My family has been involved in the Messianic movement for 22 years, now, since 1995. Like many people within the Messianic movement, I find myself not looking to the month of December with great enthusiasm.
Huge controversies can and do erupt during the month of December, regarding how Messianic people are to approach the Christian holiday of Christmas, on December 25. Many Messianic Jews simply do not see Christmas as something Jewish, they do not see it as something for them, but if Christians observe it, they are not going to oppose them. Many Messianic people, particularly intermarried couples, often keep both Chanukah and Christmas. Many other Messianic people, oppose Christmas, although for different reasons and with different levels of opposition. Some of this may simply come from December 25 not being a specified holiday in the Bible, or established by the Apostles. Others see Christmas on December 25 as a clear result of syncretism practiced by Christians of the Second-Fourth Centuries, where pagan holidays were reinterpreted and “Christianized” with Biblical themes. Many see Christmas on December 25 as outright paganism, Christmas trees directly prohibited in Scripture (i.e., Jeremiah 10:2-5), and most Christians serving the Kingdom of Darkness. And, a few others, noting some early opposition to Christmas by a number of the Protestant Reformers, see Christmas on December 25 as a symbol of corrupt Roman popery. Those who hold to all of these positions, are likely to be found at your local Messianic congregation during the month of December.
When I attended Asbury Theological Seminary (2005-2008) and took Church History I, the subject of Christmas on December 25 did come up in various classes. One of the textbooks we were assigned, had this to say:
“The earliest feast day in connection with the birth of Jesus was January 6, Epiphany, the day of his manifestation. This was originally the celebration of the birth itself. Later, particularly in some areas of the Latin West, December 25 began to take its place. This latter date was actually a pagan festival which, after the time of Constantine, was preempted by the celebration of Christmas”
Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1 (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1984), 96.
As you can imagine, some of my fellow students were a bit shocked when they saw–in our assigned textbook, no less–that Christmas on December 25 had some less-than-Biblical origins. I remember once of my professors adding to this that the Christmas tree was adapted from Teutonic and Nordic religion, with obviously no connection to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem–and then only added that Easter eggs likewise had no connection to the resurrection, but instead ancient fertility rites. “So, why do Christians participate in this?”, was the blunt response. The answer was: “The Christian Church has reinterpreted and redeemed these once pagan holidays and festivities.” What this actually was, was a seminary instructor saying that it was acceptable for Believers to practice syncretism, that is, take pagan religious customs, reinvent them, and superimpose Biblical themes onto them. This is precisely what Ancient Israel was told not to do, before entering into the Promised Land:
“When you enter the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to imitate the abhorrent practices of those nations” (Deuteronomy 18:9, NJPS).
Yet unlike much of today’s evangelicalism, which will equivocate on the value of Christmas on December 25–a number of prominent comic voices recognize the syncretism in Christmas, and have no problem using it in their various routines!
At the 2002 White House Correspondents Dinner, Drew Carey made note of how Christmas, Easter, and most especially Halloween–were all holidays with origins outside of the Bible:
Last year, the College Humor sketch, “Adam Ruins Everything,” came out with a piece on “The Drunken, Pagan History of Christmas”:
Many of us who once observed Christmas, did not participate in frivolity, drunkenness, and hedonism. Many of us observed Christmas in a pious and holy manner, going to church, focusing on the birth of the Messiah, singing hymns, and fellowshipping with family and close friends. This is actually what makes giving up Christmas difficult for many people in today’s Messianic movement. Their attachment to Christmas, is not so much with the Christmas tree; their attachment to Christmas is with memories of being with those they cared about, some of whom are no longer living.
All of us should be mature enough as adults to recognize that during the month of December, due to all of the nativity scenes and different Christmas carols, that more people are going to be presented with hearing about Jesus and some form of the gospel, than at any other time during the year. In spite of many of the questionable practices and origins surrounding Christmas, God has brought people to Himself during this time of year. Yet Messianic people should also be wise enough to recognize that the Savior declared today during the month of December, is broadly not the Messiah of Israel, who is returning to reign over Planet Earth from Jerusalem—but is instead a universal Christ of tolerance (for human sin). While many sincere Christian people have honored God in ignorance on December 25, Christmas on December 25 is not a God-honoring activity.
I do not encourage any of you to be odious to Christian people during this month, creating unnecessary scenes. Wishing “Happy Holidays” when being told “Merry Christmas,” is entirely legitimate.