How Christian is Christmas?

Photo by Burkay Canatar on

It’s December, time for the tree to go up, get the sprouts on the boil, and for all to get ready for the big day. Christmas, it’s all about the children, isn’t it?

But how Christian is Christmas? Is this really what Jesus had in mind for his followers and what has it all to do with the birth of the Saviour? The actual timing of Christmas has more to do with the birth of the new sun after the winter solstice. As the arc of the sun in the sky began to get longer, way before Christ was born there were religious festivals at this time. This change of state in the bleak mid-winter of the year was experienced as “the rebirth of the sun and commemorated as the birthday of the sun god, the luminous divine child” (The Myth of the Goddess, Baring & Cashford). This mid-winter festival was an important event for all sun-worshipping cultures with considerable mythology surrounding it and much celebration as well.

One thing is sure, Jesus was not born on December 25. On the evening of Jesus’ birth, shepherds were washing their socks by night, watching their flocks by night. Well, shepherds, would not have been in the fields as late as December. It would have been far too cold near Bethlehem.

If Jesus was not born on December 25, when was He born? Although it may prove impossible to determine the date, the commentaries are right, He was born in the autumn probably late September or early October before the shepherds brought the flocks down for the winter. However, He might have been born in the spring, during the lambing season, either way, it was not in the bleak mid-winter when frosty winds made moan! There is no date given in the Bible nor is there any commandment to observe Jesus’ birth.

The church in Rome began formally celebrating Christmas on December 25 in 336, during the reign of Emperor Constantine. As Constantine had made Christianity the effective religion of the empire, there is valid speculation that choosing this date had the motive of weakening the established pagan celebrations associated with the sun god.

There is a Catholic tradition that martyred saints die on the same date as their conception, so if Christ died in April, we would have been conceived in April and therefore born in late December. Or maybe not.

But let’s not let too many facts get in the way of us celebrating the birth of the saviour, the important thing is, He was born, without Him there would be no salvation. By the way, Christmas is not all about the children, it’s about the one child.

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There is a word never spoken in church. a word never preached on, not discussed at bible studies and not even prayed over at prayer meetings. A word so terrible that we spell it out rather than say it out loud. D.I.V.O.R.C.E. At least, when Tammy Wynette sung that terrible (my opinion, and not necessarily yours), terrible song in1968 (and yes, I am old enough to remember it), she spelt it out rather than say it out loud so as not to upset 4-year-old little Joe.

It’s the same in Church, nobody mentions the “D” word! Let’s face it, when did you last hear Matthew 5:31 preached on? “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery”. I have heard the Sermon on the Mount from which this is taken preached on so many times, but the preacher neatly skips over these 2 verses and carries on regardless. So let’s work through a few of the subjects in the famous sermon.
The Beatitudes – Easy one that
Salt and Light – Oh yes, just give a few good examples
Fulfillment of the Law – Simple, just confuse them with a bit of theology
Murder – Should be safe, none in the cburch that I know of.
Adultery – Again, should be a safe one, after all, no one’s going to put their hand up.
Divorce – Better miss that one, might upset 20% of the congregation, can’t have them all walking out, the treasurer wouldn’t like it. Anyway, it’s not important
Oaths – Simple

Eye for an Eye – Simple

Love for Enemies – Easy one for a good preach.

…..and so on, but……Jesus says about divorce twice in Matthew and again in Mark, so it might be important!
Jesus actually said these things twice, in Matthew 19:8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery”.

Mark 10: 6-12 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’[a]7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,[b] 8 and the two will become one flesh.’[c] So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this.11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery”.


Now this is all very difficult stuff to read, especially if you are divorced. In the USA one in four “Christian” marriages end in divorce. Figures for the UK are not available, but I am sure they will also paint a sorry picture.

Oh, but we can justify divorce because it was permitted by Moses. But Jesus said, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.

One important fact that we have to say very clearly is: “God loves divorced people” He loves them just the same as married people, single people, people living with partners, widows and widowers. That doesn’t mean that he loves divorce. He hates divorce, but he still loves the people involved. He hates adultery, but still loves the people involved.

