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Christmas: Holiday or Holy Day?

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

In an age of rising secularization Christmas retains its redemptive value.

The Son of God became human. No more profound words have ever been spoken. The thought that our Creator humiliated Himself by becoming like those He created is unfathomable, yet it is unquestionable. For the Apostle John, a student and witness of the historical Jesus and Christ of faith, confidently attests, “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us” (John 1:14).

The enfleshing of the Son of God is referred to as the incarnation. Jesus is both God and human. He is not half God and half human, but all God and all human. Furthermore, His humanity and divinity do not mix but retain their distinct properties, yet they are united in the man Christ Jesus.

It is the birth of the man Christ Jesus that Christians celebrate year round because it is His incarnation that makes our salvation possible. But it is society in general that celebrates this historic event on December 25, otherwise known as Christmas.

Holiday or Holy Day?

Christmas is not a holiday; it is a holy day. Holidays are what we celebrate by closing our businesses and taking paid time off from work. Holy days are what we celebrate by giving God reverence and reflecting on His salvific acts on behalf of His chosen people. And while the spirit of Christmas may find some intersection with the Father giving His Son as a gift to humanity and the Magi bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the newborn King, the secularization of the holiday has robbed it of its holiness. Today, the Call of Duty is louder than the call of divinity to receive that great salvation that the God-man has made possible for every human being.

So what exactly do we celebrate at this time each year, a holiday or a holy day? I’m reminded of Jesus’s words to the Jews concerning the ministry of John the Baptizer in the wilderness: “What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and far more than a prophet” (Luke 7:26). Like John the Baptizer, Jesus is far more than a prophet. He is far more than an ethical teacher. He is far more than a moral philosopher. He is God!

The Holy Scriptures foretold of Jesus’s incarnation for the salvation of mankind and all of creation:

  • He is the Descendant of the woman who would bruise the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15).

  • He is the Descendant of Abraham through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gal. 3:16).

  • He is the One born of a virgin who would be known as “God with us” (Matt. 1:20-23).

  • He is the Spirit-empowered Messenger who would free the spiritually captive (Luke 4:18-19).

  • He is the suffering Servant who would die for the sins of the world (Matt. 8:17).

  • He is the promised Son of David whose reign would never end (Luke 1:31-32).

Over the span of approximately 1,000 years, Jesus’s incarnation was foretold. From Genesis 3:15 to Malachi 3:1, all of creation waited in anticipation for the inbreaking of the Son of God into human history. This momentous occasion transpired in the town of Bethlehem in the region of Judea circa the spring of 4 B.C.[1]

From Holiday to Holy Day

The incarnation of Christ began to be celebrated as the Holy Day we know today in Rome on December 25, 360 A.D.[2] The late inauguration of this celebration was the result of the church’s emphasis on the resurrection of Christ, which was the climatic event of Christ’s mission, but the church began to recognize that without the incarnation there would be no resurrection. As a result, Jesus’s birth became a Holy Day for the church as it redeemed and reconstituted then extant Roman holidays from which such customs as Christmas trees and the giving of presents were adopted.[3]

So yes, December 25 was the date of a pagan holiday before it became the date of a Christian holy day. Does this discount or discredit the holy day we call Christmas? Not at all. There can be redemptive value in pagan symbols and practices as evidenced by Paul’s sermon in Athens in response to a pagan altar dedicated “to an unknown God” (Acts 17:23).

In the final analysis, what is important is what Christmas means to us. For those who profess faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God and Savior of the world, Christmas is a celebration of the incarnation and birth of our God and Savior, given to us by the Father. For others it is a time to celebrate the tradition of gift giving and gift receiving. Consequently, Christmas can be a holy day or holiday depending on one’s perspective of who Jesus is. Nevertheless, the holiday holds considerable redemptive value, when like the Apostle Paul, we can share with others the greatest gift of all by telling them the story of the birth of Christ.

Rev. Isaac Hayes is the president of Healing of the Soul Ministries. He is also an Assistant Pastor at the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, IL, and a doctoral student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. Follow Rev. Hayes on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @RevIsaacHayes

[1] Craig Blomberg, "Matthew," vol. 22, in The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 61–62. [2] Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 3 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), 395. [3] Ibid., 396-97.

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