After having spent a couple years wrestling with the arguments against celebrating Christmas put forth by some in the reformed world, I have come to a better appreciation and a cleaner conscience on celebrating Christmas. I believe we can celebrate Christmas (and other Christian feasts) for the following reasons:
1. The Church has been given the responsibility to teach all that Christ commands. The Church must teach the whole council of God. Seeing how this impossible to do all at one time, the Church also has the authority to decide what parts of scripture and when those parts may be taught. Reformed Christians practice this weekly as the Pastor/elders decide what will be preached. There is no biblical reason for why the Church would be forbidden to teach a certain truth at the same time each year. This falls clearly within the authority and liberty of The Church to do. Those who would forbid the Church teaching the nativity once a year have created an unbiblical rule that binds the liberty of the Church.
2. While the Lord’s Day is the only day set aside by Christ’s mandate for worship, the Church may still gather to worship and to have instruction on other days. The early church met together daily. Reformed churches often set aside Wednesdays weekly for some kind of religious gathering be it bible study or prayer meeting. If these churches have the authority to set a part a Wednesday evening for worship than surely they could set apart a time once a year to teach the incarnation of Christ.
3. The Bible has several examples of God’s people responding to God’s work with times of thanksgiving and times of fasting. The Westminster confession of faith says that days of fasting or of thanksgiving are permitted. One of the proof texts given was the celebration of Purim. This was a feast created by Mordecai after the Jews were delivered from their enemies in the book of Esther. This was not a part of the feasts and festivals given in the law through Moses. There is no description of Mordecai being told directly by God to establish this feast. Some might say that since this is found in scripture, Mordecai was inspired by the Holy Spirit to create these feast. This would beg the question. When asked to provide an example of a non-inspired celebration found in scripture, no matter what one would point to, the same argument could be made.
But we do have even a better example of a nonlaw yearly celebration that finds its origin not in scripture but yet was celebrated in the time of Christ. John 10:22-23 At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. The scriptures make it clear that Jesus was in the temple during Hanukkah. Hanukkah or the Feast of Dedication was created in response to events that happened during the intertestamental period. Its creation is extrabiblical and yet Christ is found in the temple during it. Surely if the Jews could celebrate God’s deliverance during the time of Maccabees than the Church can praise God and give thanks for his act of deliverance of all mankind in sending Christ.
4. Holidays vs Holy Days: Part of the argument against celebrating Christmas is that only the Lord can make a day Holy. Another part is against the Roman Catholic system of merit. These are two powerful arguments against the concept of a church created Holy Day. As a reformed Christian, I wholeheartedly am in agreement with these arguments. God has established the Lord’s Day, the Christian sabbath, as the Holy day for the Church. I also am opposed to any idea of meriting righteousness by keeping a certain day created by the Church. I don’t know of any Protestant Christian who celebrates Christmas that would hold to a Roman Catholic system of merits. Francis Turretin, a reformed scholar, pointed out how those charging their reformed brothers who celebrate the evangelical feast days by using attacks against Holy Days were out of line and were attacking a straw man. A reformed church can teach and praise God for the incarnation of Christ without creating a system of merit or of attempting to usurp the Lord’s day. They can also do so while faithfully following the RPW in their worship.
5. Our highest standard is scripture. The truths of Christmas that is the truth of Christ’s birth in a manger to the Virgin Mary is from scripture. And it is integral to our Christian faith. The great creeds of the faith which summarize biblical teaching all highlight Christs conception by the Holy Spirit and birth to the virgin Mary. The Scriptures command the church to teach these truths.
6. Speaking of creeds, the history of the church shows that celebrating Christmas and Easter go way back to the early days of the church. While scripture is our highest authority, the history of the Church should not be easily tossed aside. The Church throughout all its branches has had those who celebrate Christmas. This includes the Protestant reformers. Yes there were those protestants who reacted to the abuses of the Church and therefore did not keep Christmas. We would do good to heed their warnings about abuses but many of their reasons for opposition to Christmas are best limited to their context. Furthermore there were faithful reformed brethren who kept the evangelical feast days. Calvin’s Geneva was one such place.
7. Colossians 2:16 6 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Romans 14: 5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
We ought to have Christian charity for those who differ with us on these respects. This also means that the Church which has a gathering for Christmas should be sure to leave this voluntary. Our reformed brothers whose conscience will not allow them to celebrate Christmas should not be shamed by those who do. And vice versa. Now this does not mean that the one with the weaker conscience can exercise tyranny over the Church and demand that it not teach on biblical truths at certain times of the year. Nor should they demand that their church cancel Christmas singalongs or other events they may schedule. But the church also should be careful not to treat as second class citizens those who do not participate.
8. Our culture celebrates Christmas. I don’t believe that the church should pass up the opportunity afforded us by God to preach the gospel during these times. Christians should use this time of year to be beacons of light.
9. But Christmas has the word mass in it so surely it is a antichrist popish thing. The word mass was used to describe the Lord’s supper from an early time in Church history. The word itself comes from the words used to dismiss the congregation. In latin it was ite, missa est (“Go, it is the sending.). The people are sent out after gathering for worship to be salt and light. The word came to take on meaning of missions. The people gather receive from the Lord and go on mission. Eventually it became the name for the entire service and is most associated with the Roman Catholic service, though the Lutherans use the name as well. The point I am making is that to say Christmas does not necessitate that one is speaking of the Roman Catholic abuses. The use of the word mass goes back to the 6th century or earlier. There is no need for Christians to immediately give to the Papists the history of the church. Nor should we let the etymology of the word Christmas be used to dismiss what protestant reformed Christians do when they celebrate Christmas. We are not papists and when I say Merry Christmas I do not have the false teaching of Roman Mass in mind.
10. But what about the pagans? They were defeated and Christ reigns. Nothing a reformed Christian celebrates about Christmas is pagan. Furthermore the claims that Christian traditions have pagan origins are mostly myths with no historical merit. But speaking of pagans, it is always a blessing to me to hear the pagans belting out "fall on your knees" before the Christ through all the loud speakers in Walmart and everywhere else. Even the enemies of God feign praise to him.
I know that there are arguments that are made against every point I just made above. I have seen them and I just don’t find them convincing. Merry Christmas.