Last week I shared how modern Christmas came to be; born of many different pagan rituals, 'Christianized' and monetized, and asked how modern Christians should act in the midst of it all.
I have no problem celebrating the birth of our Lord, but what I detest is the perversion of the message of Luke 2:13. It records that after the lone angel brings word of the Savior's birth to the shepherds...
"Behold! Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army praising God (Father) and saying; 'Glory to God (Father) in the highest, and on earth, peace (He has) good will towards men.'"
The message isn't mankind having good will towards each other, but rather the armies of heaven came to earth in full battle array, then stopped short as their Captain lay in a manger a short distance away, communicating the message from the Father to mankind - We haven't come to destroy you! The Father has peace and good will towards you! He sends His Son, our Commander, as a Shepherd for mankind and a peace offering to mankind!
THAT is the message of Luke 2:13. How sad that the Father's good will towards mankind has been removed and replaced with a simple 'You all play nice with each other'. ARRGGGGHHHH!
Pagan festivals galore
In the days the New Testament was written there were many more pagan celebrations Christians had to deal with than merely our Easter, Halloween, and Christmas. Each city had its patron god and therefore idol and temple, Roman culture had their gods and temples, Greek culture had their gods and temples.
And they were far more advanced in their occult practices than most in the west have ever seen. (Remember the burning of occult books in Acts 19, Ephesus) There are today places in the world where the occult is strong enough that demonic miracles are commonplace, including things like healing (which opens the person to a worse ailment weeks later) shape-shifting, Bible type miracles, people transported here and there by demonic power, and so forth. That is the world Paul also lived in, and many Christians today live in cultures with similar demonic manifestations, even some who are reading this.
A good steak, gods, and conscience
Paul addresses the gods and their celebrations in I Corinthians 8, 10, and Romans 14, with the core message consistent throughout.
Paul begins I Corinthians 8 with: "Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.
I love the literal of "Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies" in 8:1. The Greek word translated here as 'puffs up' is from 'physa' which is a 'bellows' - used by blacksmiths to fan a fire. It means therefore to inflate or blow air into. By contrast, the word 'edify' literally means 'to build the house'.
Paul said therefore, "Knowledge makes you full of air, but love builds the house. If you think you know something to the point you become full of air, you don't know it as you should." (I Corinthians 8:1-2)
He follows with: "Therefore concerning the eating of those things that were sacrificed first to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in this world, and there is but one God (Father). For though there are many called gods, whether in heaven or in the earth, indeed there are many gods and demonic authorities, to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things and we in Him (the Father); and one Lord Jesus Christ by whom are all things, and we by Him."
"We know that an idol is nothing...However, not everyone walks in this knowledge. For some if eating it would have their conscience defiled since it had been first offered to an idol." 8:7
Sensitivity and responsibility
His focus for the rest of the chapter and also in chapter 10 was being sensitive to the conscience of others concerning eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. In Corinth they had the central temple where the sacrifices were made, then the meat was sold to meat markets and restaurants for sale to the public. Paul would later say in chapter 10 that if you are having a meal at one of those restaurants with a brother whose conscience would be defiled if you ate a steak in front of him, then eat something else for the sake of the weak conscience of your brother in the Lord.
Paul placed the responsibility upon those who walk in freedom to be sensitive to those who have are weaker in the faith that they are in direct contact with. That is an important point. Paul didn't say for all believers not to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, he said if you are with a brother who would be defiled, then refrain from your freedom and for his sake eat something else. If you are by yourself or with others who have no issue with where the meat came from, then you can walk in your freedom and eat.
They didn't have to worry about someone with weak conscience walking along outside the restaurant and 'OH no, what if they see me eating a steak' - a chance encounter is not something they could control, therefore they had no responsibility to be on the lookout for weak conscience believers, nor did they have to eat in a back room lest someone see their freedom in Christ.
He said 'All things are lawful for me, but not all things are expedient (suitable). All things are lawful, but not all things build the house." Do what is suitable considering the conscience of your friend. (I Cor10:23)
For us in our day and Christmas
As it pertains to this subject, some of our brethren have their conscience defiled in the celebration of the Lord's birth because they cannot get over the fact its roots were pagan. What they do is unto the Lord, so we should not try to 'convert them' to the freedom we have, though we should answer their questions honestly.
Love builds the house, and the house they are building in the Lord we are not to hinder. If they ask, we respond, but we aren't to evangelize our freedom by force, for they must respond to revelation themselves.
But the reverse is true as well. If you have a Christmas tree up and the house decorated, and you have a friend who doesn't celebrate Christmas coming over for a party or meal, you don't have to remove the tree and decorations just because they are coming to your home.
It is up to them to walk in love towards you, even if they think you are an idolatrous Christian who may be doomed to hell or at least are opening the door to demonic activity due to your Christmas tree. ha!
As I shared with my students at that lunch time, most all we eat at one time or another, and even in our day and age somewhere in the world, is food sacrificed to idols. And for some, Christmas is about everything except celebrating the Lord coming to earth. But for most of us, what we do we do unto the Lord, surrounded by messages of His love and eternity future.
What Chris said sums it up
On Saturday the 6th I was driving Chris back to his group home - we have him Fridays and Saturdays when we are in town - and neither of us were talking, just watching the landscape pass by, when he spoke up and said with a smile in his voice: "I'm just so happy with Jesus." I was so blessed he had been thinking about the Lord in our silence and asked, "Why are you happy with Jesus?" He replied: "He lives in my heart!"
I'm happy with Jesus for the same reason - all else is fluff. Focus on Christ in you, and to the degree you celebrate this season or not, do so unto the Lord and love one another.
From me, Barb, and Chris, Merry Christmas and blessings, new subject next week.