How Important is Christmas to Christianity?
You would think with all the attention paid to it that Christmas must be the most important day for Christians. After all, December 25th is a Federal holiday and those don't get handed out for just any old occasion:
Looking over the list of Federal holidays you could argue that the only other holiday with a connection to God is Thanksgiving. After all, when we celebrate Thanksgiving, who are we giving thanks to? And if you're not giving thanks to God, who are you thanking and what are you thanking them for? Hopefully not just the government for giving you a holiday.
For me Thanksgiving is a very Christian celebration. First, it is a North American celebration which is not observed by most people outside the U.S. and Canada. The history of the Thanksgiving celebration is recent enough that there should be no question how it came to be and there is no question who started it. Here is the story:
Needless to say, the people who first celebrated Thanksgiving were Christians, the very same Christians who were escaping religious persecution in Europe and who first settled North America. And the celebration was the giving of thanks for the harvest because without that harvest those early settlers would not have had the resources to get through the winter.
And giving thanks is a key part of Christianity. Here is what the Christian New Testament says about it:
Of the verses that popped out at me was Philippians 4:6:
But I digress...
If Christmas is not the most important day of celebration for Christians, what day is? I think that would be a contest between Good Friday and Easter. Why?
The message of Christianity is rooted in two things: sin and salvation. The Bible teaches that man is a sinner and that sin has separated us from God. Man must be punished for sin and that punishment is capital punishment; death.
But God put into action a rescue plan - a way for man to escape the punishment. Someone else was sent to take the wrap for us; that someone was Jesus Christ. The Bible is quite clear, when Jesus was crucified he was being punished for our sins.
Christians observe Good Friday as the day that Jesus died as payment for our sins. With very good reason it can be argued that is the most important day for Christians.
So why is Easter important? Easter is the day when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. How can that be as important as the day Jesus died for our sins? The Bible explains that Easter was the day that Jesus demonstrated that he could conquer sin and death by conquering his own death. The Apostle Paul laid out the importance of the resurrection in the following chapter of the New Testament:
Virtually the WHOLE CHAPTER is about the resurrection and I would encourage you to click and read it for yourself.
Here is what I think is the key passage from that chapter:
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.
This is pretty frank talk. If there is no resurrection then there is no forgiveness for sins. Without it, we are lost. The death of Jesus was meaningless. But because of the resurrection we know that we have been saved from our sins and that we will be raised from the dead.
So how could Christmas be anywhere as important as Good Friday or Easter? There would have been been no death on a cross without the birth of Jesus.
Christmas celebrates the coming of the Messiah and there is one key component in the Christmas story that underlines that only Jesus could save us from our sins. For the death of Jesus to have been an acceptable payment for sins Jesus had to live a sin free life. But the Bible teaches that ALL men are sinners and that we all inherited our propensity to sin from our fathers, who inherited it from their fathers, all the way back to the first man - Adam. While Adam was not born a sinner, Adam chose to sin. When Adam sinned he became a sinner and his offspring have inherited the condition.
But the Bible teaches us that the father of Jesus was God himself. Jesus did not inherit the sinful nature that the rest of us were born with. That is why the virgin birth is such a critical part of Good Friday and Easter. Jesus could not have done what he did if he was a sinner. In order to be perfect he had to have a sin free beginning and then go on to live his life without sin. The Bible teaches us that that is exactly what he did.
So back to which of the days is most important. Is it Christmas, Good Friday, or Easter? I think you cannot have one without the other. All three are key elements and none of them stands alone as important without the others. But the key to celebrating ALL those days and every other day is found in the celebration of Thanksgiving. Here are a couple of verses from the search for the word thanks:
Colossians 3:17 (New American Standard Bible)
Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 (New American Standard Bible)
In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
So the key to the celebration of any Christian holiday is the giving of thanks, and it is in the spirit of giving thanks that I say Merry Christmas. I hope your holiday is a good one and that you take time to give thanks to God. I want you to know that I give thanks to God for you.