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Friday, December 05, 2014

Are Christians over-emphasizing Christmas?

Importance of the resurrection

I have been reading N. T. Wright's Luke for Everyone. In discussing Luke 1 and 2, which describe the events of the birth of Jesus, and some of what came before, he wrote: "In all of Paul's writings, he never mentions that there had been anything unusual about Jesus' conception or birth. Jesus' death and resurrection remain, for him, far more significant." I had never thought of that, but Rev. Wright is, well, right. I checked the other New Testament writers, and Mark, Peter, James, nor Jude mention Jesus birth in any way at all. Luke does not mention it in Acts. John refers to the birth only obliquely. The author of Hebrews refers to the birth of Christ once. Paul not only doesn't mention that there was anything unusual about it, but scarcely mentions it at all.

Outside of the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke, and the list of the ancestors of Christ, in Luke 3:23-38, these are the only mentions of the birth of Christ in the New Testament, so far as I can determine:

John 7:40 Many of the multitude therefore, when they heard these words, said, “This is truly the prophet.” 41 Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “What, does the Christ come out of Galilee? 42 Hasn’t the Scripture said that the Christ comes of the offspring of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” 43 So there arose a division in the multitude because of him.

Galatians 4:4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent out his Son, born to a woman, born under the law, 5 that he might redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of children.

Hebrews 1:
When he again brings in the firstborn into the world he says, “Let all the angels of God worship him.” (Quotations from the World English Bible, public domain.)

The resurrection of Christ is mentioned in most of the books of the New Testament, sometimes many times in one book. (I did not find explicit references to it in Titus, Philemon, James, 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, or Jude, but did find such statements in the other 19 books of the New Testament.)

You'd never know that Good Friday and Easter are more important than Christmas from Walmart, where Christmas trappings start going on sale in September. Nor would you know it from the lives of most Christians, including my own. My own church, part of The Wesleyan Church, has a special service where we explain how various symbols and events in the common celebration of Christmas have significance for Christians. (Candles, trees, wreaths, and the like.) We light candles to represent Christmas, and Christ's birth, on four consecutive Sundays. We often sing, or listen to, Christmas-related music for three or four weeks in December. We may put on a Christmas concert, or play, or pageant, or participate in a Christmas parade. Small groups may have a meal together, or a gift exchange. We usually engage in some special charitable activity in December, giving to needy people in some way. Some churches have special events right after December 25th. All of these things emphasize Christmas. None of these things are bad. We need fellowship, we should do charity, and cultural symbols are important.

But Easter? Not so much. Some churches do emphasize Lent, for 40 days before Easter, and some churches do observe Good Friday in a special way, but ours doesn't, and it's not the only church that doesn't. Easter Sunday is about all the emphasis non-liturgical churches give to Christ's death and Resurrection. From all of this, a Martian observing the behavior of Wesleyan, Southern Baptist, and other churches would conclude that Christ's birth was far more important than His death and resurrection.

Am I trying to kill Christmas? No. If Christ had never been born, we wouldn't have salvation. But I'm trying to re-think the importance of Good Friday and Easter, and, consequently, of Christmas.

Whatever the commercial world does, to the Christian, the death and resurrection of Christ are more important than His birth, based on how the New Testament treats these subjects. It may be impossible to overemphasize the importance of the Resurrection, but it's easy to under-emphasize it. Thanks for reading.


FancyHorse said...

I see your point, and I agree. In our church, we tie Christ's birth with His death and resurrection; it's all part of a continuing story. His incarnation was necessary for his subsequent atoning death and resurrection.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, FancyHorse.

Aron Wall said...

Easter is the more important day in the Christian calendar, but...

If, instead of collecting passages about Jesus' birth, you had collected passages about the Incarnation, there would have been a lot more of them. I think that Christmas has the major importance it does (to Christians, not to Walmart) because it is when we choose to commemorate the Incarnation.

Although the Incarnation would really have begun with his conception, so one could also celebrate it on Annunciation Day, an even more neglected holiday among Protestants.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Aron Wall.

Yes, the Incarnation is vitally important. I may have missed passages referring to it, but I was only looking at how the writers of the New Testament referred to Christ's birth, and they didn't do it very much. There are, certainly, passages about the Incarnation in the Old Testament.

I refer you to the quotation from N. T. Wright, in the post. He has credibility as a Bible scholar, surely.

Thanks again.