Six Ways to Miss Christmas

from John MacArthur’s booklet, Six Ways to Miss Christmas.

The majority of people in the world will miss the next Christmas. But how can that be? How can anyone miss Christmas, given the amount of advertising, publicity, and promotion the holiday receives each year? Because although many celebrate Christmas every year, most don’t know what it’s about. In spite of all the media promotion of Christmas, the majority of people will miss it because it has become so obscured.

For those of us who know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, Christmas is a time to focus on His birth. But even we can get caught up in the swirl of activity around Christmastime and can miss it in a practical sense. Satan has so cluttered the Christian concept of Christmas with such needless paraphernalia that its true meaning is easily lost.

A Brief History of Christmas

Most scholars doubt that December 25 th is the true date of Christ’s birth. There is no biblical support for it, and some against it. That date was decided upon by the church in Rome in the fourth century. They had a specific reason for doing so.

Many of the earth’s earliest inhabitants were sun worshipers because they depended on the sun’s yearly course in the heavens. Most people held feasts at the time of the winter solstice (mid-December)—a time when the days were shortest. They built bonfires to give the sun god strength and bring him back to life again. When it became apparent that the days were growing longer, there was great rejoicing.

The fathers of the church in Rome decided to celebrate Christ’s birth on the winter solstice. It was their attempt to Christianize the popular pagan celebrations. But they failed to make the people conform. Instead the heathen festivities continued, and we are left with a bizarre marriage of pagan and Christian elements that characterizes our modern celebration of Christmas.

The following examples will give you some idea of how much pagan customs make up what we know as Christmas.

To the Romans the month of December marked the Festival of Saturnalia (Dec. 17-24). One of their most common customs during that festival was giving gifts to one another. As far as we know that is where the idea of exchanging presents came from. The evergreen wreath also derives from the Saturnalia festival, during which homes were decorated with evergreen boughs. The Druids of England gathered sacred mistletoe for their ceremonies and decorated their homes with it. It is believed that the first Christmas tree was instituted by Boniface, an English missionary to Germany in the eighth century. He supposedly replaced sacrifices to the god Odin’s sacred oak with a fir tree adorned in tribute to Christ. Certain accounts claim that Martin Luther introduced the Christmas tree lighted with candles.

“Santa Claus” is a contraction of St. Nicholas, a bishop in Asia Minor during the fourth century known for his extraordinary generosity. He was later associated with giving presents at the end of the year. St. Nicholas was adopted by the Netherlands as the patron saint of children. On St. Nicholas eve, the children would leave their shoes filled with hay for the saint’s white horse.

No wonder so many people miss Christmas. The simplicity of the birth of Christ is drowned in a sea of traditions, many being pagan in origin. Even worse than that, when Christ was born in Bethlehem , most people of that day missed it. In the following gospel accounts, we will see six ways people missed Christmas, and learn how to avoid making the same mistake ourselves.