One of my students asked recently why we observe Christmas, which is not mentioned (or at least sanctioned) in the scriptures, but not Purim and Passover, which are actually mandated. Okay, fairly deep question and one with several angles for consideration.
On one level we have the idea of the keeping of “days.” Paul in his letter to the Galatians concludes chapter 3 with a discussion on how the coming of Jesus and that subsequently He and His sacrifice led to an adoption into the family of God, separate from the “Law.” As such the “letter of the law” (if not its principles) has passed away. He writes, in chapter 4, “But when the set time had fully come,God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir (verse 2-7).”
He goes on to note that some in Galacia had turned to things (false gods) that bound them. He writes, “Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you (verse 9-11).”
Paul is suggesting that the Law of the Old Testament, and the god’s of pagan society both enslaved. In keeping the strict calendar of observances people were binding themselves to functions and forms.
It can be argued, however, that Jesus Himself kept these days. In fact, He also kept Hanukkah which was not biblically commanded (John 10:22). While this is true, Jesus commented, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).” Until His words on the cross, “It is finished,” that fulfillment would not yet be complete. Thus He kept the festivals of the Law that “all righteousness might be fulfilled.”
Does this mean that observing Purim, Passover, or Sabbath (for that matter) is wrong? This question, in part, has been explored by a fellow blogger Pastor Mike which makes a thought provoking read. But on a ride the fence (and simple) note, it all depends. Are we marking these days as obligation? Are we binding them on ourselves as law? If so, Paul’s concern of Galatians 4:11 seems to apply.
However, are we doing them as activities of praise and remembrance? This seems to open a different aspect of consideration. Jesus said, when we take the bread and fruit of the vine, we should do so in remembrance of Him. In the Book of Acts and in Paul’s own writings (I Corn. 16:2) this was done on “the first day of the week.” Is this “day” a “new obligation?” No. The remembrance is, but the day is not. First Corinthians 11:25 notes it is “as often as you do it.”
Here we can approach the Christmas question. We do it to celebrate the coming of Messiah. It is, like the Lord’s Day, a remembrance. And, for many Christians through the ages, it has been questioned. Yes, it’s celebration is not scripturely commanded. In fact, some Protestants, and especially Puritans, even outlawed it (Cromwell’s England, and the Massachusetts Colony). This may have been because the idea of “days of obligation” had come into many “high church” calendars, or merely because it was not found in the Bible. In either case, they saw it too much like the Galatians’ keeping of days.
In the end, my (very unimportant) opinion is it comes down to heart. Why do we celebrate Christmas? To rejoice and remember the coming of our salvation. Why do (most) Christians not keep the Hebrew festivals? They are part of the old covenant, which the coming of Messiah fulfilled (and with that advent, the requirement to keep them passed away).