A Very Messianic Christmas

Like many small Messianic congregations, the congregation I attend rents space from a larger Protestant church.

A few weeks ago, a member of the church who is organizing the church’s Christmas service contacted me and asked if we Messianics would be willing to partake in the Christmas service.

How would you respond?

Her request was that we play some Hebrew songs, sound the shofar, and maybe do some dancing if that was our thing. Show the Jewish side of Christmas, she said.

I had mixed feelings about this.

Primarily, we, and indeed most Messianics, do not celebrate Christmas. It’s not biblical, its connections to Messiah’s birth are dubious, and the paraphernalia associated with the holiday have less to do with Christ and more to do with old world religious rites.

It’s my conviction that the people of God ought not celebrate this holiday, and our taking part in the service would send the wrong message.

On the other hand, I gotta to step back and look at this from a bigger perspective: an outsider would totally laugh at us little groups squabbling with each other over what days we celebrate, what foods we eat, and all the divisions to the Nth degree that we inflict upon ourselves. In that regard, the evil one has us right where he wants us, I think.

I mean, aren’t there bigger things to worry about? How about personally living a righteous life in private and public? How about peace and unity among Messiah’s disciples? While we’re squabbling about holidays, couldn’t we be busy, oh, I don’t know, feeding the poor, helping widows and orphans? And yet we spend 95% of our time arguing about times and seasons and theologies.

That’s not really the religious life I’m looking to live.

On top of that, the woman who approached us to take part in the Christmas service was humble, sincere, and showed nothing but kindness to us. The last thing I want to do is go in there shouting all Zany Zealot commando-style, “Christmas is pagan! Christmas is pagan!”

So, I, personally, was completely torn about this issue.

The other leaders in our congregation spent a few weeks mulling this over in discussion and prayer. We ended up declining the invitation. Today I sent out the following message to the woman who is organizing the Christmas service, names anonymized:

Hi Rachel,

Our congregation has given much thought and prayer to your invitation to take part in the Christmas service.

The reason we were hesitant to accept is, for Biblical reasons, Messianics do not celebrate Christmas. By all means we honor Messiah's birth, which likely took place during the biblical Feast of Tabernacles. But because December 25th was chosen to overwrite previous pagan winter solstice celebrations, Messianics instead celebrate his birth during Tabernacles, and we do so without the non-Biblical paraphernalia  (trees, holly, wreaths, etc.) associated with Christmas.

It's for these reasons we must respectfully decline your invitation.

Thanks for contacting us, Rachel. All of us -- myself, Bryan, Jesse -- recognized sincerity and humility in you. We honestly thank you for the kindness you've shown us.

Be blessed in Messiah Yeshua.

-Judah Himango

I wanted to be careful in my criticism. I wanted to avoid fixating solely on the negative. I also wanted to make it clear we are not denying the miraculous birth of Messiah, which the gospels record being met with angel-singing and rejoicing. At the same time, I wanted to stand for my convictions. I hope my letter portrayed those things.

What would you do, fine Messianic blog reader, if a church asked you to participate in their Christmas service?

33 comments:

  1. " Show the Jewish side of Christmas, she said."--LOL!

    You have done very good, and showed a lot of respect.

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  2. Yeah, we too cringed at that statement privately. We knew she didn't understand the matter, and was she was sincere, so we did not mock or rebuke her about it.

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  3. I think your response was careful and thoughtful. I'm having similar issues regarding Halloween!

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  4. Nicely done Judah. I believe it was the right decision given the circumstance. While the person requesting your presence probably meant well, there would be those who would make use of your involvement as a way to accuse you of hypocrisy. There are, unfortunately, those in the church system who view our Messianic beliefs as a threat to their way of life and look for ways to invalidate our walk.

    On the brighter side, it sounds like there are some at that church who like you guys being around.

    Shalom

    Ef

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  5. Yeah, definitely. The church pastor, several deacons and elders have shown us only hospitality. They've been good examples for the Lord, frankly.

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  6. We, as you know were invited to use the facilities of the Mormon Church. Last year we invited them to our Passover seder, and many of them attended.

