Commemorating the Birth of Christ

The question has been asked many times, “How should a Christian celebrate Christmas?”

Is it right to celebrate Christmas? Does Christmas fit into the life of the Christian?

We hear a lot at this time of year that Christmas is Christ’s birthday. We sing songs about it: The Birthday of the King, Away in a Manager, Silent Night, The First Noel. That’s why Christians celebrate the holiday, isn’t it? Christ was born on December 25. Or was He? There is nothing in the Bible that says when Jesus was born. In fact, God intentionally did not reveal that date to us.

God hid the burial place of Moses because He knew that the Jews would make it a shrine, and would worship there, and teach all their subsequent generations to worship there. You would find all kinds of paraphernalia representing miracles done by the wonderful healing power that would come through Moses. God did not want us to make a sacrilege of the day Christ was born any more than He did Moses’ burial place, so He hid them both.

There are some things we do know that might help us pinpoint when Christ was born or when He wasn’t. The seasons in Palestine are very similar to ours here in the United States. Summers are dry, windy, and hot during the five-month period from May through October, with temperatures ranging between 84 and the mid-90s. Winter occurs from December through March, December and January being the coldest months, characterized by severe cold and humidity, with temperatures ranging between 38 and 50 degrees given the time of day. It rarely snows, but does rain with an average rainfall of 27 inches. So the weather tells us that 2,000 years ago it was very unlikely that there were “shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night” on December 25. [Source: 5 Things to Know About Winter in Palestine – (; Summer & Winter in Palestine (]

So, where does the Christmas celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25 come from? Christmas comes to us from paganism. In every sun-worshiping religion, in whatever country the religion exists, the people worship a sun god, be it Baal, Nimrod, Isis, or Tammuz, and near the winter solstice was the time that these sun gods are believed to have been born. Tammuz, for example, is said to have been born around the time of the winter solstice, December 21 or 22, the time of year when the sun sinks lowest in the sky, and the days grow shorter. Sun worshipers believe in some special magic that keeps the sun returning every day, otherwise it would sink below the horizon and disappear forever, leaving the world cold and lost in darkness. This led them to believe that their sun god was born on the shortest day of the year and that he gradually gained strength over the subsequent months.

Some will ask that if the winter solstice is December 21 through 22, then how did they come to worship their sun god on December 25? Satan creates a counterfeit for everything that is of God and all that He creates. Satan knew the prophecy of a coming Messiah, so I believe he counterfeited that event before it happened to cause people to disparage Christianity.

For instance, Tammuz was supposedly born by way of virgin birth. Ishtar was his mother and she, it was believed, conceived during the spring equinox (Ishtar/Easter). Nine months later, Tammuz was born. They use the term nativity of the sun god in the same way Christians use the nativity of Christ.

Many things of God’s creation have been drafted by Satan into pagan worship, most commonly, of course, the sun, moon, and stars. Jeremiah 10:2 says, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; do not be dismayed at the signs of the heavens, for the Gentiles are dismayed at them.’ ” This scripture seems to show that paganism and the worship of the things in the heavens (astrology) existed a long time before Christ was born.

What about the trees, decorated with bulbs and flashing lights, that we see everywhere at Christmas time? In northern Europe, the traditional evergreen was used, and that tradition was brought over to America. In other countries it might be a palm tree or an oak.

“For the customs of the peoples are futile; for one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple.” Verses 3, 4

Jeremiah tells us not to learn the way of the Gentiles, so why do Seventh-day Adventists have Christmas trees in their churches and homes, and why do they celebrate December 25? Is it possible, at this time of year, for us as Seventh-day Adventist Christians to recognize that Christ was born as a man to be the Saviour of the world?

Inspiration has quite a bit to say on the subject of Christmas. In The Review and Herald, December 9, 1884, Mrs. White wrote:

“Christmas is coming, May you all have wisdom to make it a precious season.”

Interesting. Didn’t Mrs. White know that Christmas was not Jesus’ birthday? How could she not know it is of pagan origin? Listen to the next statements.

“I entreat you, my brethren and sisters, to make this coming Christmas a blessing to yourselves and others.” Ibid.

