Featured Article: The Meaning of Christmas by Jasmine Baucham
(from a 2007 speech by Jasmine Baucham)
Several years ago, my family experienced a massive paradigm shift regarding Christmas. We started to rethink several aspects of the holiday, trying to hash out all of our presuppositions regarding December 25, aiming to glorify the Lord in our choices. We studied the origins of Christmas, the birth of some of our most beloved Christmas traditions, and made some really tough decisions. Our toughest choice? On what would have been my seventeenth Christmas, we opted out of the traditional observance of the holiday. We did not give or receive gifts, we did not buy a tree; instead, we used the month of December as a time of sober reflection. We asked ourselves some hard questions, and came to a more satisfying conclusion than the holiday that many Americans enjoy.
The Story We Thought We Knew
Though most are familiar with the story of what is commonly called "the first Christmas," I believe it serves our purpose to talk about it here. What really took place on the night of Christ's birth is a bit different from what is commonly portrayed in Christmas plays and with nativity scenes. For instance, the day we celebrate Christ's birth is likely nowhere near His actual birthday. Historians agree, based on evidence provided in the Bible and elsewhere, that Christ was probably born somewhere between February and May. Also, according to Matthew 2, Jesus was most likely around two years old when the wise men came to visit him; they were nowhere near the manger on that spring night in 4 to 6 BC. And, though myth often places three wise men on the scene, Kings Balthazar, Gaspar, Melchior, the writers of the gospels record no such details. Though, in part through the myths and fables surrounding it, it can be difficult to dig past presuppositions when examining the birth of our Savior, we can always trust the biblical account of His coming. It is interesting to note, however, that throughout the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, and in the spreading of the gospel thereafter, though Christians are commanded to remember Christ's death, and to look forward to his coming, they are not commanded, or even encouraged to celebrate his birth.
Also, while Christians traditionally celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25, the history of that celebration doesn't start until several decades after Christ's death. To understand the beginning of the Christmas tradition, we have to start hundreds of years after Christ's birth, during the reign of Constantine the Great. There was a very popular holiday in Rome during the life of Constantine called Saturnalia. This holiday, placed on the week of December 25, was a celebration of the birth of the Roman god, Jupiter. It was marked by a week-long celebration that included sacrifices, drunken merry-making, and the exchange of gifts. When Constantine converted to Christianity in 330, he made Christianity the country's official religion; rather than do away with Saturnalia, however, he, with the help of the Bishop of Rome, turned Saturnalia into a religious holiday that's purpose was to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Until this point in history, there is no record that Christian's ever celebrated Jesus' birth. Though Constantine's purpose might have been a noble one, it would be many years before Christmas was marked by the sobriety and reverence that many Christians observe it with today.
Christmas in the Colonial Period
It has taken hundreds of years for Christmas to develop into what it is in the twenty-first century. For many years, though Christmas was meant to replace Saturnalia, it took on many of the same aspects of the pagan holiday, from drunken rabble-rousing to the giving of lavish gifts. Peasants would run screaming through the streets of London, exulting loudly, singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" at the top of their lungs while causing all sorts of mischief. Things were so riotous that Oliver Cromwell banned the celebration in 1649.
In the colonies, Puritans were striving to squelch what was seen as a pagan holiday celebrated only by superstitious Catholics (hence the term Christ-Mas). America succeeded in outlawing Christmas to a large degree, not meeting in their churches on Christmas Day, and keeping business open on December 25. However, when Cromwell died, and his son Richard took the lead, the Christmas celebration was reinstated in England. Catholic and Anglican churches in England struggled to maintain an optimistic outlook, striving to keep the Christmas holiday Christ-honoring.
Though Christmas continued to flourish in England, the Puritans succeeded in squelching it for hundreds of years in America. In fact, starting in 1789, Congress met on Christmas day every year for sixty-seven years, never stopping to recognize Christ's birth. However, during the 1800s, these staunch laws were cast aside as more and more immigrants arrived on American shores, bringing with them Christmas traditions from Europe. Drunken merrymaking continued to be the norm on Christmas day, to such a degree that, in 1828, a counsel met to discuss the issue in New York, and a special police force was launched specifically to squelch the raucous Christmas celebrations. Yet, during the reign of Queen Victoria, it became quite fashionable to take Christmas a bit more seriously, making it a time of love and giving. Clement Clarke Moore and Charles Dickens nurtured this tradition by writing two very famous books -Twas the Night Before Christmas and A Christmas Carol -that portrayed Christmas in a warmer, more family-friendly light. Christmas slowly began to establish a new set of virtues; it became seen as a time for giving, loving, family, and miracles. Though family traditions of love, warmth, and giving flourished in individual homes, however, the media slowly began to try to market the warmth of Christmas Day.
