Elisabeth Elliot: Christians have far more reason to rejoice at Christmastime than anybody else. Isn't it pitiful that most of the world doesn't even know what Christmas is all about? But I believe that we are meant to deck ourselves with joy. And we can deck the halls with boughs of holly, if you happen to have boughs of holly. And if all you have is one little candlestick, use that.
Lisa Barry: Maybe you're one of those people who thinks that celebrating Christmas is silly, since it isn't really Jesus' birthday anyway, some sources say. Others of you think that Christmas is already set aside--it ought to be honored as Christ's birthday, and therefore holy. And there are still others who only go to church on Christmas and Easter. I think I feel the worst for them. I see them overcome with emotion at the singing and the decorations, and yet they know nothing of the joy of Christ once December 26th rolls around.
Maybe you've wondered about the holiday itself and whether celebrating is even a good idea. You'll hear an interesting perspective on that very topic next with Elisabeth Elliot, so stay tuned for another edition of Gateway To Joy.
Elisabeth Elliot: "You are loved with an everlasting love." That's what the Bible says. "And underneath are the everlasting arms." This is your friend Elisabeth Elliot, talking again today about Christmas, and specifically about Christmas trees. My father-in-law, the father of my first husband, Jim Elliot, took the view that's expressed in Romans 14:5: "One man considers one day more sacred than another. Another man considers every day alike." My father-in-law was in that latter category. He didn't want to make a very special day out of Christmas, because he felt that that was a pagan holiday. And this verse says, "Each man should be fully persuaded in his own mind," or "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind."
Is it a pagan holiday? Every now and then I get questions from people who ask me, "Is it right for Christians to celebrate what really began as a pagan holiday? Is December 25th the actual date of Jesus' birth?" I have a letter here asking exactly this kind of question. Let me read that.
"Recently my husband has been questioning the Christmas tree and its true origin. We listened to a tape from one teacher who states that Christians should not celebrate the holiday as the pagans do, and perhaps not at all, as Christ never said to remember His birth. I must admit I would miss the tree, as I think they are pretty. We only have a 24-inch fake one. We're confused and need feedback from other sources that we respect and might even give us input opposite of what we want to hear, but we want truth in our home, especially as our little one is now 20 months old. How can we make family traditions? We've started reading from the Word at dinnertime. That's a good start. I know you're busy. I've seen your itinerary. Only respond if you can."
Well, there are two heresies which have plagued the Church from its very beginning. The first is making Christianity merely spiritual. The second is making it secular. By the first--making Christianity merely spiritual--means emphasizing only the invisible, the transcendent, the eternal and the spiritual aspects. Number two--making it secular--means emphasizing the rituals--churchgoing, rules, regulations, tithing, washing the outside of the cup, as the Pharisees did, outward observances.
Nowadays the temptation is to govern our lives by our emotions versus principle. The first of those heresies, where Christianity was made merely spiritual, is called Manichaeanism--a rejection of the world, an escape into a fleshless spirituality, equating the world with evil and rejoicing in gloom.
Now we've just been over the fact that the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ is called the Incarnation, the enfleshing of the holy God who is spirit. And so in the Incarnation God showed us once and for all that the flesh is not in itself wicked and that we are not to create a fleshless spirituality. This has plagued the church down through 2000 years of its history--the impossibility, seemingly, of getting people to understand that Christianity embraces all the material things of the world.
God has made this world. God made our flesh. God took our flesh and it is not in itself evil. We are not to deny our nature. We are not to deny our bodies. We are not to deny sexuality, for example. Paul said, "If you eat or you drink, do everything for the glory of God." Eating and drinking are pretty fleshly activities, aren't they?
Now, the second heresy--reducing everything to the outward observance, reducing the church to the world and its problems (its hassles, as we say now), a preoccupation with temporal things, with possessions, with status, with worldly power, with influence, success, statistics--all of that is a heresy if you deny the spiritual. So we have to try to understand that Christianity does bring together spirit and flesh. This is exactly what the Christmas story is meant to teach us, among other things.
So back to the question of Christmas trees. Do they mean anything? Well, the Bible tells us that we are to rejoice, and we are to rejoice with singing and dancing and playing musical instruments. There's just so much about that kind of thing in the Psalms. We sing "Deck the halls with boughs of holly. Fa la la la la, la la la la." And, of course, there's nothing very Christian about that particular song, but I wouldn't say that it's anti-Christian. Christians have far more reason to rejoice at Christmastime than anybody else. Isn't it pitiful that most of the world doesn't even know what Christmas is all about?