The problem today is many have an easy, no blame, cast aside view of marriage. People say their vows before God with their fingers crossed behind their backs. There is no commitment, marriage is a bed of roses, fragrant flowers and sharp thorns together. You have to work at a marriage, there has to be an attitude of give and take not just take. If you are finding marriage a struggle, try putting down your mobile, looking away from FaceBook, come off Twitter, close your laptop and look your partner in the eyes and talk. Give them some undivided attention. Do it every day, several times a day. Ask about them, don’t just talk about “me”. You may think that sounds too simplistic, well it isn’t. What most marriages lack today is “us time”. “Us time” is where you turn off the TV, silence the mobile, ignore the telephone and just enjoy each others company. I have spoken to many struggling people, and often when the three of us sit down to talk about their marriage, that is the first time for years that they have sat down together and talked in an open and frank way to each other. Most people don’t need a counsellor, they just need space and time to get to know each other. I was going to put “get to know each other again”, but for some, even after years of marriage, it might be getting to know them for the first time properly. Discuss their hopes and fears, not yours, talk over their perceived problems, not yours. Often you may start a sentence with “But I thought you liked it when I…..” or “I thought you enjoyed going to…….” Don’t think about what you think your partner wants or wishes. Ask them. Don’t assume you know anything, enquire about everything.

If you can pray together without embarrassment, then pray together and for each other. Don’t use prayer time to drop little bombshells or have little digs, you will not be blessed and it won’t help your healing. If you can’t pray together, make sure you pray for each other earnestly. Lay out before God what is wrong. Confess to him what you are doing wrong and seek forgiveness. Do not tell God what is wrong with your husband or wife, he can hear that from them. (He actually knows already). If you are going to have that long awaited talk with your wife or husband, pray first that you will be guided and prompted by the Holy Spirit.

Don’t end a marriage, mend a marriage.

May God bless you for reading this missive.

New International Version (NIV)

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Isaiah 9 vs 6 – 7

6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. [1]

Only four verses later and a complete change of mood, an earth shattering, life changing announcement, a prophesy which, once fulfilled would turn upside down everything which was religious in the Middle East and spread across the world even until today.

“For unto us a child is born” Not just any baby is spoken of here, this announces the birth of a very special infant, these words of Isaiah announced the birth of the saviour, Jesus Christ. Isaiah of course had no idea who this baby was, would be and would become. He had no inkling of the significance of this prophecy. Isaiah would not find out the implication of this or any of his words until after he had died and met with God face to face. What a shock it must have been to Isaiah when he asked God to whom he referred in these verses. “Hey God, what did you mean by ‘Unto us a son is given’? Whose son you talking about|?” “Well, mine of course” said God. Mind blowing or what.

This child was to change the world in ways Isaiah could not imagine, this child has changed the world in ways we cannot comprehend, this child will continue to change the world in ways no man can envisage.

“And the government shall be upon His shoulders” This is quite a strange phrase for today, what does he mean by government? Thousands of politicians, ministers, local councillors and civil servants sitting on Jesus’ shoulders? No, don’t be silly. What Jesus did take upon his shoulders was his cross, Now Isaiah also said in chapter 22 verse 22, And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open [2]. Now the key of David is the key to the Kingdom, which means that the cross is the key to the Kingdom. So where does government come into it? See also Revelation 3 verse 7, He that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;[3] This is almost identical to what Isaiah said, except this is Jesus talking. He is saying that he cross is the key to the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus carried the cross on His shoulders. “What has this to do with government?” I hear you shout. “Get to the point” you cry. Jesus had which or what government on His shoulders? Through His death on the cross, Christ defeated Satan, defeated evil, defeated death itself. Up until that time, Satan and his evil cohorts had reign to govern the world, until that time Satan was undefeated, the prince of this world. Satan’s was the government that Christ bore on his shoulders at Calvary that first Easter. Christ bore all the sin of the world on the cross. Now consider again the cross, think again on the suffering of Christ, the humiliation, pain and grief. Christ should now govern your life, not sin. As Christians, we are crucified dead with Him, buried with Him, resurrected with Him and seated with Him in the heavenly places. I’ll explain that one later.

Now for the best bit of this verse. And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. When I read this, and I often do, I always put in another “wonderful”, try it out loud, read it slowly, prayerfully savouring every word, and smile when you read it, smile on the inside and smile on the outside. “And His name shall be called wonderful,……….. Wonderful counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Now this is a real praise verse, one to be included in your prayers of thanksgiving.

Taking this literally one superlative at a time, the Hebrew word for wonderful is Pala, and Pala means to be marvellous, be wonderful, be surpassing, be extraordinary, to be separate by distinguishing action[4] This is a great description of Jesus as he is the most marvellous and wonderful person we can ever know. He surpasses all others in every way we can possibly imagine, He is extra ordinary in every way and oh so separate from mortal man by all that he has done, a man set apart by God his father to do the will of the father. And yet, still, He was a man, but a man, a wonderful man.

