Christmas Is For Pagans

Passages: Is. 41:4-14; Heb. 7:11-25; Lk. 19:12-28 
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Եսայ. ԽԱ 4-14; Եբր. Է 11-25; Ղկ. ԺԹ 12-28

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

“O come, all ye faithful, Joyful and triumphant, O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem. Come and behold Him, Born the King of Angels!”

In 1744, this beautiful hymn was written in celebration of Christmas inviting all to joyfully come and witness, to behold the newborn Christ Jesus. Almost 100 years earlier, in the 17th century in 1659, Puritans who had just come over from England to Massachusetts declared a ban on Christmas. Christmas for them was too ritualistic and closely tied to Catholicism. They blamed people who celebrated Christmas to be pagans – putting up Christmas trees, manager scenes, carols, etc.  Additionally, the date of Christmas for the Puritans was problematic because it was tied to the Winter Solstice and the Saturnalia, a pagan holiday before Constantine. And so in an effort to bring Christ back into the true celebration of the Nativity all public celebrations of December 25 as Christmas was banned. “Men dishonor Christ more in the 12 days of Christmas than in all the 12 months besides,” wrote 16th-century clergyman Hugh Latimer as Christmas partygoers used the holiday as an excuse to feast, drink, gamble and engage in immoral behavior. What’s more, scripture doesn’t give a date, time or season of when Jesus was born and so therefore, in the 17th century the Puritans led by Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas in Massachusetts.

Now for us Orthodox Armenian Christian’s, we celebrate the Nativity, or birth and revelation of Christ on January 6. And this has historically always been the case for the Armenian Church from the very beginning. But without looking at the history of dates, without dissecting the differences between what we call Armenian and Western Christmas, I want us to ask ourselves, were the Puritans in the early American Colonial days correct? Today is December 25, and regardless of if it is Christmas or not, regardless of if historians, theologians, etc. are correct in the date of celebration, how are we celebrating? How many of our family members are not in Church? How many of us are truly here in mind, heart and spirit vs. how many of us are thinking about tonight’s dinner, the football game, on vacation or opening the presents under the tree? Perhaps my dears, the puritans were correct in that Christmas has become a pagan holiday where we use it as an excuse to feast, drink or go on vacations. There is nothing sinful or wrong about coming together and sharing in a meal, celebrating and exchanging presents or traveling for vacation, however, what are we celebrating? The birth of Christ, God in our life, the Light of the World that overcomes all darkness or a winter break? If not today what about on January 6th, what and how are we celebrating?

My dears, much of society these days no longer says “Merry Christmas”, we say Happy Holidays! We don’t sing Christmas carols where it says anything about Christ Jesus and rather to be inclusive, we change the lyrics or sing songs about presents and bells, and Santa Claus. In fact, the most popular Christmas song is what? Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is you” which prompted people in media to label Mariah Carey as Queen of Christmas. Thankfully, Mariah Carey responded very properly and said St. Mary is the Queen of Christmas not I.  But look at what Christmas has become? In response there are those who feel called to crusade around and say, “put Christ back into Christmas” or “it’s not X-mas, it’s Christmas” and of course “Merry Christmas not Happy Holidays.”

My dears, we are the ones, we who call ourselves Christian, followers of Christ Jesus, children of God, we need to be put Christ back into Christmas by bringing Christ back into our lives. Not merely by saying Merry Christmas but by living out what this season, this celebration is about – God with us today. Coming to Church, being here physically, emotionally, and prayerfully seeking out God. Then taking the Good News, the birth of Christ Jesus, the revelation of God with us and in us to the rest of the world. Sharing the light of God rather then quietly hiding that light, that faith so we are inclusive of others. Today’s inclusivity has become the reason why God’s word is not shared; in order not to offend those who don’t believe, we who do believe willingly hide our faith and therefore, do not bring healing, do not share God’s love with others in the way we are called to. Because today’s way of being inclusive is to be exclusive of God, to remove God from everything we do and make our faith a private, personal, 1 hour practice we do and not share. However, our faith, Christ Jesus born into this world is a gift meant to be shared with everyone and we as Christian’s, as those who claim to be witness to that gift, to the revelation of God in our world are entrusted with sharing that news, the revelation and healing with our families, friends, communities, etc. in whatever capacity we can. But do we want to? Are we truly celebrating Christmas or did the Puritans have it right, that Christmas is just another pagan celebration of the self, of commercialism, of debauchery and vain rituals?

Christ in today’s parable reading clearly says to those who have, more will be given and but from those who have not, even what they have will be taken away.  In other words, those who have faith, who live their faith, who pray, fast, repent, forgive, show mercy, hope, love and compassion, they will receive more – their faith will grow. Those who think they have, meaning those who falsely claim, but neither live their faith or make it into a mockery, from them it will be taken away. Where do we stand my dears?  Yes, for the Western world today is Christmas, a joyous celebration and we join in that celebration even if we as Armenian’s celebrate on January 6. 

We join not because we disregard our own date but because we must understand that Christ must be born and revealed, Christ is crucified and resurrected, Christ is present in our life every day, every moment and Christmas is not limited to just a single date in the year. We are called to live our life with this reality and share it with the world in any way we can.  Whether that means through volunteering, giving, or spending time in reflection and thanksgiving to God. In the classic movie Home Alone which we Chicagoans personally know very well, Christmas is beautifully lived out in the character of Gus Polinski.  For those who don’t remember, Gus Polinski, aka the Polka King of the Midwest and Kenosha Kickers, saw a distressed mother at the airport on Christmas Eve, trying to get home to her son and offered to give her a ride in his rented Budget truck. Yes, it’s a movie, but it shows the spirit of Christmas – to take the Good News of God, to share His love, hope and renewed life to others.

My dears, how are we celebrating Christmas? Sadly, our Churches are empty and most of our loved ones are not here. I pray, let us all pray, that we reflect on what is being celebrated today, how are we celebrating and how can we continue to celebrate throughout the year? For Christmas is not limited to lights, carols, dinners or trees but Christmas is realized in the presents of God in our lives. If today, if this year we have not done justice, we have not lived or understood what our faith must be, may it be that from today on, we strive to change, we ask God to truly be born into our life so that we will bring His love and healing to all those around us. Let us end this year with Christ and begin next year with Christ – because for us Christ is born everyday and we bow at the manger in worship everyday. 

“O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels!

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.”

Let us take that Good News to the whole world and give glory to the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords Amen!

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