory.

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. (Colossians 3:1‑5, emphasis mine)
In the Old Testament, God explained why He gave the Israelite manna to eat. I think His explanation also applies to why He has provided Yeshua as the true manna for the Ekklesia:
“In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow My instructions.” (Exodus 16:4)

Yahweh humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of Yahweh. (Deuteronomy 8:3)

He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. (Deuteronomy 8:16)
Father God is testing us, to see if we will feast on and delight in Yeshua, our heavenly manna, or if we will crave other food, and rebel against His instructions in the New Testament by adding other, man-made, religious ingredients to His Divine unleavened bread recipe. Will we live on every word that comes from the mouth of Yahweh, so that in the end it might go will with us? The choice is ours. In my own family, we have created our own “Christmas” traditions, which I did not have before I got married and had children. Perhaps our way of handling Christmas will give you some ideas for new approaches you could take.

Rather than defiling Christmas with all of the commercialized rush to buy and give gifts, we have decided to “defile” December 6, St. Nicholas Day, instead! The long-standing tradition of giving gifts on this day is where the newer tradition of giving gifts on Christmas Day comes from in the first place.

Therefore, rather than celebrating this combination of holidays on December 25, we decided to separate them once again, and continue our tradition of gift-giving on St. Nicholas Day only. We have been doing this for more than fifteen years, ever since my two oldest kids were old enough to participate. In an interesting coincidence, my youngest child was born on December 4, so that we celebrate her birthday two days before St. Nicholas Day. That is always a festive week!
A photo I took of my menorah. Click on the image to see a larger version.
(Opens in new window.)
Another family tradition I started six years ago is lighting a menorah during the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. Because of variation in the Hebrew calendar, it is observed sometime between Thanksgiving and New Year’s on the Gregorian calendar. So sometimes it is closer to St. Nicholas Day, or, like this year, closer to Christmas.

For my observation of Hanukkah, I only light the candles each night. I don’t celebrate any of the other traditions which have been added over the centuries, making modern Hanukkah quite similar to modern Christmas, which I am trying to turn my back on.

When purchasing my menorah, I decided to get the seven-branch type which was used in the temple instead of the nine-branched menorah used for Hanukkah. Even so, it works fine for me during Hanukkah.

Although Hanukkah is not one of the feasts established by God in the Old Testament, it has its roots in the Maccabean Revolt during the intertestamental period. In addition to being referred to as the “Festival of Lights,” it is also called the “Feast of Dedication” because the defiled temple was rededicated to God at that time.

The New Testament records that Yeshua was in Jerusalem one year during Hanukkah — see John 10:22‑23. On another occasion, again, while at the temple, Yeshua proclaimed, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12b).

This year, just last week, I had the idea to make a set of 3x4" cards to display near the lit menorah, one for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. Each card has a different verse from the New Testament about light. I’m very pleased with how they turned out.




Having these cards and the Scriptures they contain bring our focus back to Yeshua during the eight nights of Hanukkah. He is the Light of the World, who shines into the darkness of our hearts, and fills us with His Light so that we may also shine as children of the Light. That is an even bigger miracle than the one traditionally celebrated at Hanukkah.

For myself, I rejoice every day that Yeshua is born in my heart, so I don’t feel any need to celebrate this miracle once a year on a special day. I practice abiding in Messiah on a daily basis, so I’m not interested in some religious festival that many “Christians” around the world use as a substitute for an ongoing relationship with Yeshua.
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. (Romans 14:5)

“I have the right to do anything,” you say — but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” — but not everything is constructive.... So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.... I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. (1 Corinthians 10:23,31,33b)
Well, that pretty much wraps up my unwrapping of Christmas. I’ll close by wishing you a happy St. Nicholas Day, happy Hanukkah, merry Christmas, and a happy New Year! Or, if you prefer, I’ll leave you with a hearty “Bah, humbug!” worthy of Scrooge and Grumpy Cat!
This article is 30th a series of articles on this Web site related to Exploring New Testament Realities which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
1.
19  Sep  2013
2.
1  Oct  2013
3.
7  Oct  2013
4.
12  Oct  2013
5.
15  Oct  2013
6.
16  Oct  2013
7.
30  Oct  2013
8.
13  Nov  2013
9.
28  Dec  2013
10.
8  Jan  2014
11.
15  Jan  2014
12.
16  Jan  2014
13.
21  Jul  2014
14.
26  Jul  2014
15.
27  Jul  2014
16.
31  Jul  2014
17.
5  Aug  2014
18.
10  Aug  2014
19.
11  Aug  2014
20.
24  Aug  2014
21.
25  Aug  2014
22.
27  Aug  2014
23.
16  Sep  2014
24.
17  Oct  2014
25.
18  Oct  2014
26.
21  Oct  2014
27.
28  Oct  2014
28.
8  Nov  2014
29.
13  Dec  2014
30.
Unwrapping Christmas
24  Dec  2014
31.
11  Jan  2015
32.
20  Jan  2015
33.
21  Jan  2015
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