Counsellor. Funny word this, what a way to describe God. Look it up in an English Thesaurus and it gives you therapist, psychotherapist, psychoanalyst, analyst, or shrink. The Hebrew lexicon gives: to advise, consult, give counsel, counsel, purpose, devise, plan[5]. Let’s face it, there are not to my knowledge and hymns or songs which go, “My Jesus, my therapist” or “What a shrink we have in Jesus”

But it is true, He is all of these things, “What a Friend we have in Jesus, All our sins, and grief to bear, What a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer”. That is why he is called Counsellor, he is the ultimate psychotherapist, the top Harley Street shrink, the great Citizens Advice Bureau in the sky . Take your troubles to Jesus, tell him all about them, pour out your grief and woes upon him and through the Holy Spirit, answers will come.

Wonderful Counsellor. The first words used to describe this Son have usually been separated in the English Bibles to form two words. But Isaiah himself joins these two terms together in Isaiah 28:29. So probably, as with the other titles, the one word enhances the other—he is a wonder of a counsellor.

The Mighty God, The everlasting Father. Isaiah is talking about Jesus, who is God, mighty God and through the trinity is also the everlasting father and at the same time the Holy Spirit. A difficult concept to imagine, being three different entities whist being one single individual all at the same time. But man is also a triune being, a subject we also cover later as well as the trinity of God.

The Everlasting Father. Fairly self-explanatory. God is everlasting, He always has been. He always will be. But, I hear you cry, I thought this prophesy was all about Jesus, not the Father. Confusion reigns, but this shows up in a couple of other prophecies. In Isaiah 48:15-16 the God is speaking and says, “I, even I, have spoken; Yes, I have called him, I have brought him, and his way will prosper. Come near to Me, hear this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, I was there. And now the Lord God and His Spirit have sent Me. The statements of Jesus confirm the fact that the “Son” who is given is also known as the Father. Jesus said, “I am not of this world” (John 8:23), “I came in My Father’s name” (John 5:43), and finally, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). So Jesus is the expressed image of the Father, the Sovereign king-maker. By taking this title, Everlasting Father, the Messiah is to be known as the One who is the sovereign Lord over the ever changing years—he produces and directs eternity. Such a name belongs to a god, not just any divine creature or spiritual being, but to the God.

The Prince of Peace. This last title means that the Messiah will be one who ensures for his people have peace. He will be a prince who brings peace.

[1]The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995 . Logos Research Systems, Inc.: Oak Harbor, WA
[2]The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995 . Logos Research Systems, Inc.: Oak Harbor, WA
[3]The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995 . Logos Research Systems, Inc.: Oak Harbor, WA
[4]Hebrew Dictionary
[5] Hebrew Dictionary

Introduction to my Christian Life…..

