Have you noticed that every year, people seem more intent on secularizing Christmas? They wish you a “Happy Holiday” or “Seasons Greetings” and then have presentations at school that make no mention of the Manger or the Wise Men, let alone the Christ Child. Now, I may be a little overly sensitive, but somehow, I think that if the school tried to secularize Muslim or Jewish Holidays in the same fashion, that just wouldn’t be right.

Anyway, maybe they are right.

Maybe, just maybe, Christmas itself has become more of a cultural holiday and should have the various religious elements removed so as not to offend those who might not practice the Christian faith.

This morning, we are going to take a look at what happens when we take Christ out of Christmas.

Well, the obvious thing is that we won’t be able to say Merry Christmas anymore.

If we are going to do this right, the first thing we need to do is take his name out of the holiday. That’s why we had Christmas in the first place, to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Most people realize the date of Christmas was originally used in pagan celebrations in Rome to celebrate the passing of the winter solstice. The ancients knew that by this time in December, the shortest day and longest night had passed, and with that came the promise of longer days, shorter nights and eventually spring. Around AD 270, Emperor Aurelia capitalized upon the heathen worship of the sun and declared December 25th as the birthday of the Unconquered Sun.

The date of December 25th as the celebration of Christ’s birth was first seen in a Roman calendar dating from approximately AD 336 in AD 354 at the beginning of the reign of Liberius as the bishop of Rome, the 25th of December had become the official date for the celebration of the birth of Christ in the church.

But really. You know as well as I do that it is very unlikely that Christ was born during the winter months of Israel. Those cold and wet winter nights. Why not?

Good question. We are told in Luke 2:8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.

Now we are told, by those who should know, that the usual time for the sheep to be kept in the fields surrounding Bethlehem is after the last of the winter rains in April and before the rains start up again in November.

But December wasn’t always the choice for celebrating Christ’s birthday, in the two hundred years after the death of Christ, Christians celebrated his birth on January 6, April 19, May 20 and several other dates.

A number of years ago, a British physicist and astronomer, David Hughes, calculated that the date of Christ’s birth was September 17th, 7 B.C. He based this on various scientific evidence, including that of a conjunction of two planets, Jupiter and Saturn, in the constellation of Pisces on that date.

He concludes that this extraordinary celestial display was the “star” seen by the distant wise men. But the truth is that we really don’t know when Christ was born. Historically, it would have had to have been before 4 BC, which was the death of Herod the Great.

Because of the weather patterns, it is doubtful if it would have happened outside of that seven-month spread between April and November.

But it really doesn’t matter, does it? The fact is that if we are going to take all of the religious symbolism out of Christmas, we have to start by getting rid of the Christ in Christmas.

So, you may think that leaves us with wishing people a Merry X-Mas.

Not! You see, according to Wikipedia, The ‘X’ comes from the Greek letter Chi, which is the first letter of the Greek word Christós, which became Christ in English.

If we drop the Christ and the X, that leaves us wishing people a Merry —-mas.

And that really doesn’t work either because the word Christmas was a combination of the words Christ and Mass, and while the word Mass comes from the Latin Missa, which simply means “The Meeting,” historically, it has referred to the public celebration of the Eucharist in the Catholic Church.

Or, very simply, mass means church service, which, of course, is rife with religious symbolism.

So, I guess we’ll just have to wish people a Merry ——, and we’ll have to hope that people don’t get confused and think that we are talking about Mary, the mother of Christ. So, we leave them with Merry because of the different spellings.

So where does that leave us? We won’t call it Christmas we’ll have to simply refer to it as the Holidays, and even that’s wrong because the word holiday is simply the diminutive of the words, Holy Day.

So maybe we can just call it “Winterfest.” And instead of having a Christmas tree, we’ll just have a festive tree.

A while back, I drove by a Christmas tree lot, and while there wasn’t a nativity scene anywhere to be seen, there were cut-outs of Angels.

I’m sure that they were trying to be very careful not to add religion to their decorations, so there were just angels.

Angels are an important part of the season for most people.

We see them on trees and rooftops. They have become lawn ornaments and gift tags.

Christmas cards that don’t say anything about Jesus will have angels with trumpets on the cover. Go figure. But you can’t just have angels without realizing where the angels come from.

The Christmas story is full of angels. It was an Angel who told Mary she would have a child even though she was a virgin. It was an angel who reassured Joseph that his fiancé hadn’t been unfaithful and that the child she was carrying had been conceived by the Holy Spirit.

It was Angels who appeared to the shepherds with news of the Christ child being born in Bethlehem, and it was an angel who warned Joseph and Mary that Herod wanted to kill their child.

Probably the part of the story that most of us associate with angels is found in Luke 2:13–14 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

In recent years, angels have become harmless nonreligious icons. I’ve had people tell me: I’m really not religious, but I believe in angels. Uh-uh, won’t work. If you are taking Christ out of Christmas, then you have to get rid of the angel from the top of the tree.

