For those celebrating today my best wishes go out to you and I echo the angels in Luke, "Peace on earth and good will to men."
For those of us in the HR, Messianic world sadly today is a day of controversy and often anger. I am still seeing posts calling Christmas trees idolatry. Some enterprising wag has recorded a song to the tune of "O Tannenbaum" and titled it "Idol-a-tree, Idol-a-tree." So uplifting.
For those of you enjoying this day and celebrating with family the rest of this may seem bizarre and superfluous. Perhaps it may help some who are struggling with this issue.
First, celebrating Christmas today is not a hold-over from celebrations in ancient Rome for Saturnalia and Mithras. The date December 25 was believed to be the birthday of the Messiah about 100 years before December 25 (Not even the date for Saturnalia which is a few days earlier) became a prominent day in Sol Invictus worship. Many scholars are even questioning now if Sol Invictus was ever that dominant in Roman religious life. Even if there is a date connection this proves nothing. Laura Bush was born on November 4 a few years before I was. When I celebrate my birthday I am not secretly celebrating Laura's birthday it just happens to coincide with mine. Remember the old canard--correlation does not equal causation.
Second, there is no such thing as "accidental paganism." A person doesn't unknowingly worship a foreign god, because worship is intentional. In the book of Joel chapter 2 we are told that whoever calls on the name of the Lord (YHWH) will be saved. This reasoning would lead us to believe that all German speakers are saved because they say the term "Ja" all day long every day. (Yah is a Biblical shortened term for YHWH.) They even say it with the "Y" sound so they are definitely in.😀 Watch some swimmers and divers--they enter the water in a very similar pattern to a Jewish Mikveh. I suppose they are now "closet Hebrews?"
The priesthood that God sets up in Israel in the Torah is very reminiscent of the Egyptian priesthood with its sacrifices and the use of a chest called a palanquin. Because pagans do some things similar to those practices enjoined upon Israel by God we have no fear that the Levitical worship was pagan or in any way touched by paganism. Intent is powerfully involved in worship. It is not everything but it is the main thing. Of course, the uppermost issue is obedience to God's commands.
The children of Israel complained and God sent serpents into their camp. To be saved from dying from the venomous bites God instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole. Those Israelites who looked up at the bronze serpent were saved. Later Hezekiah had to destroy the serpent because the Israelites were burning incense to it. It was built on God's order, the people were to look at it to be saved, but it was not to be worshiped. Yeshua (Jesus) even tells us that he will be lifted up like the serpent in the wilderness. What we do with something may be more important than what we are doing. (Not always true--some actions are wicked regardless)
After Naaman was healed he was distressed that he would be called to accompany the Syrian King everyday in the worship of pagan idols. Elisha assures him it will be ok. God will know that he realizes who the true God is.
Certainly, Israel was to tear down the altars of the Canaanites and enjoined not to worship God in the way of the heathen. Some of this is not easy to work out. What in our lives today become the "high places" that so grieved the Lord? There are actions that are always proscribed in scripture but they may not always be called idolatry or paganism. Sometimes it is just plain unregenerate human nature showing itself.
Finally each person should follow the dictates of their own conscience in the celebration of Christmas. There is plenty wrong with what goes on at Christmas just as there are a lot of wonderful things--generosity, singing praises, taking care of the needy, and family events. Frankly, I can't stand the silliness--elves, Santa, reindeer, etc. It's like going to McDonalds before you go home to have Thanksgiving dinner. You will have no room for the important things. In any case, I suggest we be careful in condemning our brothers and sisters in areas where we don't know intent nor are we totally aware of God's views of the behavior. As we celebrate (or not) Christmas let us grant each other charity and good will.