Daniel S Dykstra
(Investigator 39, 1994 November)
Having been one of Jehovah's Witnesses officially for over twenty nine years and having come out of that organization, I found it necessary to reevaluate almost everything I believed to be scripturally true.
This big 'sorting' out process to discard any spiritual 'baggage' I might be carrying was, and is, not an easy thing to do. Could I now vote in national or local elections? What charities could I support, The Red Cross, or those supported or run by religious organizations? Could I acknowledge people’s birthdays with a card or gift, and what about my own? What Holidays could I take part in if any? What about the 'pagan' background in many of them? What about visiting various churches with their varying doctrines, and which ones could I accept, and which ones would I definitely have to reject? This was going to take some work, thinking, studying, and prayer for help and answers to these types of things.
In considering what many Jehovah's Witnesses consider their 'agenda' for important things and what Church people (Christians) think they need to know, I have found a vast difference. The thought of 'saved by grace' or a 'personal relationship with Jesus Christ' seems not to be the issue of importance to most Witnesses. What is important is 'right doctrine', which includes your view of so-called 'worldly holidays', neutrality to world governments, which by the way most Witnesses are not neutral, they are against them, blood transfusions, tobacco use, and things such as these.
I would like to address one of these issues at this time, namely birthdays and Christmas as these two holidays are actually related as one deals with the birth of Jesus.
When I was a small child I remember having a few birthday parties for myself and taking part in a few at school. I never felt that my parents or grandparents were actually 'idolizing' or 'worshiping' me. (MAKE SURE OF ALL THINGS p. 241, 242) As a matter of fact had I been bad or naughty even on my birthday, my parents would have 'nailed me' so-to-speak! But I felt that I was important and loved as a family member. As a gift from God to my parents, I was suppose to be 'special' although I do not know if they still feel that way about me! Jehovah's Witnesses quite often celebrate their wedding anniversaries today, which is actually a celebration of the birth of their marriage which is no more 'God arranged or ordained' than the birth of a child! Would such action indicate that you're worshiping your mate or idolizing them?
What about the thought that birthdays are of pagan origin? To me this argument holds little water! Anything 'pre-Christian' can be said to be 'pagan'! The pagan origin of the calendar with the names of pagan gods depicting various months does not stop Christians from using the calendar today does it? The celebration of wedding anniversaries and the giving of rings in marriage, of pagan origin is practiced by Jehovah's Witnesses today. Why? Because if we tried to scrupulously avoid everything that 'pagans' ever did we would drive ourselves 'batty'! The Pharisees spent much time trying to figure out what was 'clean' and 'unclean' and making whether people followed them (their works) or not a basis for judgment of God's favor.
I make it a point to note the 'joy' of children anticipating their own birthday and celebrating the birthday of a friend. The fact that Pharoah's Baker and John the Babtist lost their lives at two birthday celebrations in the past (no doubt isolated incidents and not common practice) should be no reason not to honor and draw attention to one of God's creations (your child) by celebrating their birthday. The wedding of Pharoah's daughter to Solomon (1 Kings 9:16) was marked by the death of many, to provide a wedding gift (the town of Gezer) to the wedding couple, but that doesn't mean we do not have wedding celebrations connected with our civil marriages because of this bloodshed!
Oh, I got by for many years not celebrating my birthday as a Witness, but you know, I would really have liked to have had them. Yes, I got gifts at other times, even as I buy gifts for my children at other times even today. But to let them know they are 'special' and 'loved' and we are happy that they were born, and acknowledging that birth by a birthday celebration, to me is what Christianity is all about, love of our fellow man.
How about Christmas, the so-called birth of our Lord Jesus Christ? In thinking about which holidays I could support and accept, one that I found I could not quite go along with was Halloween! It is not because of what it used to represent, but because of what it still represented to this day! Evidently many others feel that way too! Many churches in this area try and substitute something else in place of Halloween so that children will not have to take part in what many consider not in the children’s best interest. At the church we attend they call it “Harvest Day” celebration, and the kids dress up in various costumes, eat candy, and generally have a party at the church. Now the roots or origin of the Harvest Day party you could say was Halloween! But since that is the case, is it wrong for parents to substitute something more desirable in its place? I hardly think so. To me it appears to be light over darkness!
The ancient Roman (pagan) Winter Solstice (Saturnalia) was celebrated on December 25th or a few days after the shortest light day, when the Sun God Ra was thought by worshippers to be conquering darkness with his light. Christians did not want to take part in the worship of this Sun God and so decided to replace it with the celebration of Christ's birth and by placing the celebration of his birth on that day they would overshadow the pagan worship, with honor to Christ. Much like the substitute date for Halloween mentioned above.
Celebrations do not need to take place on the actual day of its memorial. The 'Monday' holiday bill is evidence of that. And we don't consider such a thing wrong even though the exact historical date is not the one being kept. But, more importantly, Christ's birth was celebrated even by angels rejoicing. (Luke 2: 8-14)
In my childhood I have very fond memories of going to my grandmother's house for Christmas, getting together with family, opening gifts, and also experiencing the joy of giving, even though my gifts at that time were not much! True again, I got by without Christmas after I became a Witness, but looking back I missed a lot of joy and good spirit over the years. I'm slowly regaining that now.