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  7. A big challenge with posts like this, and what is often witnessed in the Messianic world, is that what is supposed to be private congregational information is made public for all to see.

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  8. Anonymous,

    Can you explain? It sounds like you're saying this should have been a private matter not discussed.

    For me, it was an issue I struggled with, and I suspect others do as well. So I posted about it respectfully with names anonymized.

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  9. "A big challenge with posts like this, and what is often witnessed in the Messianic world, is that what is supposed to be private congregational information is made public for all to see."

    Hmmm, I see no reason why this would need to be kept private, if anything, this needs to be discussed more... So less christians are offended and less messianics are screaming "Christmas is Pagan!"

    If anything it helps people to understand better where others are coming from..

    Judah,

    I think it was a respectful letter. That is needed more often.

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  10. This could have been something you shared a few *years* after the fact, after having sat on it long enough after Dec 25.

    The fact is, what you have done in presenting this information to everyone, is not untypical to the Messianic community. The big leaders out there tend to always share private information publicly, and it has been a huge cause of division and discord. You are not trying to do this here, but would you share close family business in the same manner?

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  11. Zion/Jeruz,

    I appreciate that this blog is not trying to be mean to those who keep Christmas, but the subject can be addressed differently without interjecting congregational affairs that should be kept confidential for a reasonable time.

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  12. I appreciate that this blog is not trying to be mean to those who keep Christmas, but the subject can be addressed differently without interjecting congregational affairs that should be kept confidential for a reasonable time.

    Again, I am not really seeing your point here? I also do not see anything private or anything that could be considered confidential.

    Also what is considered a reasonable time?

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  13. YEARS. If you have ever run a business, or have been involved in a high security job or have served in the military, you would know. Most Jewish and Christian leaders who have been properly trained know to keep a degree of information private.

    This might ultimately not be that big a deal in the wider scope, but Messianics do not tend to have the discipline to keep private congregational matters private--because people from this church are likely to read this blog.

    The issue of Christmas could have been addressed differently.

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  14. Anon,

    I apologize for causing irritation. My intent was only to write frankly about something I struggled internally with, not to air our dirty laundry of any kind. It probably would have been more tasteful to post this after some period of time.

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  15. "...because people from this church are likely to read this blog."

    I don't think anything in this blog will be offensive for the church to read, if anything, it will be educational...

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  16. Judah,

    This is not dirty laundry, and Anonymous is a MORON.

    You have done nothing wrong. You have raised a lagitimate issue, and a blog is the right place to hash it.

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  17. Dan Benzvi,

    Always nice to exchange words with one who is mature in the faith.

    Sincerely, "the Moron"

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  18. Guys, please, we should be able to disagree without insulting each other.

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  19. Surely you did a mitswah by being so kind to her! Keep in mind that they don't understand as we did before we knew the "truth".

    Keep up the kindness! To reach out your hand to the poor (of knowledge) means much more than debating about theology.

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  20. First off Judah, you might want to avoid feeding the troll. However, if there's really a concern regarding making public this transaction, you could always ask the people at the church if it's OK to blog about the conversation.

    Secondly, I think you handled the situation well. That said, I do find that during the Christian season, many Christians take the opportunity to behave more "Christ-like" by performing acts of kindness and charity. I certainly can't argue against doing good to others and wish that "the church" and Messiniacs would behave with such kindness the year around.

    As you might expect, our congregation doesn't celebrate Christmas but I know we have a few members who do so privately. One woman has a very strong spiritual and emotional bond to the season and it's not my place to be dogmatic about or critical of her private life.

    Also, many of us have family members who celebrate Christmas. It is very meaningful to my parents and I would never dishonor them by being critical of their choice in this matter.

    Good post, Judah. Well done.

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  21. Thanks.

    For what it's worth, to my knowledge, no one from the church visits Kineti.

    I understand people have deep ties to Christmas. Some of those ties seem unhealthy, as people get their childhood emotions wrapped up in this holiday, which I've seen cause disappointment and sadness. I wonder if that's one reason why there are more suicides on Christmas day than any other day of the year.