How can something pagan be made a blessing? Let’s read a very clear statement proving that Mrs. White did know that December 25 was most certainly not the day of Christ’s birth.

“ ‘Christmas is coming,’ is the note that is sounded throughout our world from east to west and from north to south. … But what is Christmas, that it should demand so much attention? This day has been made much of for centuries. It is accepted by the unbelieving world, and by the Christian world generally, as the day on which Christ was born. …

“The twenty-fifth of December is supposed to be the day of the birth of Jesus Christ, and its observance has become customary and popular. But yet there is no certainty that we are keeping the veritable day of our Saviour’s birth. History gives us no certain assurance of this. The Bible does not give us the precise time.” Ibid.

This statement references back to what we stated above, that being how and why God hid the burial place of Moses and the actual date on which Christ was born, and it clearly shows that Mrs. White did know that December 25 was not the day of Christ’s birth. But associated statements also show that Mrs. White did not condemn certain ways of observing the Christmas season.

“God would be well pleased if on Christmas each church would have a Christmas tree on which shall be hung offerings, great and small, for these houses of worship. …There is no particular sin in selecting a fragrant evergreen, and placing it in our churches; but the sin lies in the motive which prompts to action, and the use which is made of the gifts placed upon the tree.” Ibid., December 11, 1879

“Let not the parents take the position that an evergreen placed in the church for the amusement of the Sabbath School scholars is a sin.” Ibid., December 9, 1884

The Bible has always been our foundation of faith, so the Spirit of Prophecy must be tested against the Bible. I have studied this subject from the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy, and I simply do not find that Mrs. White contradicts what the Bible says concerning the birth of Christ.

There are many people who are not willing to accept what the Bible says, and there are just as many more who want to go beyond what it says. As a student of the Bible, I want to challenge you, before going any further, to lay aside any preconceived ideas you may have on this subject, so that we will have a clear mind to see what God says we should or should not do.

In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul is not writing about Christmas, but he is writing about pagan customs. Let’s see what he has to say in verses 4–6:

“Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.”

The pagans would offer food to their idols before they would eat it, and after it was blessed by the idol, they believed that the idol had imparted special properties to the food. There were many Christians in Paul’s day who argued that because Paul ate things offered to idols, he was following pagan customs and therefore, was really pagan.

Paul is saying that you don’t need to ask whether the food has been offered to idols. He says to just eat the food because idols can have no effect on it. If you ask, and the food has been offered to idols, and you still eat the food, then you will become a stumbling block for those who believe in the power of their idols. If someone tells you that the food has been offered to idols, then do not eat it.

Interesting counsel, isn’t it? Paul is saying there is only one God, and the gods of paganism have no power over the food, before or afterward. So, can pagan custom desecrate food? No. But we must be sensitive to the beliefs of others.

Now, can paganism desecrate a day or a tree?

Again, Paul doesn’t write regarding Christmas, but we find in Romans 14:4–6 that he does write regarding holidays.

“Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it.”

Paul is not talking about the Sabbath, the day of God’s rest, the day that God esteems most. He was referring to man-made holidays, and of course, Jewish holidays that were no longer consecrated by God. While Paul still kept the Passover, he recognized that it no longer had religious significance. He said that Jesus had become our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7). The Passover and the Day of Atonement, called sabbaths in the Jewish economy, were a shadow of things to come, and done away with at the cross.

Only God can make something holy. This He did when He instituted the Sabbath day at Creation, and does when a man or woman surrenders their will and life to Him. But man, try as he might, cannot make anything holy that God says is unholy, nor can he make something unholy that God has made holy. Man can use something unholy in a holy way or something holy in an unholy way, but that doesn’t change whether it is holy or unholy according to God.

So Paul is saying that the pagan worship and use of food, a tree or flower, or even a day, does not ruin these things for use in other ways. Why? Because as the Bible tells us, what God says is good, is good. Everything that God created was pronounced good, and the Sabbath day was blessed and sanctified by Him. Nothing man can do will change the fact that God made the seventh-day Sabbath His holy day.