When I sat down at my computer to write this, I was worried about how others would react. What if they said “This bloke’s not a Bible scholar? Who does he think he is”? Well fortunately, unlike John Bunyan, who spent twelve years in jail for preaching the Gospel as an un-licensed preacher, there is nothing but my own conscience and the leading of the Holy Spirit to stop me. If my musings are rubbish, then I waste my own time. However, if my thoughts were considered acceptable and one person has a better understanding of some bible verses as a result, then all would not have been in vain. There used to be a programme on BBC Radio 4 called “The Tingle Factor”. In this programme, esteemed and distinguished guests, actors, writers, politicians and anyone else who could have some small claim to fame would be asked to discuss pieces of music, which, when played would evoke memories of days past, make the hairs on the back of their necks stand on end, or give them a feeling called “the tingle factor”. They would describe these events from the past and what the passage meant to them.  Some of these accounts were humorous, some moving, others tragic. Some of the people involved were humorous, some moving, others tragic. Some of the music was humorous, some moving, some tragic. But as I drove around the country on my numerous business trips, the radio would play out the misery of these peoples lives, another half hour would pass, and I would be nearer my journeys end. The music was key to many of these people’s lives and would often mark momentous events, life changing situations, great tragedy or huge catastrophes. There are many verses in the Bible that have a similar affect on people, some are well known, some less so. All are key in telling the story of the Bible. I know it can be wrong to take individual verses and try to use them to tell their own narrative. Here I hope I am not doing this, here I am taking some verses that will be examined in context, using the backbone of the adjacent verses and the chapters and books from which they are extracted. Looking at the structure in which they are set and not just using them as slogans or catchphases. It is important that any commentary, however short, amateurish or banal, should be scripturally and spiritually correct. After all a verse out of context is a pretext. Hopefully, what I say may be informative, sometimes humorous, sometimes moving but never tragic. Most importantly, I hope this is in plain English. I do not seek an award from the Plain English Society; I just hope that someone, by reading what is here, may get a glimpse of life. Why plain English? Well the problem is, many, well at least some of the commentaries written on various aspects of the Bible are written in a language alien to most people. All very well for the Christian or theologian, they both speak that hidden and most mysterious of all languages, Chritianese, the language which shrouds the simple message of the gospels into a deep and impenetrable vagueness. The most popular Bible, the King James Version is itself written in an archaic language which although beautiful, is not at all helpful to our understanding. I implore you therefore to beg, buy or borrow a modern translation such as the New International Version. Years ago, my own conversion was hindered by Chritianese. I was in my mid twenties and dating a “religious bird”. To help me in my carnal quest, I went along to church with her on Sunday evenings. She went to a small assembly, most of the people there were, very, very old, they sang hymns that were very, very old. They used the King James Version of the bible; all other translations were banned and probably burned at regular intervals. The evening service was supposed to be a “Gospel” meeting. The morning communion service being reserved for God fearing believers only. Week after week I went along to the “Gospel” meeting and I heard how “I was saved by Grace”. Problem was I didn’t know anyone called Grace. They told me “I was redeemed by the blood of the Lamb”. Ah hah! I thought, perhaps Grace was a butcher or a vet? “The Lamb who was slain and now sits at the right hand of the throne of God”? No, Grace worked at the abattoirs! They spoke in their very own language, Chritianese, and I had not the slightest idea what they were going on about. Unfortunately, this is still going on today. Churches communicate in their own “church speak” to the exclusion, alienation and ultimate damnation of outsiders. But, being a forward thinking little group, one day, they had a children’s outreach service. A chap called Jonathan Day, I believe he was from an organisation called Operation Mobilisation, was supposed to be the speaker. Except he didn’t say a word. Instead, a ventriloquist’s doll, sounding incredibly like Jonathan, upon whose knee he sat, was the speaker. Jonathan obviously found it hard to follow what the poor little chap was saying, because his mouth sometimes seemed to move in time with the dolls. But, he preached the gospel, but this time in words of one syllable; he spoke English, like what it should be spoke. There was a meeting of minds, not mine and Jonathans, but me and the vent! (We in the know, refer to ventriloquist’s dolls as vents). The thick, wooden empty skull met and communicated on equal terms with the vent. Result? I understood, I believed and was baptised. Not there and then, but some months later at the first available baptism, (there are procedures you understand).  Anyway, to get back to the plot, I have tried to keep to plain English, and having complained about the KJV, I quote it a lot, and I am and will be eternally grateful to that little and still thriving Brethren Assembly, Lee Street Church, Horley, Surrey, without whom I would be destined for the fires of hell. So, no letters of complaint about Brethren bashing. In case you were wondering what happened to the religious bird, well I married her in 1977 and as far as I know, she hasn’t regretted a moment.

Isaiah 9 vs 2

2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. [1] KJV

2* Those who walked in the dark have seen a bright light. And it shines upon everyone who lives in the land of darkest shadows. [2] CEV

