Most Messianics don’t celebrate Christmas.*
It’s foreign to Israel’s faith, it’s not commanded in the Scriptures, and it’s seen as a way of the nations we’re | warned | against | in the Hebrew Bible. Jews don’t celebrate Christmas, nor the Messianic gentiles joined to Israel.
Some Messianics become religiously fixated against Christmas. Anyone celebrating it is looked at as uncommitted to the Messianic faith. You’ve no doubt already seen the Facebook statuses, emails, and blog posts about why we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas.
But Messianic Jewish pioneer Stuart Dauermann tells us: don't get religiously fixated about Christmas. He writes,
When we form communities that get hot and bothered over the right day to celebrate the birth of Messiah, especially when they view those who disagree with them to be defectors from the True Faith, or to be defective in some manner; when we have people who pride themselves on being “more biblical than thou” on such matters; when we form communities religiously fixated on such issues, we are very much in danger of creating sectarian looney bins.
Dauermann goes on to say that while he does not celebrate Christmas, it should not be a religious fixation for us, lest we become a magnet for Demon-Under-Every-Stone types.
In the Messianic world, I've felt this imbalance for years. Hebrew Roots folks gravitate towards negativity about Christmas, amplifying its pagan origins and dubious connection to Christ, calling for its rejection as a non-negotiable article of faith.
In some aspects, they’re right: yes, it's not Jesus' birthday. Yes, it has pagan origins. Yes, it’s foreign to Israel faith.
And yet, it has been used by God for good.
Is it really so unbelievable that God can use whomever and whatever he chooses for good - even Christmas?
The Good in Christmas: Charity
Looking for the good in Christmas, I can see Christian goodwill and charity above all. This is something lacking in the Hebrew Roots world; we're all about paganoia, very little about charity and helping people.
Christians help people. And during Christmas, this effort is amplified.
I'm not alone in noticing this: one leading Jewish figure, the author and radio host Dennis Prager, has driven the largest amount of online donations for the Salvation Army, a Christian charity organization that helps especially during Christmas. They’re the red bucket, bell-ringing people out during Christmas season, raising money for charity.
Yes, a Judaism-practicing Jew appreciates and supports a Christmas charity.
Why can't we?
And Christian charity during Christmas is a powerful statement and a credit to our message, so much so that even by atheists on Reddit have defended it.
The Good in Christmas: Music
Another positive I've rediscovered in all this is Christmas music. In particular: it amplifies Israel's King.
I’m sure you’re all familiar with songs that have become associated with Christmas. If you consider their lyrics, they’re actually quite Scriptural:
"Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanu-El has come to thee, O Yisrael"
"Noel, noel! Born is the King of Yisrael"
For some reason, most modern Christian music omits Israel; rarely a word about Jerusalem, Zion, the Torah, Israel -- the very bread and butter of the Book of Psalms is lost on most modern Christian pop.
Hearing Christmas music that puts Israel back into Christianity is...welcomed.
And let’s not forget the delicious hidden reality that millions of gentiles are listening Mendelsson's (a Jew) Angels We Have Heard on High and thinking about a Messiah in a sukkah (even though they call it a manger!)
On the other hand, with so much Christmas inundation, I feel my Messianic faith and identity are compromised. I feel like December should be called Jewish Assimilation month.
My son and my daughter go to a Christian school; I've already attended one Christmas musical, one Christmas singing choir, and because my wife doesn't share my views, I'm likely headed to a Christmas celebration with her.
And when people see me doing Christmas-y things, I fear they’re thinking, “Well, if he’s really Messianic or Jewish or whatever, he must not be too committed to it! After all, he’s here with us.”
If he ain’t complainin’, he might as well get in line with the rest of us.
I'm trying very hard to not be "nostril-flaring, religiously fixated" on Christmas and how it's totally not Jesus' birthday, or its false-god origins, and to instead look for the good in Christmas.
And yet...I feel the roof-touching, dressed-to-the-hilt tree currently situated in my living room has nothing to do with Messiah, is an affront to my Messianic faith, symbolic of Christian triumph over Judaism, and ultimately a kind of emotional idol which people decorate, attach memorial trinkets to, sing songs about, place gifts under.
It is a difficult time for me; seems every year I blog my struggle with it.
My recommendation born out of experience and pragmatism
At this time in my life, at this point in my journey to live more like Messiah and less like the looney bin crowd, I have a recommendation for Messianics about Christmas. And yet, still I'm left with 4 questions for Messianics to answer. Maybe you will have answers.
My recommendation for Messianic believers is to not worry so much about Christmas. Like Dauermann says, let’s not become religiously fixated on it. It’s not commanded by God, it has some various ungodly things associated with it, it has some very good things associated with it. It’s really neither here nor there. When Messiah returns, Christmas won’t be important.
But 4 questions remain:
- If God really is using Christmas for good, shouldn't we be joining in?
- If we do join Christmas celebrations, how can we keep from assimilation? Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots are meant to encourage holiness (set apart-ness) from the world by embracing God's Torah which commands us, “Do not learn the ways of the nations.” Joining the nations in their holiday celebrations feels antithetical to that divine goal.
- If Messianics celebrate Christmas, doesn’t it send the wrong message to the rest of Israel and the Jewish people, affirming we’ve learned the ways of the nations and ultimately rejected the Torah? Isn’t this a step backwards; isn’t God leading us out of such practices and towards restoration?
- If origins don’t matter, as proponents of once-pagan Christmas will say, why is God so concerned with Israel avoiding forms of Canaanite and Egyptian worship? No idols-representing-God, no calf boiled in mother’s milk, no temple prostitution, no learning the ways of the nations, no mixing holy and profane. All these to avoid even the appearance of emulating the ways of the nations, all repeatedly commanded by God in the Torah. Does that not apply anymore, or are we feeling too comfortable in the diaspora with the ways of the nations?
Difficult questions. I think if we were in Israel, the answers would come much more easily.
But here we are, 2000 years removed from Messiah, on the other side of the planet, surrounded by culture (or family!) that embraces Christmas…and now the answers are not so clear in my mind.