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A sermon written by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr., Pastor Emeritus
“And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother; and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11; p. 995 Scofield).
Dr. John R. Rice (1895-1980) was a good and sensible Christian. This evening I will give you the main points of his sermon, “I Love Christmas.” The sermon is shortened and some parts are worded slightly differently. Dr. Rice said:
I love the Christmas season. I find great joy in preaching on the Christmas themes of the angels, the shepherds, the manger, the virgin birth, the wise men. I have great joy in the Christmas carols. There is a joyful, happy note of worship in our home, and thank God, in my heart, through the Christmastime. I love the gathering together of my loved ones and family for Christmas. I love to give gifts, and I rejoice to be remembered by my loved ones and friends. I love the Christmas season (Dr. John R. Rice, I Love Christmas, Sword of the Lord, 1955, p. 7).
But Dr. Rice points out that some people “feel sour, cantankerous, and full of objections about Christmas” (ibid.). They criticize those who celebrate the birth of Christ.
I. First, they say that Christmas was not Christ’s birthday.
It is true that we do not know the precise day on which Jesus was born. The Bible does not tell us. But that does not make it wrong or sinful to remember the birth of Christ on Christmas Day.
Dr. Rice once knew a little girl who was born February 29, leap year. Since that day only appears every four years, or leap year, he points out that it was not wrong for her parents to celebrate her birthday on February 28, when it was not the actual date of her birth.
December 25 is as close to the birthday of Christ as we can come. We love the dear Lord Jesus, and we want everybody to remember His birth. We want to teach our children about the baby in the manger, about the wise men who came from the East to worship Him, about the angel’s announcement to Mary and the angel chorus who [sang to] the shepherds. And why is not December 25 as good a day for that as any other? Do you think it is wrong to remember the birth of Christ on the day which is as close as we can come to the birthday of Christ?
II. Second, they say that Christmas only means “Christ’s Mass,” a Catholic holiday to many.
They say that Christmas comes from Christ’s Mass, that it was initiated by Catholics, and that therefore Protestants should not observe it. That objection seems a little foolish to me.
[Many of the names of cities and towns in California came from the Catholics. Los Angeles was originally a Catholic name. But we do not think of the Catholics when we use the name “Los Angeles.” We are not thinking about Catholics when we say “San Diego,” or “San Francisco,” or “Sacramento.”] Names mean what they mean, no matter what origin.
The Seventh Day Adventists sometimes make a big deal out of the fact that we worship on Sunday, and Sunday comes from the worship of the Sun. I reply that Saturday is named for the worship of the heathen god Saturn! But nobody is thinking of worshipping the Sun when they use the word “Sunday” today. It is foolish to make an artificial distinction when none exists in the mind and heart of people who observe Christmas. January was named for the Roman god Janus. Are Christians therefore sinning when they call the month by that name? To every sensible person, Christmas simply means Christmas. It does not mean any kind of Mass. Catholics may observe it with a Mass, but Protestants do not.
III. Third, they say that Christmas was a former heathen holiday.
I think that Christmas was a former heathen holiday. This argument is not important. The heathen people did something on every day. They had ceremonies about sowing and reaping, about the solstices, and new moons. So, if heathen people used the twenty-fifth of December for idolatry, why shouldn’t Christians now use it to honor Jesus Christ and His birth? No matter what day we use to remember Christ’s birth, it will be a day someone else used for bad reasons. But, thank God, all days belong to Jesus Christ now, and no day belongs to heathen gods, including December 25th! December 25th should be used to honor Him, too, in one way or another.
