Friday, December 10, 2010

More on why we don't need to defend Christmas

Allan Bevere, my colleague here at Ashland Seminary, has chipped in on why we should not defend Christmas and why modern Christianity is in a sad state when it fails to give proper recognition to the resurrection rather than the birth of Jesus.

Here are some of Allan's points:

First, the New Testament places the central emphasis on the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Every book of the New Testament refers to Christ's resurrection. One of the central christological claims of the early Christians was "He is risen!" not "He is born!" Of the four Gospels, two-- Matthew and Luke-- have birth narratives, and in Galatians Paul only briefly mentions that Jesus was "born of woman" (4:4). I am certainly not suggesting that the birth of Jesus is unimportant. I am simply pointing out that it does have the central emphasis given to it in the way the New Testament writers focus on Jesus' cross and resurrection.

Second, incarnation is exceedingly significant, but it's significance is highlighted by Jesus' death and resurrection. Without Easter, incarnation makes no sense. Indeed, I submit that without resurrection, the claim of incarnation is irrelevant at best and more likely absurd in its worst form. The classic text on incarnation-- Philippians 2:5-11-- places cross and resurrection as the focal point and climax of incarnation. It is true that Paul mentions the Son being born in human likeness, but the "emptying" of Christ finds its importance in his humbling on the cross and the exaltation of resurrection.

Third, the church did not begin celebrating the birth of Christ until the fourth century A.D., some three hundred years after Jesus, and it took an additional 400 years after that for the feast day to be commonly observed in Europe. Easter, on the other hand, was already being celebrated as a specific annual feast day by the middle of the second century A.D. We also know that very early the Christians were gathering to worship on Sunday, The Lord's Day, not because it was the Sabbath (in Judaism the Sabbath is on Saturday), but because it was on the first day of the week that Jesus was raised from the dead. It is apparent, then, that the earliest Christians viewed the centrality of Jesus' resurrection in a way that they did not also understand his birth.

Allan makes some excellent points and with more precision than my own post. Read his full post here.


  1. The two differing birth stories (ahistorical but rich in allusion) also suggest that no one really knew much of anything about Jesus' birth.

  2. John, thank you for your posting. We should defend Christmas though: (1) aside from faith issues, Charles Dickens said it best; (2) whether we Protestants like to admit it or not, tradition plays a huge part in our practice (do we want to dispense with the calendar?); (3) if we want to justify, canonically, the significance of Jesus' birth we have plenty of places to go to (and we shouldn't forget Johannine Writings); and (4) the early Church was deeply interested in Jesus' birth too (the Proto-Evangelium of James being a great instance).

    Maybe the point is that Easter deserves a more prominent place in North American Christianity. European Christianity certainly places as much emphasis on Easter (German and British Unis still give 5 to 6 week holidays) as Christmas. Here in Ireland one still enjoys seeing the faithful with ash on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday. On Good Friday there is not a place in the country where it is legal to buy booze (not even a beer).

    In the US, where political correctness is driving out Christmas ("happy holidays" replaces "Merry Christmas"), I really enjoy living in a country where this is not the case. We should defend Christmas. It is beautiful culturally, and it is huge theologically.

    Happy Christmas!

    Ben Wold (Dublin)

  3. I'm not sure that the whole Christmas extravaganza thing is entirely a modern event.
    I mean, how many Easter carols do we sing or buy CDs for?
    I think a lot of it goes back at least to the Renaissance, or perhaps, as Mary became more prominent in the early church.
    If we venerate the mom, we better celebrate the birth.