Grasping the greatness of God’s self-giving love.

No christian festival is celebrated more widely and often more superficially outside as well as inside the church than Christmas. As the observance of the birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas stands at the heart of the story of redemption that is uniquely unfolded in the Bible. Here in the event of the Nativity is the center of human history. Of all who have ever lived, none is closer to human life and destiny than Christ. If “the hinge of history is Jesus Christ,” as Charles Malik has said, it is because of what happened at Bethlehem nearly 2,000 years ago when the living God invaded human history through the Incarnation.

The celebration of Christmas came comparatively late in church history—not, in fact, until the fourth century. The word “Christmas” does not appear in the Bible, although the Jewish December festival, Hanukkah, is mentioned in the New Testament: “Then came the Feast of Dedication” (John 10:22, NIV).

Not only is there no biblical mention of the word Christmas, but the Bible gives us no mandate for celebrating Jesus’ birth, as it does for the sacraments or ordinances of the Lord’s Supper and baptism, which by Christ’s own command were observed from the very beginning of the church.

Celebration of the other great festivals of the church—Easter with its joyful celebration of the resurrection preceded by Good Friday with its moving remembrance of the crucifixion, and the Feast of Pentecost with its celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the infant church—while also not prescribed in the New Testament, goes back much further than the Festival of Christmas, perhaps to the end of the first century or the beginning of the second.

To trace the origins of Christmas ...

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