Christmas seemed to go from a riotous, drunken celebration in the 1800s to a marketing strategy in the 1900s. Throughout the years, companies have made millions of dollars each year between December 1 and January 1. They have sold millions of toys, expensive jewelry, and household items. They have encouraged their to consumers and enjoy, often incurring debt as they try to outspend one another, purchasing lavish gifts to prove their affections to family and friends. The tradition of gift giving can be traced right back to Saturnalia. Popular media portrays Christmas as a season of giving, believing, and loving. All of these are wonderful attributes things we are reminded of when we read the story of Christ's birth, but the media -through it's pithy slogans, nostalgic cartoons, and tear-jerking movies -often fails to tell us why we're giving, Who it was that first loved us enough to send His only begotten Son, and what exactly we're supposed to believe in. Rather than tracing the holiday back to the supremacy of Christ, our culture seems to see Christmas itself as the all-powerful concept, and not the Savior we're supposed to be celebrating on that day. From Ace Collins' book about Christmas traditions:
Christmas as We Know It
Today, shoppers spend more than $4 billion per Christmas shopping day, about $2.8 million each minute, during the holiday season in the United States alone. The average person in the United States spent more than $1000 on Christmas gifts in 2002.
Even Christmas songs have started to take on our worldly perception of Christmas. Songs like Silent Night and Angels We Have Heard on High have been replaced with songs with lyrics like "Candles burning low, lots of mistletoe, lots of snow and ice everywhere we go... all these things and more ~that's what Christmas means to me, my love" and "This Christmas will be a very special Christmas for me!"
Redeeming the Day?
In trying to celebrate Christmas in a Christ-exalting fashion, it is very important to reexamine some of our Christmas rituals, as some point us directly back to Christ, and other point us back to pagan beginnings. Christmas trees point back to an ancient Viking custom of putting evergreens in homes during winters to incur good luck; mistletoe was though to ward off evil spirits during the Middle Ages; our caroling tradition sprung up during the time when Christmas was seen as a drunken free-for-all. However, this is not to say that there aren't sacred aspects to some of our Christmas traditions. For instance, though it's true that caroling first began during a time when Christmas was more a drunken celebration than a sacred holiday, so many beautiful, Christ-exalting songs have been written about the season! Songs like O Come O Come Emmanuel herald the coming of a king who will ransom His children:
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Also, Advent, a long-held tradition, is a time of sober reflection, where Christians prepare their hearts to observe the Christmas holiday for a month, starting the first Sunday closest to November 30. Each day, they focus on one aspect of Christian character that they are striving to learn, lighting a candle as they countdown to Christmas. Our Christmas tree custom also finds roots with the teaching of Martin Luther, who used the tree as a symbol of God's everlasting love. Some believe that the choirmaster at Germany's Cologne Cathedral first used candy canes in 1670, to teach the gospel to his students. Though many of our most beloved traditions have pagan origins there are still a handful of holiday traditions that truly point us back to the glory of Christ's coming. By relying on these traditions, and forging new traditions of our own, Christians may still be able to redeem the Christmas season, making it a time of remembrance, gratitude, and praise.
There are a lot of different facets to consider when discussing such a complex subject, but I hope I have inspired you to delve a little deeper, and to do some research on your own. When my parents made the decision to rethink our approach towards Christmas, my first reaction was one of rebellion. I had been so saturated with romantic feelings towards holly and mistletoe and the warm fuzzies of the Christmas season that I was at first unwilling to take a step back and reevaluate some things that I'd taken for granted. However, once I dug a little deeper I realized that learning more about a holiday that's purpose is to celebrate the birth of the King of Kings is one of the most worthwhile uses of our time as we approach the season. If you walk away from this with anything, I hope you walk away with a hunger for learning more about the Christmas holiday, and a resolve to glorify God through your observance of it... or your decision not to observe it.
for more information on this topic, see Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas by Ace Collins.
Welcome to the December edition of the VBM Newsletter. This is a monthly newsletter designed to help keep you informed and equipped. We want to inform you about the work of the ministry, while offering tidbits to equip you in the area of cultural apologetics and family discipleship.As the year comes to an end, we want to encourage you to remember how good God has been to you in spite of all your difficulties.
Voddie Baucham, Jr.
|Baucham Family News
Taking December Off
December is a bitter-sweet month in the Baucham household. We decided several years ago that December would be a time when I took a break from my busy travel schedule (the rest of the year I travel 6-8 days per month). It made sense for a number of reasons.
First, December was already a slow month for itinerant ministers (unless you can grow a beard and play Jesus in Christmas pageants). Second, the early part of the month provided a great opportunity to travel since most school children don't get off until the middle or the end of the month. In fact, this year I've been able to add an event to my schedule (see below) in December that will afford my family and me an opportunity to travel to the Creation Museum in Kentucky and kill two birds with one stone. And third, it provides time for reflection and reassessment at the end of the year.
