Yesterday, I made mention of the pagan origins of many of our cherished Christmas traditions (the same can be said for Easter!), and it seemed appropriate to elaborate upon it today.
Gift giving, Christmas trees, December 25, Yule logs, mistletoe and holly, the feasting and so on all have ‘origins’ in pagan ritual and belief. I do not dispute nor argue this. I would like to propose a perspective that this is not necessarily justification for abandoning them, but rather celebrating with knowledge, understanding and praise for our Redeemer.
Most of the rituals have their pagan theological origins in fertility, sun worship, and the like, whether honoring Mithras, Sol Invictus, or the son of Isis, there are threads in all of the traditions that should excite us as believers, for God did not leave the pagans of either history or today without a witness to the Gospel.
According to Scripture, ALL of humanity goes back to the family of Noah, a righteous man, who knew the truth of God and His plan and taught his sons, which was passed on through their generations. As humans increased and dispersed, the true worship and understanding of God was twisted and corrupted by the enemy and our own fallen natures. Nonetheless, a lie only has power to the extent it mimics the truth and the most powerful lies work because of the truth contained within them. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect to find aspects of the Gospel even in the most pagan of rituals, so it is not surprising that aspects of those rituals were easily incorporated into Christian tradition.
Secondly, it is one of my deepest personal tenets that God designed everything in Creation to illustrate some spiritual truth, about Him, us, or our relationship with Him. Justification through Scripture comes from the many parables that use things of Creation to teach us spiritual lessons. Also, Romans 1:19-20 testifies to the witness of Creation about the very nature of God. For instance, the evergreen is not just a testament of life, but specifically eternal life that endures even through the death of winter, giving us hope of the resurrection of the dead and the enduring life of our souls.
Most exciting of my arguments is Christ Himself. His Incarnation, Death and Resurrection served to redeem all of humanity to Himself. He is not content to redeem individuals, but tribes, nations and cultures—to untwist the twisted and restore the right picture of Himself in the minds, lives and cultures of His people. What a powerful testament to all when His truth is revealed even through pagan belief.
This is not some sort of hidden universalism, it is Redemption. It is healing of the sick, purifying of the corrupted, life to the dead, the way to the lost, and truth to the deceived. Even Paul followed this principle in his apologetic to the debaters on Mars Hill in his revelation of the identity of the ‘unknown god.’ C.S. Lewis famously came to faith when he realized that the pagan stories were but shadows of the true Story of Christ.
Still, some would argue that Scripture says to have nothing to do with pagan practices, and this is true, and to my knowledge, is primarily an Old Testament injunction. Does that matter? Yes. Before Christ came and consummated redemption, the Law was meant to be a pure beacon of God’s truth and character, and any mixing of His express revelation by the impurities was detrimental. Even now, mixing of pagan and truth without wisdom is dangerous. But now, we do have the life-giving Spirit indwelling us and guiding us into all truth. In Galatians, Paul instructs us on the limitations of the law and the superiority of the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit and the indwelt priesthood of believers. It is through these that the new life of Redemption is breathed into the souls of people everywhere, and indeed, is the primary means given us as believers in glorifying God, as encompassed in the Great Commission.
So what are the fundamental differences between the pagan rituals and the redeemed Christmas traditions? The pagans believed their rituals either curried favor from the false gods or somehow assisted these idols in completing their journeys back from the death of winter and into the newness of Spring. As Christians, we know that God needs nothing from us and certainly not our help. He is not bound in some underworld prison or comatose stupor, but is the Everclear Way, Unimpeachable Truth and Living Life, and the traditions point to His glory, our celebration, and others’ instruction.
Is this an ironclad argument? No. I hardly expect my few poor words to convince everyone. This is my perspective and why I hold it. In my life, it brings comfort and joy, pointing to my Saviour and the completeness of His Redemption of this world.
Glory to God in the highest! And on earth, peace and good will among men, with whom He is pleased!