IV. Fourth, they say that Christmas trees and decorations are an abomination.
Some people say that the Bible forbids Christmas trees in Jeremiah 10:3-4. But that Scripture does not speak of Christmas trees. It speaks of an idol made out of wood, covered with silver and gold. And the rest of the Scripture tells how elaborately and expensively the idol is made of silver and gold, and dressed in purple. [Dr. Hymers’ note: this passage could not be speaking of Christmas trees for two reasons (1) there was no Christmas and no Christmas trees in Jeremiah’s day (2) no one today worships a Christmas tree.] No, the Bible does not forbid Christmas trees. [They are no more sinful than the bouquet of flowers that many people have in their homes and churches at Christmas time.]
Is there any harm in decorating the house with holly, or mistletoe, or other evergreens? No more than decorating the house with pumpkins and cornstalks at Thanksgiving time! No more than decorating graves with flowers on Memorial Day! Surely God is not displeased if we pay attention to some of His natural beauties.
[Dr. Hymers’ note: it is said that the Christmas tree came from the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther seeing stars shining through the leaves of a pine tree, which he brought into the house and decorated with candles, to remind him of the star that shone when Jesus was born. If that legend is true, then the Christmas tree is of Protestant origin.]
I love Christmas and Christmas decorations, and I do not think they are wrong. They are only an expression of the joy that is in my heart when I think how God became a man, how the Creator became a baby, how “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (II Corinthians 8:9; p. 1236).
V. Fifth, they object to Christmas because of worldliness and unchristian revelry that takes place during the holidays.
It is true that many people do not honor Jesus Christ at Christmas. I think they greatly sin. Sometimes people tell the silly lie about Santa Claus and deceive little children with a heathen legend, when they should tell about the dear Lord Jesus. I think that is wickedness. A lie is always wrong and always hateful to God. Deceit is the poorest possible way to honor the birth of Jesus. Certainly to deceive little children with a lie about Santa Claus is a sin. No Christian ought to condone it. Yes, people often dishonor God at Christmas. I am sorry they do. I hope no Christian who hears this sermon will grieve God by such sins.
But we should not turn Christmas over to Satan and wicked people because some people sin at Christmas. Should we give up Sunday because it is often misused? There is more drunkenness on Sunday than any other day of the week. There is more revelry. Should Christians therefore give up Sunday and count it as the Devil’s day? Certainly not! There are a great many people who teach that baptism is essential to salvation. They give more honor to the water than to the Blood of Christ. That is wrong. But should we, therefore, disobey Jesus Christ about baptism because some have overstressed it and have held false doctrine about it? Certainly not!
The second coming of Christ has been a greatly abused and perverted doctrine with many. False cults have greatly perverted the doctrine of Christ’s coming. People set dates. Should the rest of us, then, ignore the clear Bible doctrine of Christ’s imminent second coming because the doctrine has been abused? Certainly not!
And we should not ignore the Bible doctrine of the fulness of the Spirit simply because many people associate it with talking in tongues and with sinless perfection.
In the same way, we would be very foolish if we turned Christmas over to Satan and worldly people. If the world has a Christmas of wild parties, let us make it a day of Christian love and fellowship, and a day that honors Christ!
Do other people make giving of gifts a mere form? Well, it does not need to be for Christians. Christians can give gifts that really express love.
Is it wrong to have a day of rejoicing? Is it wrong to have a Christmas dinner and send portions to others? No, indeed! When the remnant of Israel went back to the land from Babylonian captivity, under Nehemiah, the law was read and explained, and the people wept. But it was a time to rejoice rather than weep, so Nehemiah said:
“This day is holy unto the Lord your God: mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law. Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength”
(Nehemiah 8:9-10; p. 549).
Then verse 12 says:
“And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them”
(Nehemiah 8:12; p. 549).
Since those Israelites honored God by having a day of joy and feasting and of sending portions to others because the worship of God had been restored, then Christians today are right to have a day of rejoicing over the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ!
Yes, I love Christmas! I feel near to God at Christmastime. I love the Word of God at Christmas. I urge sinners to accept God’s great Christmas gift of Jesus at Christmastime.
Let us have, then, a happy Christmas, and make Christ supreme on this day which we remember in honor of His birth!