The bitter side of course is the financial crunch. Since I do not receive a salary (and thus no "paid" vacation), we have to make due with what we have from the beginning of December to mid-January when things pick up again. It is a great time to stretch and grow our faith. God always provides. Sometimes my last event of the year ends up providing more income than we expected. At other times random people send us unsolicited end-of-the-year donations that come in the nick of time. One year we even found some money that we had hidden from ourselves. In either case, it is a great opportunity to be reminded of our utter dependence upon God for everything. It gives new meaning to the "Lord's Prayer", and the phrase, "give us this day our daily bread" (Matthew 6:11).
Successful Trip to Northern Ireland
Recently, my son Trey and I had the privilege of traveling to Northern Ireland for two significant conferences. This was our second trip to Northern Ireland. We had the opportunity to take the entire family there for a week last May. It was that trip that opened the door for further ministry.
The first part of the trip was an Ever Loving Truth Conference at Hamilton Road Presbyterian Church in Bangor on Friday and Saturday. That was followed by the Northern Ireland Ministry Assembly (a ministers conference) in Lisburn on Monday and Tuesday. By Wednesday we were back on our way to the USA. It was a whirlwind, but well worth the trip.
Pray for our brothers and sisters in the U.K. as they face the trials of secularization, islamization, and sodomization (what good is having a newsletter if you can't invent a word here and there) to the same degree or worse than we face on this side of the pond.
First International Ever Loving Truth Conference
The first International Ever Loving Truth Conference took place in Bangor, Northern Ireland. The crowds, as expected, were smaller than those here in the United States. However, the enthusiasm for the material was encouraging.
Issues of postmodernism, secular humanism, socialism and neo-Marxism are as real in the U.K. as they are here (if not more so). In fact, churches in Northern Ireland are subject to policies that would be unimaginable here in the U.S. For example, I talked to pastors who were worried about hiring non-ministerial staff members (i.e., a pastor's assistant) since they were not allowed to discriminate against, non-protestants, non-Christians, or homosexuals in their search. Can you imagine?
While the battles rage on here, we need to look to Europe for sobriety and caution. We are headed down a dangerous path, and much of what is ahead can bee seen clearly in what has already taken place there.
As a result, the material in The Ever Loving Truth
was most welcome to the Irish audience. Pray that believers there will continue to be equipped and emboldened in their pursuit of cultural apologetics.
Upcoming ConferenceThe Sufficiency of Scripture Conference
Northern Kentucky Convention Center
(note: This is the only event in December, and the last event of the year)
|Newsletter Question of the Month
Answers to Your Most Asked Questions
Each month we receive dozens of questions. Some I answer in my blog, but some require much shorter responses. We try to answer one of those questions each month in the Newsletter.
This month's question is: "I would like to know your position on the Manhattan Declaration. Albert
Mohler has signed on, but John MacArthur will not. Should Evangelical
Christians support it? Would you sign it?"
First, let me say that I am not here to settle disputes between the likes of Albert Mohler and John MacArthur. I consider Dr. Mohler a personal friend and mentor, and I have followed, respected, and benefitted from John MacArthur's teaching over the course of my entire Christian life and ministry. Having said that, I have no intention of signing the Manhattan Declaration for at least two reasons.
First, I agree with John MacArthur'
and others who are cautious about evangelicals aligning themselves with Rome (and Greek Orthodox, etc.) without clear and compelling reasons. Roman Catholicism preaches another gospel (Gal 1:6-7). We cannot act as though the Reformation was a blip on the historical screen with little or no contemporary significance and/or consequences. We need to evangelize Catholics; not link arms with them. The gospel is more important than political solidarity. In fact, had they made it a purely political statement and not tried to make this a gospel-based response, I would have less trouble with it.
Second,the Manhattan Declaration has a number of other problems. For the sake of time and space, I'll direct you to an article by James White
, another by Steve Daece
, and a brief (yet important) statement by MassResistance
. It was MassResistance who first pointed out the Declaration's failure to place any blame for the Massachussets homosexual marriage debacle at the feet of then Governor Mitt Romney whom many of the original signers supported for the Republican nomination. This is simply dishonest.
As to the rest of the question (should Christians support it), I do not speak for other Christians. Al Mohler supports this statement, and I still consider him a dear friend and mentor. Moreover, besides the few people who asked this question, nobody cares whether I sign or not. The big wigs who signed this document (and those whose refusal to sign made waves) don't even know my name. Nevertheless, I have to follow my convictions.
December Special Offer
What Hollywood Teaches About Manhood
Last year I had the privilege of serving as a judge at the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival. Additionally, I got a chance to address an issue close to my heart... MOVIES!
One of the less popular areas of Cultural Apologetics is film analysis. Most Christians watch movies with their minds turned off. Few consider the worldview implications involved. In this lecture I analyze Hollywood's portrayal of manhood on the screen and how it has changed over the years. This is a rare treat. Those interested in knowing more about what makes me tick will truly enjoy this foray into a little-known passion of mine.
Thank you for your continued prayerful support of this ministry.
Voddie Baucham Ministries
8765 Spring Cypress Rd
Suite L, Box 165
Spring, Texas 77379
Toll Free 1-877-TRUTH-58
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For media/interview requests
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