Monday, January 25, 2010

Afterthought On Christmas

"It seems too much for any mortal man to appoint, or make an anniversary memorial [for Christ]." -- John Robinson, pastor of the Pilgrims and organizer of the Mayflower expedition
Christmas was condemned by the founders of the various Protestant churches as an unholy, even pagan celebration.
In the early 17th century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Christmas was celebrated in Europe. When Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces took over England in 1645, they vowed to rid England of decadence and, as part of their effort, cancelled Christmas. By popular demand, Charles II was restored to the throne and, with him, came the return of the popular holiday.

The pilgrims, English separatists that came to America in 1620, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. By contrast, in the Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all and passed without incident.
After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Congress was in session on December 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America's new constitution. Christmas wasn't declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.  -- An Outlaw Christmas, History Channel
Far from wanting to "keep the Christ in Christmas," the early Protestants were more in the mold of Paster Ralph Ovadal, of the Pilgrim Covenant Church, who declared in a sermon in 2005,
Keep Christ in Christmas? Why would we want to keep "Christ" in Christmas? Why would we want our Lord's name connected to the word "mass"? Why would we want to keep His name at the center of a pagan, Epicurean festival? I wish Christ's name had nothing to do with that holiday. I wish the pope never mentioned our Savior on that day. I wish I had never heard heathens singing "Happy Birthday, Jesus" just before breaking out the booze and plunging into a cesspool of hedonistic pleasure.
Now, that's a fine bit of rant, though I'm not in accordance with the good Pastor's beliefs. I am not offended by selecting a day to celebrate the birth of our Saviour. I think it's a good thing, insofar as it refocuses our wandering attention onto what is important.

But, there are those who use the Christmas celebration, not to renew their relationship with God through marking the birth of his Son, but to further more earthly ends. Sometimes, it's akin to the Pharisee rending his shirt in public, to call attention to his praying. Other times, it's to rally political opponents to some current topic. Those actions betray the very Word we are bound to honor.

There are only two sacraments in our church (Congregational UCC): baptism and communion. Christmas is not a "holy day," as in a day made holy by the Lord. It is a day of remembrance, designated by men to honor one Who is holy, and whose sandal we are not worthy to tie.  Rather than making a spectacle of ourselves in its observance, we might better retire to a closet, like the Biblical publican, to ask His forgiveness that we need such a day.  Its existence testifies to the insufficiency of that honor in our daily lives.

1 comment:

  1. There is some debate regarding whether or not a pagan-originated holiday such as Christmas can really be 'made Christian' with holy symbols, as some propose... I have a timeline somewhere, that was given to me, noting that for some years many states in the US banned Christmas. I think the last state revoked that ban in 1807 or thereabouts.
    There is also the idea that Jesus wanted us to celebrate his death only, not his birth...