Christmas Mythbusters by Dr. Abidan Shah

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CHRISTMAS MYTH BUSTERS by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson, NC

Introduction:  Couple of weeks ago, I was at a used book store in Raleigh when 2 ladies walked in. I couldn’t help overhearing their conversation, not that I was eavesdropping. They were just so loud and obnoxious! Then, one of them belted out to the cashier—“Hey, did you know that Jesus was not born on December 25th? That day was actually a Roman festival honoring the Greek god Saturn. The church leaders adapted it to keep their people from going back to old pagan holidays.” I wanted to step in and say “Hey, that’s baloney!” but I knew that wouldn’t be good. Please listen carefully: The church did not create Christmas from some pagan holiday. December 25th did not become the birthday of Jesus through some church council decision. Instead, it was passed down through the earliest tradition as the day the Savior of the World was born. In fact, ever since the beginning of time, it was the “most important event” on God’s calendar. Today’s message is different than what I typically preach but it’s one we need to hear, especially our children and grandchildren who are bombarded with anti-Christmas statements this time of the year. It is titled “CHRISTMAS MYTH BUSTERS.”

Galatians 4     3 “Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. 4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”

Question: What do you believe about Christmas? Do you believe that it’s just a myth or do you believe that it’s the “fullness of time” when God sent his Son to save you? Have you received the adoption as sons and daughters of the King?

Foreword: We’re living in what’s known as the “Information Age.” Sometimes, it’s also referred as the Computer Age or the Digital Age. Never in the history of the world did so many people have so much access to so much information. In the past, if we wanted to know about a subject, we had to go to the library or a book store. But, now it’s at our fingertips! Any time any place we can access any information! In some ways, that’s a blessing, but, in some ways, that’s also a curse. People, even Christians, read something on the internet and immediately think that they are getting the truth on a matter. Please listen: Just because something is on the web, it does not mean that it is true. Also, reading a couple of blogs and watching a couple of YouTube videos does not make you an expert on a subject.

Having said that, there is a myth on the internet, which has been around much longer than the internet, that claims that December 25th was actually a pagan holiday that the church adopted as the birthday of Jesus to keep Christians from participating in their old pagan holidays. This began somewhere around the 4th century after Constantine converted to Christianity. Is this true or false? False! Sometimes even Christians say this without realizing the inherent danger. When we say that December 25th as the birthday of Jesus is a myth, the logical questions that follows is “Is anything else about Jesus a myth? Was he really the Son of God? Did he really die and rise again? Is he really the Savior of the world? Did he even come?”

To start with, there are 2 different lines of arguments in support of this myth, sometimes even used by Christians:

  1. The History of Religions View: This view goes back to the 1600s. According to this theory, in AD 274, the Roman Emperor Aurelian built a temple in honor of the Sun God, Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun). He did this because he had won some victories in battle and he wanted to honor the patron god of soldiers. He even instituted some special games in the god’s honor. Guess what date this was? December 25th. Furthermore, this was also the time of the Saturnalia, which ran from December 17th-23rd, in honor of the Roman God Saturn who was the god of wealth and agriculture. This was all based around the winter solstice. In the Northern hemisphere, this is around December 21-22, when the earth is at its maximum tilt away from the sun. The day is short and symbolized the death and re-birth of the sun. It was a time of great feasting, parties, gambling, and gift-giving. Christian leaders under hijacked these pagan festivals and Christianized them.

Listen carefully: There is zero evidence in early history from pagan or Christian writers that the church leaders did this. Instead, we find in historical documents statements that affirm that, according to tradition, Christmas was celebrated in Rome from the very beginning. Furthermore, parts of the world that were not directly impacted by Rome were also celebrating Christmas around the same time period. I can go on and on. In my opinion, the Roman emperor could have instituted his festival to counter the Christians celebration of the birth of Jesus on December 25th.