So, let’s get rid of that pesky angel off the top of the tree.

The tree looks a little barren. What should we replace it with? I know, a star.

What could be any more nonreligious than a star?

It appears on the flags of half the countries in the world, covers the sidewalk in front of the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood and fills the sky at night. So, there shouldn’t be any problem with having a star on top of the tree, right?

Well, why do you think people put stars on top of their Christmas trees?

Why not moons or little Jupiter? I think having a Saturn with its rings would be pretty cool.

But no, traditionally, if they didn’t use an angel, people insisted on placing stars on their trees. How come?

It probably goes back to the Christmas story; you know how the wise men followed the star that was shining in the night sky, which eventually led them to Bethlehem, where they found the Christ child.

The story is found in Matthew 2:2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

There have been different legends told about the wise men and the star they followed through the years. One of those legends tells us that the star, with its mission complete, fell into the well at Bethlehem and that it is still there and can be seen sometimes by those whose hearts are pure. Well, it might be in the well at Bethlehem, but if we are taking religion out of the holiday season, you are going to have to get rid of the star on top of your tree.

Well, I guess that leaves us with a tree without a top.

Do you ever wonder where the Christmas tree came from?

Even though the early pagan cultures, from the Romans to the Egyptians to the Celts, used evergreens in their celebrations to signify eternal life, the Christmas tree didn’t actually come into use until approximately the 16th century, and the home of the Christmas tree was Germany.

Why was it used?

History tells us that it became popular because of a medieval play about Adam and Eve that was put on each year in December. Part of the production was the paradise tree, a fir tree hung with apples signifying the forbidden fruit in the garden.

So having a “paradise tree” in your house was, in the beginning, a fad. At the same time, though, there was another tradition in Germany, and that was the Christmas pyramid, which was a triangular shelving unit on which Christmas figurines, fruit, and gifts were put.

The pyramid was decorated with a star, signifying the star the wise men followed.

Eventually, the paradise tree and Christmas pyramid merged, and we have the Christmas tree.

Now, a number of years ago I heard that it was Martin Luther, a former catholic priest who became the father of the Reformation and the Lutheran Church, who started this tradition. So, I hunted and hunted. This was in the days before Google, so you actually had to comb through books to find what you were looking for.

I read a pile of books, church history, Christmas traditions, and encyclopedias, and finally, I found it, and I quote, “One legend says that Martin Luther started the practice, according to the story, he noticed the starlit sky as he walked home one Christmas eve about the year 1513. He thought the stars looked as if they were shining on the branches. When he arrived home, Martin Luther placed a small fir tree inside his house. He decorated it with lighted candles.”

I would like to tell you that that exciting discovery came from Encyclopaedia Britannica, or World Book, Church History through the ages, but the truth is that I came upon it in a definitive yet obscure reference volume that many of you probably aren’t familiar with but that shouldn’t negate the value of the material.

You see, I found my facts about Martin Luther in Charlie Brown’s Fourth Super Book of Questions and Answers.

The problem is that any way you slice it the Christmas tree has a religious background, so it’s gotta go.

I guess if there’s no tree, then Santa will just have to leave his gifts in the corner, won’t he?

Well, that would be well and good if we could leave Santa in your non-religious Christmas. You’re probably sitting there thinking, “Surely you can’t make Santa out to be religious symbolism?”

Sorry. You see, Santa Claus wasn’t always Santa Claus. That’s a relatively new innovation in the last couple of hundred years.

The Santa we know today had his beginnings in 1823 with Clement C. Moore’s poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” in which he described Santa as “chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf.”

His roots actually go back 1700 years when a man by the name of Nicholas was Bishop of the city or Myra.

If we were to pull up our trusty map here, we would discover that Myra is situated here, on the coast of Turkey. Tradition tells us that Nicholas was born into a wealthy family and was orphaned as a child because of the plague. He became a priest in his late teens and was known for his generosity.

During the Roman persecutions of the Christians, he was imprisoned and wasn’t released until Emperor Constantine became a believer.

Legend tells us that he took gifts to the children of poor families and would deliver them by dropping them down their chimneys. One story tells of how Nicholas heard of a family with three daughters who couldn’t marry because they had no dowry. Nicholas snuck into their home and left gold coins in the socks the girls had left hanging on the mantle to dry. Guess back then, it wasn’t a matter of marrying for looks or love it all boiled down to money.

After his death, the Church pronounced him a Saint, and when Christmas started being celebrated, St. Nicholas became a part of the celebration. So maybe the Easter Bunny could come early.

It really doesn’t matter if we have a Santa or not, I guess, as long as we have gifts, right?

All the presents are wrapped up with pretty paper and bows and placed by someone who has no religious connections at all in the corner of the living room where the tree used to be.

