Myths of Christmas

by Gene Frost

November 28, 2000 (reprint)

     December 25th is a day that many celebrate as "Christmas." It is fine for family and friends to congregate on this day, to enjoy the company of one another, even to exchange gifts. It can be a festive occasion. However, many people think that December 25 is more than this. They celebrate this day as the birthday of Jesus, in which they incorporate many myths.

     Many churches conduct pageants or erect nativity scenes, depicting the birth of Jesus with angels, shepherds, wise men, and animals all in attendance around a manger in a stable. In doing so, they display their lack of Bible knowledge … a fitting tribute to religious orders, which themselves are strangers to God’s will, unmentioned and unauthorized in the Scriptures. They promote myths in a misguided way of promoting God and the Son of God. Just what are these myths?

     Myth # 1. Some consider this day a holy day. As the word "Christmas" conveys, to them it is a Christ-mass, i.e. a mass to Christ to celebrate His birth. However, both the birthday celebration and the mass are inventions of men. Nowhere in Scripture is there any statement, or even intimation, that God would have the birth of Jesus celebrated. He neither authorized the day, as being the birth date, or the celebration as to how the day should be recognized and regarded. Certainly there is no celebration in what is designated as a mass … the Christ-mas. The origin and development of the mass is of late date. The word is derived from the Latin, meaning to send or dismiss. Why the dismissal from a service should be used to denote the service itself, no one knows. At any rate, the word was not used in its present sense until the 6th or 7th century. In other words, it is a word and practice unknown in Scriptures. The word nor its concept can be found there. So both the designation of a day to celebrate His birth and the mass are the inventions of men.

     The truth is that the keeping of December 25 as a "holy day" is combination of misguided religious fervor and paganism.

     Myth # 2. Some believe that Jesus was born on December 25th. Of course, this is not universally claimed nor has it always been observed. Historically, Jesus’ birthday has been set on different days, January 6th being one of the more popular dates. However, any date set at this time of year is very unlikely to be correct, for several reasons.

     First, it was a time of taxation, when citizens were to return to their native cities. A winter-time tax, demanding such long and difficult travel would be most unlikely. December, the Jewish month of Tebeth, is a winter month in Judea.

     Also, this is hardly the season that shepherds would lead the flocks out into the desert, where in the winter the land is bare and when the weather cold, and especially at night. Adam Clarke, in his Commentary on Luke 2:8, notes:

     "It was a custom among the Jews to send out their sheep to the deserts, about the passover, and bring them home at the commencement of the first rain: during the time they were out, the shepherds watched them night and day. As the passover occurred in the spring, and the first rain began early in the month of Marchesvan, which answers to part of our October and November, we find that the sheep were kept out in the open country during the whole of the summer. And as these shepherds had not yet brought home their flocks, it is a presumptive argument that October had not yet commenced, and that, consequently, our Lord was not born on the 25th of December, when no flocks were out in the fields; nor could he have been born later than September, as the flocks were still in the fields by night. On this very ground the nativity in December should be given up."

     The celebration of the 25th of December is arbitrarily chosen. Historically, men have claimed the birthday of Jesus in every month of the year. For example, the Egyptians placed it in January; Wagenseil in February; Bochart in March; Clemens Alexandrinus mentions some who did so in April, and others in May; Epiphanius refers to some who placed it in June or July; and so on in every month of the year. (Adam Clarke.) The Romans selected December, the very day the ancient Romans celebrated the Feast of Saturn (this was a time of good-will; no war could then be declared; it was a time of giving presents). So we find celebrations of Jesus’ birthday at every time of the year. The point is, there is as much authority for the one as the other. Suppose sometime in June one of your neighbors should have a celebration, with family and friends bringing gifts, and you comment and ask, "It must be somebody’s birthday! Whose birthday are you celebrating?" And he answers, "Jesus." Then another neighbor does the same in October; and another in February. These are all celebrations of the birth of Jesus. What would be your reaction? Would you insist that Jesus was born in December? Why? Their choice would be just as valid as yours. The truth of the matter is, no one knows. But if it was important that we knew when Jesus was born, God would have told us. If God meant for us to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we would find it mentioned and outlined in His word.

     Myth # 3. As the story is told and as the nativity scenes display it, when Jesus was born "three wise men" came to where Jesus was born in the stable. First, the number "three" is a figment of someone’s imagination. The Bible doesn’t say there were three wise men. Not only do some picture the scene with three Magi, but they also name them: Melchior, Gaspar, and Baltasar.

     Someday I expect someone will do to the wise men what has been done to Santa’s Reindeer. An additional reindeer has been created since I was a child; his name is Rudolph. Some imaginative person will come up with a fourth wise man. It may be like this. Unlike the three, who were wealthy, the fourth, though wise, was poor. He had no treasures to bring to Jesus. He was a poor cobbler, named Petrie. So he came to see the new-born Messiah and brought with him a small pair of shoes, made of the softest doe-skin, with firm soles, to be the first pair of walking shoes for the child Jesus. His gift was the most precious of all. I can just see the stories spun from the introduction of another wise man. After all, the number and identities are a myth, so that it would be a myth added to a myth.