  1. The Calculation View: This view goes back to the late 1800s. According to this theory, the December 25th day was calculated by the church leaders from the date of the annunciation (when Gabriel came to Mary) and the Conception of Jesus. These dates were then taken from the date when Jesus was crucified. This is all based on some rabbinic tradition that all the great prophets of Israel died on the same day as they were born (Integral Age). So, supposedly the early church leaders figured out that Jesus died on March 25th and then they calculated from there 9th months. That’s how they got December 25th. This is the biggest mess because here we’re not talking about the annunciation but the conception. So, what is it? Who knows! By the way, I don’t have time to get into some of the calendar issues, except to say that some of the later calendars are not very accurate. So, we are trying to recreate a date based on a faulty calendar! Again, there is no shred of evidence that the early church actually did this kind of math to figure out the birthday of Jesus!

So, is December 25th the actual date of Jesus’ birth? To start with, I cannot give you all the evidence in the next 10 minutes. I’m going to give you just two from the Gospels:

#1. Matthew 2    1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet…” Let me stop there. When did Herod die?Josephus (Jewish Historian) tells us of an incident before the death of Herod. He had set up a Roman eagle above the gate of the temple in Jerusalem. This was a slap in the face of the Jewish people. Herod was getting sicker by the day and some of the Rabbis called on the young men to tear down the eagle from the gate. They did but got caught. Herod sent them to Jericho along with the rabbis and ordered that they be burned alive. The date of the execution was January 10, 1 BC. But, he’s getting worse. Then he decides to head out of town to the mineral springs beyond Jordan in the middle of February, 1 BC. Now, we have a statement by an ancient writer by the name of Macrobius. He recorded some witty sayings of the Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar. Here’s one—“On hearing that the son of Herod, king of the Jews, had been slain when Herod ordered that all boys in Syria under the age of two be killed, Augustus said, “It’s better to be Herod’s pig than his son.” This was a play on words from “hoos” (pig) to huios” (son). We have the date when Herod had his son Antipater executed. Herod died just 5 days after his son’s execution. This would place his death on April 8, 1 BC. But, let’s stop here for a moment: When did Herod have boys 2-year-old and younger killed. Matthew 2:16 “Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.” So, the wise men probably saw Herod before he left for the mineral springs in the middle of February. Where does this put the birth of Jesus? Exactly where we have always believed around December 25th.

#2. Luke 1    5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. This is referred to as the priestly course. King David had divided the priests into 24 courses to set up a calendar when they could serve. This is complicated but it puts Zacharias’ service around September 5-11, 3 BC. According to tradition, John was conceived around September 22nd, 3 BC. What does John the Baptizer’s birth have to do with Jesus’s birth? Luke 1    26 “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” Can you count 6 months from September? March, 2 BC. That’s when Jesus was conceived through the Holy Spirit. Can you count 9 months from March? December.

Then there are other silly arguments that the shepherds could not have been watching their flocks by night in the winter. According to the Mishnah, the sheep around Bethlehem were outside all year. This was especially true of the Passover Sheep which had to be outside for thirty days before Passover. This would be in February, the coldest and wettest month of the year. December would not be a problem.

What’s the point of all this? Listen again—Galatians 4     3 “Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. 4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”

God sent his Son and that’s a fact. What will you do about it? Have you received him as your Savior and King? Are you adopted in God’s family?

MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR! (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR! (Article) by Abidan Paul Shah

(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on December 9, 2017)

Most Wonderful Time of the YearOne of my pet peeves is reading or listening to claims that many of our Christmas traditions are just pagan rituals that should be abandoned. Here are some facts on a few of them:

Are Christmas trees just some pagan ritual borrowed from the Scandinavians? While it is true that many cultures have worshipped certain trees, this was not the case for Christians. For them, trees were never sacred, just symbolic: Adam and Eve took the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; Abraham lived by the Oaks of Mamre where He built an altar to the Lord; The people of Israel were promised to become “Trees of Righteousness”; Jesus hung on a tree for our sins; and in Revelation we see the tree of life in the middle of the street of the Heavenly City. So, next time you see “O Tannenbaum” with lights, ornaments, and gifts, think of the many wonderful promises of God, especially the coming of Jesus to die on the wooden cross for us!

