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Reflections on Christmas     by Bille Burdick


Oh Come Let Us Adore Him ...

It was 1992 when I wrote and first posted this essay as a "Christmas card" to my net families. I wrote it originally as a response to a debate that raged on SDAnet the first Christmas that I was a part of that group over whether we as Christians, and especially as Seventh-day Adventist Christians, should observe Christmas in celebration of the birth of Christ.

It was indeed encouraging to me when after posting this essay that year, I received a very heart-warming letter in which the writer expressed thanks for the new peace that had come to their home in regard to celebrating Christmas....and how they had, for the first time, been able to reconcile the observance of Christmas with the facts of its pagan associations and its not being the actual day of Christ's birth. 

Each Christmas season since then I have sent it again to my net family, as well as making it available year round on this section of our At Issue pages, hoping that those who enter in to the joy of the season may find some new thoughts about the holiday you hold dear...and that those who may have had prohibitions or reservations about celebrating Christmas may be encouraged to look at the day in a more joyful way...and join with us, and with the angels, in singing...

Joy to the world,  
The Lord is come....

Reflections on Christmas...

...and solstice and pagans and Jews and Gentiles and times and seasons and  angels' songs and Christmas trees--and a baby born in a stable.

On winter Solstice... Could one born in the tropics comprehend the long, dark, winter arctic night? Or even we of temperate zones, in our warm,  well lighted rooms--what can we know of the feelings of earlier tribes who watched the sunlit hours grow fewer and fainter each day, until there was solstice and the sun stopped its retreat and began to return. Those who knew the Lord--that it was He who made the sun, and ordered the seasons--these surely celebrated and gave Him thanks, and praised the Lord when  they saw the sun returning. When they saw the season turning, surely  they worshiped Him.

But not all knew the Lord. Some saw only the things that were made--the sun and the earth that provided their food. And they (some ignorantly,  some willfully) turned from worshiping the Lord to worshiping instead  those things the Lord had made. We call them pagans. At the turning  of the season they called solstice, they celebrated, and gave thanks,  and praised and worshiped those things that were but the signs of the  turning of the year.

And then came Jesus. And Christians chose the solstice celebration and appropriated it as a celebration of His coming. And some Christians  think this was a very bad thing to do--for Solstice had "pagan origins",  and Christ was not born at Solstice.

But think with me a little farther. Perhaps it should not be so quickly condemned.

First of all, did Pagans really *originate* the celebrations of Solstice?  I tend to agree with C. S. Lewis when he observes that Satan does not "originate" anything. He has no creative power. He only rebels, he perverts, he turns men from worshiping the creator to worshiping the creation. But it is the function of the gospel to turn men's hearts back  to worshiping the true God. So why should we think of Solstice as being  only a pagan holiday which was "Christianized"? (This term meaning, I  suppose, only a thin veneer of respectability which covers a pagan--and  therefore evil--heart.) Might we not better think of it as a holiday, a  holy day--a day of celebration, praise, and worship which Christianity reclaimed--that is, removed its pagan heart--and redirected its praise  and worship back to the true Creator God?

It is true, Christ was not born at winter solstice as men count the  turning seasons of the year. Yet Christ was born at winter solstice--in the turning of the history of the world. 

When "the light of truth seemed to have departed from among men, when  faith had grown dim, and hope had well-nigh ceased to illuminate the  future." when "the dark shadow that Satan had cast over the world grew  deeper and deeper," when even the "priests who ministered in the temple  had lost sight of the significance of the service they performed," when  "the deception of sin had reached its height," when all the world, it  seemed, lived in an arctic winter darkness...

"When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son". . .  "Wonder, O heavens! And be astonished, O earth!" (quotes from Desire of Ages by Ellen White) Then it was that angels brought light and song and  celebration to temple shepherds keeping watch...for Christ the Lord was  born that day! It was "Christ-mas" day--the first glimmer of the  "return of the Son", the beginning of God's "Christ-mass"--"Christ- sacrifice"--that was to culminate at Gethsemane and Calvary and burst forth on the resurrection morning in light more glorious than the noonday  summer sun.

The gods of field and forest and star and sun and Roman Empire were shown to be no gods. And the day of praise which they had usurped was given  back to God. The day of celebrations for the sun's return was made a day  of celebration for the coming of the Sun of Righteousness, the babe in  the manger.

Oh, yes, from our vantage point in history, we know that not all men gave their full allegiance to the King of Kings. We know that Christians  allowed pagan thoughts to infiltrate the church, causing a period of  great darkness even in the church. We know that Christians today are not single minded in their worship. We even know that paganism is  arising again, that Christ is being outlawed from public schools and  government property while neo-pagan and Gaia (earth) rituals are encouraged. Solstice is once more being celebrated by some. So let's  be against pagan elements that have clung to (or grown upon) the holy  day called Christmas. Let's be against the secular commercialization  of Christmas. But please! Let's not let (or help) these same elements  squeeze Christ out of our Christmas!

If the celebration of solstice had not existed, would Christians have started it? We just might have--we who lived in lands of ice and snow  and long winter nights--we just might have. Darkness is depressing.  We just might have cheered each other with tales of light and song and  Bethlehem. I hope we would have. Maybe, in fact, we did. Our present  day pagans (and their true leader) would like to take credit for much  more than history actually records. Let us not glorify them. Paganism  never quite lives up to its own self-portrait.

There's a song that keeps running through my head, "Christmas helps us to remember, to do what other folks hold dear." Not all the spending, or even the over-spending, that goes on at Christmas has to do with "greed" or gratification of "lusts". This is the time of year when we can lay aside our timidities and give to those we love. What if we sacrifice a bit of  our selves. What if the merchant is enriched as well as our friend--it's Christmas. God gave Himself to us. It is that thought that helps us step outside ourselves and give a bit extra to each other.

At our house, we have a tree. It is a fir tree. (We can still get real trees where I live--though we can't go out and cut our own as we once did.) It will die. And as it dies it will release its perfume. More than it does in its living, it will bless us in its dying. I see symbolism here that looks beyond the manger to a life of blessing and a death of saving. We have lights on our tree--and an angel on the top--the one my oldest son picked out the Christmas he was five. We will remember--stars and angels and Bethlehem and Christmases past. Our tree trimmings all have history--some we made when our children were little, some were gifts from very dear friends, some are merely decorative. Our traditions bind us as a family--and not just our visible family. We celebrate the birthday of our Elder  Brother.

For you who do not see beyond the commercialization or paganization of Christmas, I pray that your eyes may be opened. May you see, and feel, and know, along with those of us who celebrate, the peace and love  and joy and hope that is kindled anew with each remembrance of His birth.

For you who sing the songs of Christmas...May your hearts open to his love and peace in a new and joyfully intense way on this Christmas.

God bless,

Bille Burdick
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