Is it possible to unravel the streams of syncretism (pluralism?) that make up our world, and so determine what truly IS and thus should be understood and believed?
I suspect some will read the following words and suggest that I have somehow betrayed some aspect of the Christian faith. Don’t believe it.
Has it occured to anyone else that “Christmas” as a day to be commemorated and celebrated as such is not mentioned in the New Testament, either by name or description? Two of the four gospels tell us of the birth of Jesus Christ. All four gospels speak at length of his life of perfect obedience to the Father, and much of their space is dedicated to his suffering, death and resurrection.
To be sure, he had to be born, and that of a virgin so as to be both fully God and fully man. But do you think that if any of the apostles or any other early Christians were somehow transplanted into the final days of 2008 in America that they would even recognize what we call Christmas as being the celebration of the birth of the Lord of the universe?
In his book A History of Christianity, Kenneth Scott Latourette writes:
By the end of the fourth century two other festivals had become widespread, the Epiphany, originating in the East, and the twenty-fifth of December, radiating from the West. The Epiphany, at first celebrated on the sixth and tenth of January, but eventually only on the former date, commemorated the birth of Jesus, the adoration of Jesus by the Wise Men, and the baptism of Jesus. Christmas, the observance of the twenty-fifth of December as the birthday of Christ, appears to have begun at Rome. The New Testament, it is scarcely necessary to say, gives no clue to the precise days of any of these events, but they were obviously of importance to Christians, and Epiphany and Christmas, although fixed conventionally, became outstanding.
“Became outstanding.” “The New Testament…gives no clue to the precise days…” “Christmas…appears to have begun at Rome.”
I suppose I’ve got too much Anabaptist blood in me to be comfortable with that.
Perhaps I should add that Paul wrote in Romans 14:5, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”
You should know what you believe. And you should know why you believe it.
[According to the Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, syncretism is the attempt to assimilate differing or opposite doctrines and practices, especially between philosophical and religious systems, resulting in a new system altogether in which the fundamental structure and tenets of each have been changed. Syncretism of the gospel occurs when its essential character is confused with elements from the culture. In syncretism the gospel is lost as the church simply confirms what is already present in the culture.]
I just did a Google search of “history of Christmas” – history.com has a series of videos on the topic. The description under the video in the link says, “although many of us only associate the birth of [C]hrist with the holiday, most of us do not realize that many aspects of christmas come from different winter celebrations.”
Wikipedia explains in detail much about how Christmas as we know it has come to be, including a run-down of individuals and groups in church history who have either opposed or supported the celebration of Christmas. I was wondering how the Reformers and the Puritans felt about it, and if wikipedia is right, now I know.