What The Bible Says
“What The Bible Says - Vol. 2 / No. 15”
What The Bible Says
Vol. II - No. 15 / December 22, 2019
THE FIRST CHRISTMAS
It comes as a surprise to many religious people that the celebration of Christmas as the birth of Christ is completely and totally of human invention. God’s word never tells us when Christ was born, never calls His birth Christmas, and never commands that the birth of Christ be celebrated by His followers.
The Catholic Church rightfully takes credit for establishing Christmas as a religious celebration. Recently I re-read the article on “Christmas” in the Catholic Encyclopedia, which is a large reference work produced by Catholic scholars (It can be viewed online at www.catholic.org/encyclopedia). The article contains several eye-opening truths about Christmas which we would do well to ponder. The following points are my observations from the encyclopedia article, each followed by a related quotation from the article.
* The word Christmas was not even invented till the 11th century A.D. “The word for Christmas in late Old English is Cristes Maesse, the Mass of Christ, first found in 1038, and Cristes-messe, in 1131.”
* Church leaders in the first few centuries did not sanction the celebration of the birth of Christ. “Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. Irenaeus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts; Origen. . . asserts that in the Scriptures sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthday.”
* Early celebrations of the birth of Christ were considered strange and were not done on December 25th. “The first evidence of the feast is from Egypt. About A.D. 200, Clement of Alexandria says that certain Egyptian theologians ‘over curiously’ assign, not the year alone, but the day of Christ’s birth, placing it on 25 Pachon (20 May). . . ”
* December 25th was not celebrated as Christ’s birthday until the 4th century. “At Rome the earliest evidence is in the Philocalian (an illustrated calendar, sk) compiled in 354.”
* December 25th was chosen because it was also the date of a popular pagan holiday. “The well-known solar feast, however, of Natalis Invicti, celebrated on 25 December, has a strong claim on the responsibility for our December date.” Pagans celebrated December 25th as the rebirth of the sun. On this day that the sun reversed its southward retreat and proved itself to be unconquered. Some connected the rebirth of the sun to the birth of Jesus.
* Virtually all Christmas traditions had their origins either in pagan practices or in Catholic tradition. Regarding “Cards and presents: Pagan customs centering round the January calends gravitated to Christmas.”
God has given Christians great personal liberty in areas where He has not given us a specific law to follow. For instance, we may choose to eat meat or we can be vegetarians. We may keep days, or not keep them (Romans 14:2-6). If an individual wishes to recall the birth of Christ and express joy regarding the event, surely he is free to do so any time. Giving gifts, displaying colored lights, and eating a big meal with family are also things that we are at liberty to do on any day of the year.
However, celebrating December 25th as if it were in fact the birthday of Christ, equating this birthday with something called Christmas, and generally behaving as if God has ordained December 25th to be the holiest day of the year, is misguided to say the least. How easy it is to replace true spirituality with the inventions of men. On every street corner we see men who know little more of God’s Son than what they hear and see around Christmas – much of which is false and has no Bible basis. Celebrating Christmas as the birth of Christ provides at best a dim unsatisfying copy of the grace, love, charity, joy, hope and fellowship that the Lord wants us to experience every day of the year.
MARY, THE MOTHER OF JESUS
After learning that she was to be the mother of the Son of God, Mary went to visit Elizabeth, a relative who was at that time the expectant mother of John the Baptist. While in the house of Elizabeth, Mary offered a beautiful poem or song of praise to God (Luke 1:46-55). Though the emphasis was on magnifying the Lord (Luke 1:46), she also said of herself, “henceforth all generations will call me blessed.” No one who accepts the Bible as the inspired word of God should doubt that Mary was a special woman and selected to bear the Messiah because she had found favor with the Lord. Even 2,000 years later we should appreciate and give the proper honor to the young woman willing to accept the shame that came with being thought of as having conceived a child before marriage. We should have the deepest appreciation for this one who was there at the cross for her Son, but did not interfere.
Mary is worthy of honor! This time of year many are giving special thought to her role in human history and the redemption of mankind, but what should her role be in the church today? Should we honor her with special days? Offer up to her special prayers? This article is sent forth with the hope that all will benefit from it, but especially that it might help adherents to the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican faiths get a better perspective on the role of Mary today. Please consider carefully the following facts from the Scriptures.
The last specific mention of Mary in the NT comes in Acts 1:14. Not once as the apostles carried out the Great Commission does the book of Acts record a mention of her in their sermons. As Paul, Peter, and the other writers wrote to Christians in various parts of the Roman Empire they never saw fit to even mention Mary.
Since she is not mentioned in any of the epistles and is in fact never mentioned again after the beginning of the Lord’s church on Pentecost of Acts 2 it is easy to see that the New Testament does not contain a single reference to Christians offering prayers to Mary or requests for her intercession. While the Rosary, in its most common form, requires the recitation of the Hail Mary (Ave Maria) fifty-three times, the New Testament does not contain even one Hail Mary. While some of the phrases found in the Hail Mary may be found in Luke 1, all of its words are not there and never once are the phrases of Luke 1 used as an address to Mary by first-century Christians.
If first-century Christians, under the leadership and guidance of the apostles, saw Mary as the “portal to Life Immortal” (as she is called in the People’s Mass Book), absolutely no evidence of such has been preserved in the Scriptures, the same Scriptures which are said to complete and thoroughly equip the man of God for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). Instead of seeing Mary as the “portal to Life Immortal,” they believed Jesus was “the way, the truth, and the life,” and the only way one could approach the Father (John 14:6).
While Mary is sometimes referred to today as the Queen of heaven, Queen of the universe, Mother of Mercy, Ever Virgin, Patron, and Advocate, not one of these titles of honor is given her in the New Testament. Not one! While the Bible does refer to her as a virgin until the time of Jesus’ birth (Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38), it says nothing about her remaining Ever Virgin. In fact, all available evidence indicates that she and Joseph enjoyed a normal marital relationship after the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1:24, 25; 12:46, 47; 13:54-56; Hebrews 13:4). As for Queen, patron, etc., there is simply no Biblical foundation for them.
Mary was a great lady and it is proper that we call her blessed, but we must also keep things in perspective. It is her Son who is our Savior and the One we should worship, adore, and be devoted to. Never forget what Jesus Himself said when one offered words of praise to Mary.
“And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!’ But He said, ‘More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’ ” Luke 11:27, 28
May God help us to be those who hear and keep His word.
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