We are approaching that time of year when Christians and non-Christians alike participate in the celebration of the holiday called Christmas. According to Christian tradition, it is the day on which the Messiah was born. Is this day truly the birthday of the Messiah? Are we commanded to celebrate His birth? What did His birth actually accomplish? Does this holiday have questionable beginnings?
First, let us consider the Biblical account of the birth of the Messiah. In the Hebrew Scriptures, there are many prophecies that relate to His birth. Yet, in the Messianic Scriptures, there are only two recorded accounts of the actual event: Matthew 1:18-2:12 and Luke 2:1-20.
The birth itself is significant in the fact that “the Word [the Messiah] became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14a). It was different from any other birth because His mother was a virgin and “was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18). God, through His Holy Spirit, would be His Father.
To become the Lamb of God, Jesus had to be born.
To become the Lamb of God, Jesus had to be born. Yet, it is His death that provides the atonement for our sins and His resurrection that provides us with eternal life (Romans 5:9-10). The Church puts more focus on His birth than on His death. By doing so, in the eyes of most believers, He remains “sweet baby Jesus” and never becomes the Lamb of God.
Nowhere in the Messianic Scriptures does it mention anything regarding a celebration, a festival or even commemorating anything to do with the day of His birth. It is only at His final Passover meal with His disciples that Jesus says anything about remembering Him: “And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body which is given for you; do this [celebrate the Passover] in remembrance of Me'” (Luke 22:19)
History of the Tradition
There is no record, either in Scripture or in history, of the early Church celebrating the birth of the Messiah. The only holidays that the early Church celebrated were the ones listed in Leviticus 23 — the Lord’s festivals (see the Gospels and the book of Acts).
So when did the Church first start celebrating Christmas? No one knows for sure, but the first mention of it is in a Roman almanac dated 354 CE. However, it does not mention any celebration associated with it.
The roots of Christmas appear to be located in the worship of Mithra
While the beginnings of Christmas cannot be definitely traced, its roots appear to be located in the worship of Mithra, the Persian sun god (the Romans called him Mithras). The accounts of this cult and its observance are many and varied in antiquity. A compilation of elements from some of these existing accounts is presented here: This god is said to have been born in a cave, from a rock. Shepherds came to worship him, believing him to be a son of god. His birthday was celebrated each year on December 25th. Some accounts suggest that he was believed to have been killed by the god of darkness but had risen from the dead. His resurrection was celebrated each year in the early spring. In observance of this, a white bull or lamb was slain over a metal grating. Underneath the grating, blood from the lamb dripped down and “baptized” new converts who would join Mithra in the eternal war against evil. His followers then ate bread and wine in a mass communion meal. Documented in full or not, these pieces of the ancient mythologies suggest that, at the very least, five-hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Satan was preparing a counterfeit, an illusion, to deceive and confuse would-be followers of the true Lamb.
This satanic cult became a major competitor of Christianity in the third and fourth centuries (CE). The Romans were eager participants in this cult (The cult had one day in the week that was sacred to it — the Day of the Sun: Sunday).
The Church was mercilessly persecuted until the beginning of the reign of Constantine in 312 CE. At that time, the Church became accepted on a broad scale throughout the Gentile world. In order to accommodate the large influx of Gentiles, the Church began to adopt many pagan rituals. It attempted to call these rituals holy and focus them on the Lord. It took one of these rituals, it seems, celebrated on December 25th (the birthday of Mithra), and called it the birthday of the Messiah. It wasn’t too hard. Satan had already set up Mithra as a reasonable counterfeit. For the most part, only the name had to be changed.
Mithra is alluded to twice in Scripture. Mithredath (meaning “given by Mithra”) was the treasurer of king Cyrus who had control of the vessels from the Temple (Ezra 1:8). The other Mithredath was a Persian official. He was among the conspirators who wrote a letter to Artaxerxes, king of Persia, falsely accusing the Jews of trying to organize a rebellion against the king (Ezra 4:7).
The Church, in the end, tried to adopt the ways of the world. In persecution the Church was kept pure, but when it was embraced by the world — and conformed — it became as a harlot. We, especially in the United States, cannot imagine the kind of persecution that the early Church had to endure. Yet, we are not to conform in order to avoid the persecution that is sure to come. The Church was intended to be a light to the world, to shine light on the darkness that had entered the world. Jesus did not deceive His disciples. He told them they would suffer persecution. Paul gives a long list of the persecution he had to endure (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). John stated he was in prison on the island of Patmos “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus”. Peter said not to be surprised when we are persecuted, that we would have to suffer in the flesh just as Jesus had suffered. The witness of the Gospel is that we don’t conform, even under the threat of persecution, that our trust is in the Lord.
The Church has chosen to observe a celebration that is not Biblical while rejecting those celebrations that are appointed by the Lord.
The festival has now become firmly positioned within the Church as a Christian celebration. In doing this, the Church has chosen to observe a celebration that is not Biblical while rejecting those celebrations that are appointed by the Lord (Leviticus 23). Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of His time for their traditions: “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the traditions of men” (Mark 7:8). Eighteen-hundred years later, nothing had changed: “Though these two divine streams [the Bible and tradition] are in themselves, on account of their divine origin, of equal sacredness, and are both full of revealed truths, still, of the two, tradition is to us more clear and safe (Catholic Belief, 1884 edition, p. 45).
We also recommend a video : Christmas unWrapped: The History of Christmas. This is a British Documentary that was aired on the History Channel (1997) expounding on this topic. (Harry Smith – narrator ~50 minutes). The original full length video was deleted by YouTube, however a YouTube user has uploaded it again into 5 parts (~10 mins. each.) Also noted, available on amazon.com Christmas-Unwrapped-History-Channel DVD