What does kissing under a mistletoe have to do with Christmas? In ancient times, mistletoe was considered a miracle plant. When everything was dead in the harsh winter, this rootless parasitic plant would still be flourishing. It symbolized life, hope, and fertility. Ancient Druids and Vikings thought this plant was so sacred that they would marry under it. When they became Christians, the mistletoe took on a deeper meaning. It reminded them of God’s power to bring life where there was death. Later on, in England, when a couple passed under the plant, they had to stop and kiss. If they did, God would bless them with an everlasting love. So, next time someone says, “Hey! You’re under a mistletoe!” Think about the undying love of God in Jesus Christ and oh yes, pucker up!

Do you know that house during Christmas that has everything lit up, even the doghouse! If you’re like me, you wonder how they pay their electric bill! Where did we get this tradition? Legend has it that Martin Luther, the German Reformer, was taking a walk through the woods one late December night when he saw the moonlight sparkling on the snow-covered branches of the evergreen trees. He was so struck by their beauty that he tried to recreate the sparkle by attaching candles to his Christmas tree. It reminded him of Jesus the light of the world. With the coming of electricity, people began to decorate even their homes and yards with light. So, when you drive by that over lit house, ask yourself, “Is Jesus shining brightly in my life?”

Every Christmas you hear complaints about how we have commercialized the birth of Jesus and how we’ve lost the true reason for the season. Ever wonder where the tradition of gift giving at Christmas comes from? Contrary to what you may think, it was not inspired by the magi. In fact, the Christian practice of giving gifts began with St. Nicholas, the pastor of Myra, who rode across Asia Minor distributing gifts to poor children. December 6th in the Western Church and December 19th in the Eastern Church became St. Nicholas’ Day – a day to give gifts to children – and in time this practice merged with December 25th. So, next time you go shopping, enjoy buying gifts for your loved ones but don’t forget to be generous to the less fortunate. After all, we were all undeserving but God graciously gave us the gift of Jesus.

Some people have a problem with Santa Claus. After all, how does some overweight old guy who lives at the North Pole with reindeers and elves fit into the Christmas story! Well, Santa Claus was actually St. Nicholas of Bari who lived in the fourth century. His parents died when he was young and Nicholas distributed all his wealth to the poor and became the pastor of Myra in modern day Turkey, as mentioned in the previous paragraph. He was known for his prayer life and his strong convictions regarding the deity of Jesus. But more than anything else, he became known for his generosity to the less fortunate, especially children. Stories about his kindness travelled everywhere and Nicholas became known as the giver of gifts in the name of Jesus. So, next time you see someone in a Santa costume, don’t frown but smile and remember to be generous like Ole’ St. Nick. Merry Christmas!

CHRISTMAS GIFTS IN A MINUTE

CHRISTMAS GIFTS IN A MINUTE by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Every Christmas you hear some complaints about how we have commercialized the birth of Jesus and how we are so materialistic. What does gift giving have to do with Christmas? Contrary to what you may think, it was not inspired by the magi. In fact, the Christian practice of giving gifts Christmas Shopping OldChristmas Shopping MallChristmas Presentsbegan with St. Nicholas, the pastor of Myra, who rode across Asia Minor distributing gifts to poor children. December 6th in the Western Church and December 19th in the Eastern Church became St. Nicholas’ Day – a day to give gifts to children – and in time this practice merged with December 25th. So next time you go shopping, enjoy buying gifts for your loved ones but don’t forget to be generous to the less fortunate. After all, we were undeserving but God gave us the gift of Jesus. Merry Christmas!

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