Anything outside of God’s creation, anything that is not expressed in or supported by the Bible, is simply a perverted deception wrought by the devil, who seduces man to use what belongs to God in a distorted and evil way, causing him to break God’s commandments. And these unholy traditions and doctrines are handed down generation after generation in religions and churches all over the world, until the pure truth of God’s word has been all but obliterated. But is it always wrong to have traditions and customs of any kind? Matthew 15:3 says, “Why do you also transgress the commandments of God because of your tradition?”

What did Jesus say in this text is wrong with tradition? Man chooses his own traditions and devisings over God’s law. Tradition too often causes us to break God’s commandments. This is why we say so many traditions are bad—they go directly against God’s word.

Let’s look at an example of an acceptable tradition in driving. Here in the United States, we drive on the right-hand side of the road, but in other places around the world, people drive on the left-hand side. There’s nothing wrong with driving on the right side or the left side of the road.  You must drive on one side or the other. There are many other traditions, some may even be associated with pagan religion, that may not seem bad, but they become bad when they transgress God’s commandments.

The observance of December 25 as Christ’s birthday is clearly rooted in paganism. And what about keeping Sunday as the weekly day of worship? We can see that this, too, is rooted in paganism because the pagans, as sun worshipers, worshiped on Sunday. Over the centuries, as more and more pagan traditions and rituals were adopted into Christianity, the Christian day of worship was changed from the seventh day to the first day. Let’s be clear, God has ever only had one day that He Himself blessed and sanctified as His holy Sabbath. God, who does not change, has never changed—nor has He given man the authority to change—the seventh-day Sabbath to any other day. Yet, man changed the day of worship, on his own assumed authority, to Sunday because, he said, Christ rose from the grave on that day.

It is interesting that many Christians today strongly speak out regarding the pagan origins of December 25 as the birthday of Christ, which comes only once a year, and yet each week they worship on Sunday, the day of the sun in pagan worship, directly contrary to the seventh-day Sabbath of the Bible. You see, the Bible says nothing about Christmas, but it says a lot about sun worship, Sunday worship, and Sabbath worship.

It is important that we are careful in our interpretation of the Scriptures. Our pre-conceived ideas can lead us to incorrectly interpret or even manipulate Bible verses to say what we want them to say or support what we believe, whether it is truth or not.

We must be extremely careful with the way we use Scripture. We must never say, “If I look hard enough, maybe I can find texts that will prove what I believe.” We are to follow the teachings of the Bible as revealed to our submissive minds, not believe something and attempt to use the Bible to prove it. Because the amazing thing is, often if you manipulate the context just so, it can cause people to think that a particular text justifies an erroneous idea.

This has occurred in regard to worshiping on the first day of the week. With a couple of New Testament scriptures taken out of context, you have the basis for the centuries-long support that changed the Sabbath day from the seventh day to the first. We must be careful to follow everything that God says, and be even more careful not to mix in our own human ideas.

As I have studied the subject of Christmas, I have found that Ellen White has the most biblical approach to it. “If Christmas is kept at all, it should be kept in a way that will be in harmony with its significance. Christ should be remembered, His name honored; the old, old story of His love should be recounted. Instead of saying by our actions that we are putting Christ out of our minds and hearts, we should testify to men, to angels, and to God, that we remember our Redeemer, by following His example of self-sacrifice for others’ good.” The Review and Herald, December 9, 1890

More and more these days, the people of the world, including Christians, feel little or no need to think about Jesus or about those who live around them. Our own thoughts should ever be on Him and His marvelous work on our behalf, and then we should take every opportunity to turn the thoughts of others to Him.

The world says that in its observance of Christmas, it is celebrating the birth of Christ, but in the celebration, we see little of the true reason for this season. The world needs to be shown Christ. They need to be encouraged to think about and believe in Him. He must be uplifted in our own thoughts so that we can uplift Him to those around us.

Sadly, the world invokes the name of Jesus, but the Christmas season is celebrated by man for man. We make lists. We talk about what we want. We enjoy the bright lights and beautifully decorated trees. On Christmas morning, the morning supposedly on which Christ was born, instead of offering to Him the gift of our life, we are anxiously opening the beautifully wrapped presents we have given and received.

