Christmas and Easter have been despised by some in the church in an ongoing battle. There isn’t any doubt that these holidays (short for Holy Days) have very deep pagan roots. They have only gotten worse with time, to the point that the world now loves them. The world would love them more if only the last vestiges of Christianity were removed.
That is where the battle is currently waged, with themes like “Keep Christ in Christmas.” But is that the right way for the church to look at it? Are there deeper issues involved? Does the Bible offer any guidance?
A Deeper Understanding
Christmas, Easter and every other Holy Day on the traditional Christian calendar are man made Holy Days. By that I mean they were instituted by man, not by God. There are Holy Days that God instituted under the Old Covenant that were also observed by the early Christian church, but the modern Christian does not observe them. The Holy Days the church observes were instituted by people in the church. This was all done over a period of hundreds of years in the early Catholic church.
Just because they were instituted by the Catholic church does not automatically mean they should not be observed. There are those who say “Keep the Mass in Christmas – and give it back to the Catholics.” While there is something to be said for that view, it still lacks a deeper understanding.
Before any Holy Day is instituted by man, there needs to be a general understanding that doing so is what God desires. There is no record that the Catholic church ever considered this when creating these Holy Days. At the time they did this they had arrogated all kinds of authority and felt they were empowered to do anything.
Desiring to Create Holy Days
Unfortunately the Bible says nothing directly about this. When God gives his people his Holy Days, we do not see an attempt on their part to add their own Holy Days. If they had, and God had stepped in and said “no, don’t do that, and here is why”, we would have the general principle.
The fact that they didn’t do that though, may tell us something. In the 40 years they were in the desert watching the miracles God performed among them, they had every reason to create Holy Days. Surely there would have been a Walls of Water Day to observe the passage through the Red Sea and perhaps a Meribah Day to observe the day when water came from a stone.
It’s so natural for us to attach observances to great works of God, we have to wonder why they didn’t. We see how Peter reacted when Jesus was transfigured
33 And when they began to part from him, Shimeon [Peter] said to Yeshua, “Rabbi, it is beautiful for us to be here. Let us make three tabernacles: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” And he did not know what he said. (Luke 9:33)
Peter has correctly connected this transfiguration with the meaning of God’s Holy Day Sukkot, and wants to build sukkot (tabernacles) for them, but he has misunderstood the time and the application. The verse closes with words that we would say as “he was babbling like an idiot.” The next verse says something interesting.
34 And as he said these things, there was a cloud that formed a tabernacle about them and they were afraid when they beheld Moses and Elijah who entered into the cloud. (Luke 9:34)
God builds a sukkah around them. The message appears to be that a sukkah was appropriate but not one made by human hands. Perhaps that gives us another glimpse into man made Holy Days – that we don’t know what they are for and only God does.
Jeroboam’s Holy Day
The only reference I’ve found to a man instituting a Holy Day comes from Jeroboam in 1 Kings 12:32. He has become afraid that he will lose his kingdom, Northern Israel, if the people continue to go down to Jerusalem, in Southern Israel, to worship on God’s Holy Days, as they were commanded by God.
In order to keep them in his kingdom he creates his own worship centers, and idols to go with them. Jeroboam had been affected during the time he spent in Egypt hiding from Solomon. He brings the idea of idolatry back with him. He does another thing though that relates to our topic. He creates a new Holy Day for them and chooses a date for it. He styles it after one of God’s Holy Days.
This is very reminiscent of Easter which began as one of God’s Holy Days, Passover, and was “moved” to a different date.
33 Then he went up to the altar which he had made in Bethel on the fifteenth day in the eighth month, even in the month which he had devised in his own heart; and he instituted a feast for the sons of Israel and went up to the altar to burn incense. (1 Kings 12:33)
Notice the emphasis created here by the unnecessary clause ending in, “he had devised [the date] in his own heart”. The verse is saying how crazy it is that he would do such a thing. Who does he think he is to do this? The only understanding we can pull from this is that God reserves the right to initiate Holy Days.
The Bible makes it clear that the Holy Days God gave to Israel were not their days, but God’s days. All of his Holy Days are packed with purpose, meaning and prophecy. The ones that men create are hollow shells that are soon filled with paganism.