     Neighbors and friends, when you talk about three wise men, understand that you are not relating the Bible account. When churches display nativity scenes with three wise men, understand that they distort the text and either display their ignorance of the Bible or propagate a myth. This brings to mind, doesn’t it, Paul’s statement in 2 Tim. 4:3-4, how that some "shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." Or, as the New American Standard Bible translates it: they "will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths." I am afraid some people are more familiar with the myths concerning the coming of the Christ, and His mission, than they are with the Bible account. And it is precisely because people do not know the Scriptures why so much error is introduced in the religious world and is accepted. Friends, you need to get those Bibles open, and listen to God rather than the myth tellers.

     Myth # 4. We are told by the myth-makers that the wise men came to Jesus and found him in the manger in a stable. Remember the nativity scene with Jesus in the manger and standing about are the shepherds and wise men? The story incorporates:

     Myth # 5, and that is: the star guided them to Bethlehem, then to the very stable where He lay. The truth is, they were guided to Judea, and when they arrived they still did not know precisely where He was. So they went into Jerusalem and conferred with the king, king Herod. Then when they left for Bethlehem, the star led them to the house where He was. Here is what the Bible says (Matt. 2:1-2, 7-11):

     "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him." …(He called for the chief priests and the scribes and asked them where the Christ would be born, and they told him Bethlehem.) … "Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh."

     So, you see, there were no Magi bowing before Jesus at the stable. It makes an impressive nativity scene for the churches to display, but it is not the truth. They did not arrive until later, after Joseph and Mary had moved into a house. How much later, we do not know. There may be a clue in the fact that Herod had the children, two years old and younger, killed. (Matt. 2:16)

     Myth # 6. This myth concerns His mission, which was announced at His birth. The angels proclaimed, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." (Luke 2:14) As the story is told, I hear many preachers proclaim that Jesus’ mission was to bring the nations together in a harmonious relationship. It did not occur while Jesus was on earth, they say, but they envision it as something yet to come. This is in the same vein of preaching that says He came to establish a kingdom, but He failed. Oh, but He will come and try it again. Not so. Jesus accomplished all that He came to do. He established His kingdom … it is a spiritual kingdom; and the apostle Paul thanked God that he and others were in it! In Col. 1:12-13, He thanks God "who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:" Likewise Jesus brought peace: not peace between nations, but peace between man and God. John 14:27, Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you."

     Rom. 5:1– "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…"

     2 Cor. 13:11 – "Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you."

     A favorite greeting, the apostle Paul uses in writing to the churches in Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, Thessalonica; also in writing to Timothy, Titus and Philemon; was: "Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 1:3)

     Yes, Jesus brought peace, reconciliation between man and God. Yet, at the same time, He brought conflict. As He taught the truth, the unyielding sinner, the hypocrite, the traditionalist – all who loved their wicked ways and all who were unwilling to surrender their own ideas, their false doctrines and false practices – resisted Him and His word. Men became embittered against Him; they despised His teaching, they hated Him, and eventually ended up killing Him. What Jesus brought did not result in their peace with God, nor in peaceful relationships between men. Of them Jesus said, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household." (Matt. 10:34-36)

     Jesus came to earth, not to be a social reformer, as modernist preachers picture Him, but as the Savior of all men. His name "Jesus," signifies the same: "thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins." (Matt. 1:21)

     Please note that His mission was not accomplished in His birth, but in His death. He died, shed His blood, in order for men to be saved. He stated of His blood, in instituting the memorial feast: "For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." (Matt. 26:28) In Eph. 1:7, we are told that "we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace…" The harbinger of Christ announced, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." He is that sacrificial lamb, whose blood cleanses from all sins. (1 John 1:7)

     Is it not strange that men will devote so much energy, spend so much time and money, to commemorate what God never authorized, while neglecting what He did. God did not give a birthday to celebrate, but He did give us a memorial to remember Jesus, and that is in the Lord’s Supper, not to observe just once a year, but to be reminded week by week, even as the disciples in the first century. (Acts 20:7) How many churches, who claim to honor Jesus as the Christ, will spend thousands of dollars to celebrate December 25, but on the Lord’s day, will fail to commemorate His death?

     To do what He has not directed, even though we express in so many ways that we intend to honor Him, is to worship Him in vain. So He told the Jews: "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." (Matt. 15:8-9) What pleases God is not our profession of love and worship, but our obedience. He is the author of salvation to all them that obey Him. (Heb. 5:9) His message to the world is this, even as He directed His apostles: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." (Mark 16:15-16)

     You may sing some beautiful songs this season, praising Him … but have you obeyed Him? Have you been baptized, as a penitent believer, in order to a remission of sins, to wash away sins? (Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16) Remember, "that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." (Jer. 10:23)

Gene Frost

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