It is true that there are some undesirable things connected with Christmas. In a (AP) New York article that appeared in our hometown newspaper THE HOLLAND SENTINEL there appeared an article in November of 92 which was titled MINISTERS DECRY SHOPPING FRENZY OF CHRISTMAS. In the article a national coalition of religious leaders complained that commercialism has reduced Christmas to 'a carnival of mass marketing.' The coalition urged that 'all people of faith to speak out against the over-commercialization of Christmas in our media and malls.' The leaders said sermons and other church efforts should direct the focus of Christmas to thoughtful giving and helping of others.
These church leaders, always condemned by The Watchtower Society, recognized that some things connected with Christmas were not good. But should the celebration be 'scrapped' because some abuse the birth celebration? In 1 Cor. 11 Paul mentioned that some early Christians were abusing the celebration of the Lord's evening meal by coming just for the food and drink and overdoing it, so-to-speak. Because some were abusing this, should Christians not then celebrate the occasion?
Also, does Christmas today, in our country and culture mean what it did to people of pagan culture? Do people of our part of the world still worship the sun on December 25th? The Christian concept of Christmas remains to honor the birth of our Lord!
Also, Christmas is a time when we can stop and reflect on all that Jesus has done for us, and also a time to reflect the spirit of generosity to others even as God has been generous to us. We also keep in contact with the many people we know and care about via Christmas cards each year. We send out many cards to various friends, relatives, and acquaintances we have to let them know we care and are thinking of them. It would be literally impossible to call, and visit, and write lengthy letters to each and every one, why if we spent a full day with each one on our list it would be only once every two years or so! But we keep in touch with people, note when they move, have children, etc., etc. all by the cards we not only send but also receive.
Christmas celebration is not a salvation issue! As to whether or not I can celebrate it, note the words of Paul to the Colossians (2:16):"Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival [Christmas, I might add] a new moon celebration, or a Sabbath day."Also at Romans 14:5-6:'One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special [Birthdays, Christmas] does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God'.A friend of mine who is a Bible teacher impressed on me that in understanding Scripture it is often important to look to our Jewish roots for help. In this regard a person that attends our Bible Study held at our home gave me some copies of a magazine entitled ISRAEL MY GLORY. Seeing the value of this in understanding Jewish culture I ordered a subscription. In the December-January issue (1986-1987) there appeared an article called WHY DO WE CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS ON DECEMBER 25th? As recorded in a ministry newsletter this article stated some things I found interesting.
It reports: A full explanation of the Jewish observance of Chanukkah (also called Hanukkah), is given, which is a major holiday for Jews to this day. Although it was not one of the seven biblical holidays, it nevertheless is of great significance. It is also called 'The Festival of Dedication', or sometimes 'The Festival of Lights.'
John 10:22,23 records that Jesus was walking on the porch of the temple during this observance. He had nothing to say against it and judging by His location, may have been participating, even though it was not commanded in the Bible. On Page 5, the article continues, "December 25th is almost certainly not the actual date for the incarnation. Shepherds in Israel would not have been out in the fields tending their flocks at night in December." Therefore, why choose this date?
First, it was on the 25th, day of the Hebrew month Kislev (corresponding to our December) that Antiochus chose to desecrate the Temple and establish worship of his god because it was already an existing heathen holiday. Therefore, 1 and 2 Maccabees go out of their way to stress the fact that it was exactly three years later, to the day, that the Temple was cleansed and rededicated (the 25th of Kislev).
Now when the Church, long after the actual date of the incarnation had been lost in antiquity, chose the date to commemorate the incomparable occasion when deity dwelt within a human body, what better association than the Temple where deity had also dwelt, and the 25th of Kislev which was an already established date commemorating the cleansing and rededication of the Temple as a dwelling place for God?
The Church did not choose December 25th, because it was an ancient heathen holiday, but because of the Jewish feast of Chanukkah that occurred on that date, and the added significance that Jesus gave to it. This date eloquently testified to the fact that at the birth of Jesus deity was dwelling in a human body (Temple) and shining out to give light in the midst of darkness. The great Hebrew-Christian scholar, Alfred Edersheim, whose writings on this period of time are still classic, shared this thought,"The date of the feast of Dedication (Chanukkah)...the 25th of Kislev...seems to have been adopted by the ancient church as that of the birth of our blessed Lord... Christmas...the dedication of the true temple which is the body of Jesus."Whether or not you choose to celebrate your birth or anyone else's, do not feel that it matters to God one way or the other in order to gain salvation. What matters to God and what we are judged on is, do we love him with all our heart and do we love our fellow man, not just in word but also in deed? Our works in this regard are personal and not the issue many make of it. Our Salvation depends on our faith in Jesus.
It would be nice if all could see their freedom in Christ. Jehovah's Witnesses like the Pharisees, are bound up in rules and regulations and fears about holidays. In closing Paul's letter to the Colossians seems appropriate
Since you died, as it were, with Christ and this has set you free from following the world's ideas of how to be saved by doing good and obeying various rules why do you keep right on following them anyway, still bound by such rules as not eating, tasting, or even touching certain foods? Such rules are mere human teachings, for food was made to be eaten and used up. These rules may seem good, for rules of this kind require strong devotion and are humiliating and hard on the body, but they have no effect when it comes to conquering a person's evil thoughts and desires. They only make him proud. (Col. 2:20-23 LB)
So, Merry Christmas everyone and mark your calendars for June 19th, my birthday!!!
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