From a King’s Perspective
All of this makes sense when looked at from the perspective of a king. If someone in the kingdom, on his own initiative, convinces the people to observe an additional Holy Day, even if he says it observes the Kings birthday, the king will not be pleased.
What the king sees is a person who is able to get the king’s people to follow him. To any earthly king, that person is a threat. He is also out of order and creating disorder within the kingdom. We a Biblical example of that in King David’s son, Absalom (2 Samuel 14). He used his good looks (great hair) and fine promises to lead the people into following him instead of David. The king had to flee from his kingdom.
From the king’s perspective the people who would follow another person are also a problem. They are obviously not dedicated to him. A good king wants to take care for his people and be loved by them.
The king would also have a problem with the Holy Day if it isn’t part of his plan for the kingdom. It may interfere with what he has planned for the people. Perhaps there are other things they need to be doing at the time. This is especially true for God, whose Holy Days map out the steps of his plan of salvation. Additional man made days only confuse.
What Pleases God
Micah makes an important point about trying to please God in Micah 6:6-8.
6 With what shall I come to the Lord and bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, With yearling calves? 7 Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams, in ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah asks what a man can do to please God? He addresses the problem in that question which is “how much is enough to give an infinite God”. Micah doesn’t mention it but part of the problem is that everything belongs to God. Micah asks if burnt offerings are enough or should you give more, for example multiple calves, thousands of rams, or ten thousand rivers of oil. You see the problem.
Micah resolves the problem by saying we should do what God has told us to do. By that he means we can never please God by acts of our own initiative. God is only pleased by obedience.
Christmas is an act of our own initiative. Nowhere does God command us to observe the birthday of Jesus. So we have to ask if that is enough to please God. We don’t know the day Jesus was born so maybe we should make Christmas a week-long event. Some people say Jesus would have been born in the spring, so maybe we should also have a week-long event in the Spring. Will this be enough to please God? Who can know? So maybe we should have more days to celebrate other events in Jesus’ life, perhaps when he was brought to the temple by his parents, perhaps the beginning of his ministry in Cana of Galilee. On and on it goes as we try to please God by doing things he hasn’t asked us to do.
The world prizes self-starters and those who take the initiative. Not so with God. Among the Biblical examples we find King Saul, who had a “better” plan than the one given by God. He thought he would honor God by sacrificing the captured animals to God. He had been instructed to destroy them instead of capturing them. What God wanted was obedience. We are not smart enough or aware enough of God’s plans to take the initiative.
God has reserved to himself the right to set Holy Days. From our limited understanding we can see that they spell out his plan. They also provide times of needed rest balanced with times of work. There is certainly more to them that we don’t understand.
If you observe a man made Holy Day are you not honoring the creator of that day? Even if the day is named after someone else or celebrates some event in someone else’s life, you celebrate it’s creator. Without him it would not exist. The creator of that day want’s you to observe something on that day. By doing so you are honoring his request. Is Abraham Lincoln honored by President’s Day? No, he’s dead.
There is an interesting parallel here to Facebook. Some people post pictures of someone that you are supposed to think is Jesus. With that there is a caption like, “Click Like if you love this man.” Do those Likes go to Jesus or to the author of that post? The supposed picture of Jesus is just the bait to get you to click Like. The author of the post considers those clicks valuable.
It should be obvious but it is worth saying anyway – you can’t give God a surprise party. God is not like man that his ego should be fed by the worship of his people. The ego’s of men are puffed up by the worship of their equals but God has no equal.
A mother or father is honored by a child who creates a picture for them. Even though the picture isn’t ready for the Louvre we respect it because the child has used his or her skills to do something and made a gift of it to the parents. The same goes with all gifts among mankind. The person has cared enough to give you something that is of value or significance to them. God is creator and owner of everything. We cannot give him anything; it’s already his. We cannot use our skills to make anything for him; he gave us those skills. God is spirit and he has no need for things made by man.
God is not worshiped by man made Holy Days, just as he is not worshiped through idols or anything else made by our hands.