Let me read you a scripture.

It’s a portion of the story I mentioned earlier about the wise men arriving to worship Jesus, Matthew 2:10–11 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

So, gifts have been around for as long as Christmas has been around.

You’ve probably all heard what would have happened if it had of been three wise women instead, right?

They Would Have Asked Directions
They Would Have Arrived on Time
They Would Have Helped Deliver the Baby
They Would Have Cleaned the Stable
They Would Have made a Casserole
They Would Have Brought Practical Gifts.

Even though the gifts of the Magi may not have been practical, they were all significant.

God was traditionally the gift for a King. We are told that in Persia, it was customary that no one could approach the King without first presenting him with a gift of gold. Good work if you can find it. And so we need to remember that the child in the cradle was also the King of Kings.

The second gift was frankincense, which was a type of incense that was used in temple worship. As a matter of fact, it’s mentioned in the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament as a type of sacrifice.

And so, this was a gift for a priest, one who would open the way to God for the people. It’s interesting that in Latin, the word for priest is Pontifex, which literally means “bridge builder,” and Jesus did what none of us could do: he built a bride for us to God.

The third gift was Myrrh, and myrrh was mixed with aloes by the Jews to embalm their dead. I wonder if Mary remembered the gifts when her son was crucified. I wonder if she still had the myrrh. It must have been one of the very first prepaid funerals.
And so, the gifts were brought to a child who would be King, Priest and who would die for the world. No one of these gifts would have been sufficient to fully describe who Christ was. Instead, it took all three.

So, each year when we open our presents, we remember the gifts that were given to Christ 2000 years ago, and you know what that means, don’t you? No gifts.

So, what do we have left? We’ve taken away the Christ and the mass, the angels, the stars, the tree. We’ve had to get rid of Santa and all the gifts. Guess it’s going to be a pretty boring Winterfest morning.

We could always sing. Of course, we can’t sing Away in a Manger, or the First Noel, or Hark the Herald Angels Sing, or Joy to the World, or any of the other traditional music.

I marvelled that when I worked in retail, they told us not to wish people a Merry Christmas because it might offend someone who wasn’t from a Christian background, and then they’d play Christmas hymns for two months. I guess you take what you can get.

However, if you are serious about secularizing Christmas, the only songs you will have left will be about reindeer and snowmen. And if you sing about snowmen, you won’t be able to pretend that he is Parson Brown, and if you sing about reindeer, you won’t be able to sing about Santa.

Unless you want to write a song about non-religious snowmen and reindeer without Santa, you are going to be stuck with Jingle Bells and a Mariah Carey album.

And that leaves us with nothing to do with our day off.

Did anyone catch the recent statement by The Canadian Human Rights Commission? It read, “Discrimination against religious minorities in Canada is grounded in Canada’s history of colonialism. An obvious example is statutory holidays in Canada.” The commission then explained this by noting that the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter get days off, while non-Christians have to “request special accommodations to observe their holy days.”

Apparently, not everyone agrees with that sentiment. One national poll in 2022 asked Canadians who grew up non-Christian whether they were offended by the greeting “Merry Christmas.” Of the respondents, 92 percent said “no.” That same poll also asked Canadians of all religions whether Christmas and other “religious” holidays should be struck from the country’s official statutory holidays. Only six percent said “yes.”

When asked his opinion on the report, the Prime Minister stated, “I’m very pleased to stand up and try to answer a totally ridiculous question. Obviously, Christmas is not racist,”

And in Quebec, which has one of the lowest rates of Church attendance across the country, the National Assembly unanimously adopted a motion on Wednesday to defend Christmas.

And Quebec Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette stated, “Honestly, we will continue to celebrate Christmas, and then we will not apologize for celebrating Christmas in Quebec.”

On Friday, the House of Commons unanimously passed a motion that stated, “The house should recall that Christmas is a tradition celebrated in Quebec and Canada and denounce the CHRC’s statement that ‘statutory holidays related to Christianity, including Christmas and Easter,’ represent an ‘obvious example’ of ‘systemic religious discrimination,’ and that this ‘discrimination against religious minorities in Canada is grounded in Canada’s history of colonialism.’”

And no wonder, considering that their Christmas Break goes from the second Friday preceding Christmas Day until the first Monday in February

Ok, here’s the truth. This year and for many years, the world will not celebrate the Winterfest they will celebrate Christmas with both Christ and Mas. Churches will be packed on Christmas Eve as people who haven’t darkened the door for 12 months gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Trees will have stars and angels, and in memory of a bishop named Nicholas, Santa will deliver gifts to children all over the world just as the Magi gave gifts to the Christ child.

We’ll sing our carols, and the most pagan amongst us will celebrate the birth of Jesus in Song.

And that’s good because, as Jesus said in Luke 19:40 He (Jesus) replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

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