Our thoughts are not on the Sacrifice that was made to save us from eternal death, or on the pain and humiliation He suffered on our behalf, nor on the great love that compelled Him to come. There are few thoughts for those who are hungry, homeless, sick, and alone, both physically and spiritually. This day instead has become one of gluttony and a waste of God’s money for frivolous worldly things to give to each other.

As God’s people, we must think of others above ourselves. Christmas, pagan though it may be, is the one time in all the year that hearts are most open to receive the truth of Jesus’ birth and life, and ultimately His death, resurrection, and the current work He is doing on our behalf in the heavenly sanctuary. If we would make Christmas a blessing, then we need to know how to do it and prepare to do it.

“There is no divine sanctity resting upon the twenty-fifth of December; and it is not pleasing to God that anything that concerns the salvation of man through the infinite sacrifice made for them, should be so sadly perverted from its professed design. Christ should be the supreme object … .” Ibid., December 9, 1884

It was God’s design for man to worship Christ especially on the Sabbath, but to also give thanks and praise to Him every day. Designating December 25 as the day Christ was born is man’s doing. We must stridently endeavor to make it a time to honor and glorify what heaven has done for us and not taint it with selfishness.

“Christ should be the supreme object; but as Christmas has been observed, the glory has turned from Him to mortal man, whose sinful, defective character made it necessary for Him to come to our world.” Ibid.

“Let those who desire a Christmas tree make its boughs fruitful gifts for the needy, and offerings for the treasury of God.” Ibid., December 26, 1882.

Do you see in this quote anything about gifts for ourselves? Our gifts should be for those living in poverty all around us or sent to help missionaries spread the good news of salvation.

“There is no particular sin in selecting a fragrant evergreen, and placing it in our churches; but the sin lies in the motive which prompts to action, and the use which is made of the gifts placed upon the tree.” Ibid, December 11, 1879

Are we thinking of self, or are we thinking of others? 

“The tree may be as tall and its branches as wide as shall best suit the occasion; but let its boughs be laden with the golden and silver fruit of your beneficence, and present this to Him as your Christmas gift. Let your donations be sanctified by prayer.” The Adventist Home, 482

 “While urging upon all the duty of first bringing their gifts to God, I would not wholly condemn the practice of making Christmas and New Year’s gifts to our friends. It is right to bestow upon one another tokens of love and remembrance if we do not in this forget God, our best friend. We should make our gifts such as would prove a real benefit to the receiver.” The Review and Herald, December 26, 1882

We should not waste a single cent on something needless or frivolous. But after making God first in our giving, in our plans and affections, because we are to love Him with all our heart, then we can give gifts that are practical and useful, something that will bring us closer to God and to each other. We need the ties of love and affection with both our family at home and our church family.

To make the Christmas season, even Christmas day, a blessing, we should remember that we have a responsibility to share with the world the gospel, the blessed news of a Messiah, who left heaven and came to this world, born as a man, so that all of mankind, sinful as we are, could be saved. It is our duty under God to remember the poor and God’s work all around the world, and to be willing to sacrifice for them. For this reason Jesus came as a babe and this is what should fill our hearts at this time of the year.

Some people will say that they are tired of giving so much to God’s work. They’ve heard appeal after appeal and have given a lot. Why should they do more?

Well, here is a question for these individuals: If you are tired of giving to God, are you also tired of receiving from Him? We hear a lot of “I’m tired of giving,” but I don’t recall ever hearing anyone say they are tired of God giving them so much—a roof over their head, food on the table, a job, wealth, family, friends, safety—and that they just wish He’d quit giving them things.

Are you tired of receiving from God? By the death of Christ, God gives us life and health and eternal life. If we gain the whole world and lose our own soul, what will it profit us? And God, in His mercy and love for us, calls for our means that we may take our eyes and desire from where we are and place them on where we are going.

This year, this Christmas, let us give God the best gift we can give Him. We can and should give Him our money and time, but what He really wants is our hearts. He loves us and ransomed us, and as we give Him our earthly temporal life, He in turn gives us His eternal one.

Pastor Marshall Grosboll, with his wife Lillian, founded Steps to Life. In July 1991, Pastor Marshall and his family met with tragedy as they were returning home from a camp meeting in Washington state, when the airplane he was piloting went down, killing all on board.