What a superb verse to start with. “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light!” Who are they? In the Hebrew, the people referred to are the nation of Israel. As far as they were concerned they were all that mattered. As far as prophecy was concerned, the people of Israel were the only people God had communication with. As far as the Old Testament and the writers of it were concerned, no one else existed. The people of Israel were a very elitist society. Although the world was populated with what the Jews disparagingly called “Gentiles”, from the far west of Portugal across to the ends of Russia, China and beyond, up to the Arctic Circle and down to the tip of Africa, and although no one knew at the time, all across the length and breadth of the Americas Australia and New Zealand as well, as far as the Jews were concerned, they were it! No one else was there. No one else mattered to God, no one else knew God, and as far as they believed, God cared even less for the “Gentiles” than they did. If the Jews had understood these prophecies, their most likely reaction would be; does he mean us? Surely not! The Jews truly believed that they walked not in darkness, but in the light of God. Consider this, the world then, geographically, was very similar to the world we know today, apart from the odd plate shift and a few volcanic bits that come and go occasionally. When we read the bible, especially the Old Testament, most people think of the Middle East as being “the world”. Because it is a written history that is very introspective and self-centred, we forget that there were many other civilisations spread across the globe, in China and Japan, there were an advanced and cultured people. Across Europe there was civilisation. All across America there would have been Native American Indians. Even in the Antipodes, aboriginal tribes were probably established and thriving. The whole world as we know it today was populated by many peoples of different races, all made in Gods image, all created from the same dust, all in need of salvation. All Gentiles, every one of them walking in darkness. But what is this darkness and what is this light? Before looking at the darkness, it might be easier to see what is the light referenced here. Jesus called himself “the light of the world” (John 8:12), John the apostle referred to Jesus as the light (John 1:9), in a passage that comes up later. Those who receive the gospel, receive the light. Those who live in Christ live in the light.  What we are talking about, in plain English is good & bad. The light is the good, the darkness is the bad. Jesus is light. Satan is darkness. Heaven is light; hell is darkness, the dark pit of hell, as it is sometimes referred to. So to look at this in a contemporary setting, and this is very much aimed at the non-Christian.  In the “Lord of the Rings, written by Tolkien, a devout Catholic, what was the dark side? The bad guys! In Star Wars, The evil empire and Darth Vader were “on the dark side”. Even in Harry Potter, they spoke of the dark side. (“He who cannot be named went to the dark side”) So basically, Light = Good and Darkness = Evil. Enough of novels, back to the bible again. So what is this light and dark? Christ said, in Acts 26:16-18, as an instruction to Saul on the Damascus Road, 16 “I have appeared to you, because I have chosen you to be my servant. You are to tell others what you have learned about me and what I will show you later.” Then Jesus went on to say, 17 “I will protect you from the Jews and from the Gentiles that I am sending you to. 18 I want you to open their eyes, so that they will turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then their sins will be forgiven, and by faith in me they will become part of God’s holy people.”[3] (Another great passage, worthy of mention later.) Jesus, the risen Lord spoke directly to Saul and gave a commission that would take him to the end of his mortal life and beyond. Why beyond? Because we still have the letters or Epistles of Paul (the apostle formally know as Saul) to teach us, as Christians, how to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Turn from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to the love of God. How plain can the message be? Here the Bible is quite simply equating the power of Satan to darkness and overwhelming power of God to light.

“On those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” Sounds a bit like the well know Crimea poem, “Into the valley of death rode the five thousand…..” Well that is exactly it. Without the light of Jesus, death is the only thing on the agenda. What is meant by death, well apart from physical death, which like tax is unavoidable; there is also spiritual death. Now that is a little trickier to understand! Physical death is very easy, your heart stops beating, you stop breathing and your brain cells stop functioning, all three will happen, but not necessarily in that order. Death is a fact of life, or death is a fact of death, depending on your viewpoint. Your lights go out and there is no one in. You are an ex-person, to paraphrase Monty Python. Spiritual death is a much more serious business. It is the one thing that Jesus despaired of on the cross. He did not complain about the excruciating agony, an agony which we could not comprehend, the agony caused by his very flesh being ripped away by the scourge of whipping, the agony made worse by a crown made of thorns, long needle like thorns being forced down on the head, the agony of having nails driven through your wrists and feet, nails which would be driven through your flesh, trough your bone, splintering it on the way, the searing agony as the cross was dropped into the post hole, your entire weight being taken by three rusty nails, the humiliation of being hung naked for all to see. No he despaired, when the sin of the world was placed on His shoulders and God, His Father, who could not look upon sin, turned away. Jesus then and only then cried out, “Father, Father, why have you forsaken me”. Spiritual death is like that, when the Father turns away from you. That is the Heavenly Father, who is light; you are then left in the darkness, the impenetrable darkness of spiritual death.

The other thing I didn’t mention, if you are not heaven bound, then physical death is still not the end, you still have eternal life, but you spend it in agony in the fires of hell.  The choice is yours, heaven or hell. So choose wisely.

God however has given us this choice, of our own free will. He has given all mankind a way out, a free ticket to heaven. A completely free entry to paradise.

[1]The Holy Bible : King James Version. 1995 . Logos Research Systems, Inc.: Oak Harbor, WA
* 9:2 Mt 4:16; Lk 1:79.
[2] Contemporary English Version
[3] The Holy Bible: Contemporary English Version