    I admit to being less than consistent here. My wife's parents celebrate Christmas and always invite us to their home for a Christmas meal. Out of a desire for family harmony, I oblige. No Christmas ham, though, thankfully. :-)

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  22. Big Christmas fan here, so although I rarely comment, im adding my 2 cents worth.

    My point is, even though Xmas isn't an appointed time, whats the harm in adding another day of celebration? Xmas is about giving to others, food kitchens and charities tend to do well during this time, families get together, etc.

    I get the notion that the roots of the holiday are somewhat pagan, but I think there is a big difference between bowing down to a tree in worship, like the pagans of the past, and throwing up a Xmas tree with presents for the kids.

    I tell my kids Xmas isn't the exact B-day of Jesus, but its the day we celebrate his love for us, by giving to others.

    P.S. - Not a big fan of santa, the reindeer are ok tho.

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  23. I support you!
    I stand with you!
    Brother!!

    Shabat Shalom from Taiwan.
    ^_^

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  24. Thank you, 戚居廣.

    Mike, good question.

    Couple things come to mind. I've met Christians-turn-atheists who point to Christmas and say, "See? This is all a load of garbage. The *few* people that know the truth about it, and know it's not really Jesus' birthday *still* celebrate it, pretending it's his birthday! Backwards! Perfect example of religious ignorance!"

    Then there's the fact that we encourage a myth. My son attends a Christian school. At the Christmas play a few years ago, I remember them singing a song about how Jesus was born, then, an altar call: "Will you confess that Jesus was born on Christmas day as the Christ?"

    What happens when a person who is changed by giving their life to the Lord suddenly finds out Christmas actually isn't Jesus' birthday? When, as one 12th century bishop recorded,

    "It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25 December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day."

    Then of course there's the whole deal of people getting so emotionally attached to this holiday.

    Then there's the commercialization of the holiday.

    Then there's non-Biblical elements that add to the myth: an invisible man who rewards well-behaved children with gifts. Flying caribou. Gift-making elves. Yuletide. A lot of Norse mythology woven here.

    ...and Messiah's disciples are all for this? It just doesn't sit right.

    Look, I'm trying not to be too critical here. I'm trying to be pragmatic. I agree with you that it's not the same as worshiping an idol -- even though some people come close to that by decorating trees with family heirlooms and making it the centerpiece of their home -- it just doesn't seem like something Messiah's disciples ought to get into.

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  25. @Judah: I think your response was loving and more than appropriate.

    As well, because Messy-anics do not have the same communications channels such as leadership confernces etc.(we don't want them) - it is most appropriate to publicly share our experiences with others regarding issues such as this.

    Anonymous was "anonymous" which says far more than anything he/she typed.

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  26. Judah,
    I think that you did a great job. You are a very skilled wrighter. You hit the points about why Messianic don't celebrate this holiday day, in a very informative manner. GOOD JOB!

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  27. I will comment as a Christmas-celebrating Catholic (converted from a Christmas -celebrating protestant), and put myself in the shoes of the lady and her congregation. I would have found your comments and the messianic congregation's letter very polite and respectful. But I am a "messiance sympathizer" so...there you go.

    Todd

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  28. sorry typo - "messianic sympathizer"

    Todd

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  29. "It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25 December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity...."

    What is the source for this quote? I have been wondering about the original intent of the prohibition concerning kindling a fire on the Sabbath day and whether or not it had to do with imitating a pagan custom.

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  30. I would have just gone and connected on whatever level I could.

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  31. Very well put note back, Judah. You went even further than I might have gone. I think I might have just said "We do not celebrate xmas and if we celebrate Yeshua's birth, it would be during the Feast of Tabernacles" and left it at that. But I think you put it very nicely and respectfully.

    I agree we do need to maintain relations with heartfelt xians, but you do need to draw the line somewhere.

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  32. @Jeremiah,

    I sympathize. I considered going myself and playing some music for them. But I did not want to create division within my congregation.

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Husband, dad, disciple of the Jewish Messiah Yeshua, technologist. Author of Chavah Messianic Radio, MessianicChords, and EtzMitzvot. @judahgabriel


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