But I believe that we are meant to deck ourselves with joy, and we can deck the halls with boughs of holly, if you happen to have boughs of holly. And if all you have is one little candlestick--as I mentioned the other day, that's really all we had besides a Christmas tree without any lights--use that.
There's a great hymn that says, "Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness. Leave the gloomy haunts of sadness. Come into the daylight splendor, there with joy thy praises render unto Him whose grace unbounded hath this wondrous banquet founded."
Now, this is a hymn for communion in the Church, the time in which we partake of the Lord's Supper, in which He said, "This is My body and this is My blood." Body and blood are fleshly things, aren't they? They're very material, very visible. And it's in the bread and the wine, or in the bread and the cup, depending on how your church views it, that Christ is giving Himself to us. So He says we are to deck ourselves with joy.
And on this particular day, this celebration of God's giving Himself to us in the form of a baby, we have the greatest reason in the world to deck ourselves and deck our halls with gladness, with joy. Remember that the angel said to the shepherds, "I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people."
Our Christian faith is a proclamation of joy, of the only true and possible joy to be had here on earth. And I'm going to say that again. Christianity is a proclamation of the only true and possible joy to be had here on earth. The earth offers us much in the way of fun and happiness, but that word "Joy" with a capital J, it goes a whole lot deeper than anything that this earth can offer.
The Lord Jesus told His disciples not very long before He left them to go back to heaven that He had explained many things to them, in order, He said, "that My joy may be in you." He had spoken of obedience. He Himself had set the example by obedience to His Father. And He said, "If you obey, then you will find My joy in you."
Joy in the Old Testament was expressed by decorations in the tabernacle, in the temple, by singing, dancing, feasting and psalms. You and I need visible, outward signs. We're not to worry about whether the pagans did this. It's human to celebrate. The pagans ate and drank and wore clothes, and so do we. We don't refuse to do those things because pagans do them. That's a very narrow-minded view when we decide that we cannot do things because the pagans did them.
Now we have to be very careful--very careful--please don't write me letters and say that "Elisabeth Elliot says it's okay to do anything the pagans did." That's nonsense, of course. But the fact that pagans happened to celebrate in some of the same ways in which we would like to celebrate--feasting and rejoicing--is no reason to refuse to do those things.
We use birthday cakes. Why? Well, because we're happy to celebrate another year in somebody's life. Candles, gifts, special food--perhaps you don't always have candles on the dinner table, but perhaps when you have company you do. You might even fix a bowl of flowers. You might even buy some flowers. Are they necessary? Not really, but they're necessary for joy, for celebration, to make things lovely for your guests.
A baby's birth--pink ribbons, showers, silver cups. Marriage--we celebrate them with visible things--the veil, which signifies virginity, the most formal clothes, the candles, the flowers, the cake.
So a Christmas tree, I think, is a beautiful thing. The tree itself was made by God. Why not bring it into the house as you bring a bouquet and decorate it so that you can make a beautiful thing to remind you of that Baby's birth so long ago in such a humble place?
Lisa Barry: Well, I have to admit, I'm all for the celebrating. I love the family togetherness and the time of reflection. I love the festivities. I enjoy hearing and thinking about the Christmas story and realizing that those were real people with fears and hopes. We may differ on how and when to celebrate our Lord's birth as a holiday, but hopefully we're all acknowledging it each day as we meet with Him.
You may know someone who is a twice-a-year church attender and who would appreciate the concise and biblical way Elisabeth has approached the subject. If you'd like to order a copy of the cassette for this week, we can make it very easy for you to do that. Simply write to us and ask for the tape entitled CHRISTMAS LESSONS AND CAROLS.
For more information on how to purchase that, you can write to us at Gateway To Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, Nebraska, 68501. Or call 1-800-759-4JOY. That's 1-800-759-4569. Gateway To Joy has been a production of Back to the Bible. Our Internet ministry address is gatewaytojoy.org.
Well, be with us again tomorrow as Elisabeth continues on this holiday theme with a look into lessons and carols. That's next time here on Gateway To Joy.