Why You Probably Shouldn’t be Celebrating Christmas

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The unexamined life is not worth living

– Socrates

In a business marketing class I once heard a quote by Stephen Covey: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” The lesson was that for a startup it made more sense to focus on your core business competency in terms of product. For a tech startup that might mean honing down on the main feature of your application and working on it until it works perfectly and delightfully, and if possible inimitably. Complicating an application with too many fancy features, appealing as they may be, could make your product – and business – confused and frustrating for your customers, but also unguided and uncertain for your workers. The main thing for your business is to keep the main thing the main thing.

In life more generally I have heard that expressed as an admonition to not “major in the minors and minor in the majors”; we should not, in other words, get our priorities all mixed up. It is a key lesson for life, no doubt, one that few of us really learn until it becomes too late. This is obvious in many areas of our lives: finance, business, family, love. The list is endless and concerning. Socrates, of course, said the unexamined life is not worth living, and I am sure you agree. In that spirit I suggest to you, with no intention to offend, one other area of life that bears examination this festive season, and it is Christmas. I have come to the conclusion that you probably should not be celebrating it, and here is why.

For some Christians Christmas is a contentious issue. They see it as a festival steeped irredeemably in pagan history and tradition. This is not about them or their view. I have already said enough on that. This is about what constitutes a sensible list of priorities for a Christian looking to celebrate Christ Jesus. It seems to me that that list should begin with what is binding and end with what is optional. As it turns out, Jesus has been rather clear about this. He left no ambiguity, however some may like to twist it, about what we ought to celebrate. By way of ordinances he enjoined us to keep the ordinances of baptism and Holy Communion: the foot washing and partaking of the Lord’s Supper. By way of moral command He told us:

“Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days thou shalt work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God.”  

That, friend, is a divine command. It stands forever.[1] It is not one of the abolished sacrificial ordinances.[2] A Christian is commanded to celebrate Jesus as his Creator before any notion of celebrating Him as Redeemer even begins to make sense. This is because first, that is reason for the command. “For in six days the Lord God created the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them”[3], including every celebrator of Christmas. Second, Christ would have no right to redeem us if He did not first own us by creation. This is how He owns us twice: first by His breath-giving life, and then by his sin-cleansing blood.

Jesus once told the Pharisees to keep the main thing the main thing. He said to them: “you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”[4] They were well and right to pay their tithes faithfully, but the main thing was to live the true righteous life, the life of love for God and man. It would be better for these Pharisees to leave their gifts at the altar and work first on restoring their broken relationships, exalting love.

Similarly I do not say to you that Christmas is evil or that you should not keep it; what I say to you is that like the Pharisees, if you are not first offering the gift of obedience to the clear command of God to celebrate His creative work, you have no business celebrating His redemptive work. If you will not remember the Sabbath day, but look gleefully forward to the Christmas day, then you have got your priorities all mixed up. In Akan a great proverb says we must do what is right before what is pleasant. We must do that which is commanded before reasonably attending to that which is permitted. In other words, and quite simply put, you cannot reasonably keep Christmas if you do not keep Sabbath. There is a logical dissonance to it. Christmas is not unbiblical, but it is not the main thing. Keep the main thing the main thing! Of course, we are not saying that keeping the Sabbath leads to celebrating Christmas, that is not the logic. Rather we are simply saying that celebrating Christmas is more consistent with keeping Sabbath than with not doing so. So you probably shouldn’t celebrate Christmas… at least not until you have attended to the weightier matters of the law.

It’s a funny thing, really. As you may know, some Christians insist that we should not celebrate Christmas at all because of its pagan origins. The airwaves, blogs and Facebook feeds are awash with dispute and debate, in which I do not care to participate. My own church supports Christmas, and teaches us to celebrate the birth of our Lord in positive, ministering, soul-winning ways. The big irony is that among such Christians are many Seventh-day Adventists; people who remember the seventh-day Sabbath of creation, and strive to faithfully celebrate it every week through the grace of God. It is precisely such people who seem to have more reason than any to celebrate Christmas. The tables appear to have turned in a most ironical way. Those who legitimately can[5] are hesitant and reluctant, fearful of ancient pagan rites that Paul declares to be nothing[6], while those who cannot do so with any reasonable basis are eager, unafraid of the ancient command of a holy God who will soon return in judgment. Funny old world, ain’t it?

Once more, the intention has not been to offend or upset anyone, or even to disrupt your festive celebrations (despite the title :-) ). Of course, let us remember that the invitation to keep the main thing the main thing is not a limited one. It goes beyond the celebration of days, important as they may be. It involves the whole human celebration of God. It is what Solomon had in mind when he enjoined us to fear and obey God as our ultimate duty, and I believe that Paul’s intent was not too far off the same point when he said that three things matter most: faith, hope and love.[7] That is true all year round, but also now during the Christmas period. Beloved let us love!

Merry Christmas… if you can receive it.

_

[1] Romans 3:31, 1 Peter 1:25

[2] Colossians 2:14, compare with Deuteronomy 31:24-29

[3] Exodus 20:8-11

[4] Matthew 23:23, NKJV

[5] Of course including many non-Adventist Christians

[6] 1 Corinthians 8:4

[7] 1 Corinthians 13:13

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Agana-Nsiire Agana is a theologian, communicator and writer. His passion is for communicating eternal truth in a contemporary context which is influenced by postmodern, secular thought. The gospel, though unchanging, can and should be expressed in terms of the challenges, philosophy and language of the present day.
  • Nana Akosah Panyin

    Needless celebrating the redemptive (say Christmas) work if one can hardly obey in appreciation for God’s love ( not by our might though). However, reading this one is tempted to say we have no business celebrating Christmas if we hardly keep the Sabbath. I’d rather one did not dwell on Sabbath alone but loving God with all strength, soul and mind as well as loving neighbour as self ( the summary of God’s immutable law).

    • Agana Agana-Nsiire

      I agree, 100% Akosah. That is the point of the concluding paragraph. Intentionally undeveloped because the focus of the article is the Sabbath :-)