Every Christmas, Christians debate whether it should be celebrated or not. Reformed believers in particular question whether this celebration violates the regulative principle, a principle that upholds the primacy of Scripture in worship, doctrine, and practice:
The acceptable way of worshiping the true God has been instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations or devisings of men… or any other way not commanded in Holy Scripture (Westminster Confession of Faith 21:1).
Since the commemoration of Christ’s birth is nowhere commanded in Scripture, why celebrate it? The Reformers probably questioned it, and the Puritans so disliked it that they even outlawed it.
Here are some things to consider.
First, contrary to popular evangelical belief, Christmas does not have pagan roots. According to Jack Kinneer, the traditional dates of December 25, 5 B.C. or January 6, 4 B.C. are plausible and closer to reality than most contemporary theorists would accept. A date of late January or early February 4 B.C. is even more likely. And December 25 was not an accommodation to a pagan festival on the winter solstice to honor the Sun-god. Rather, it was regarded as the actual historical date of Jesus’ birth since the early church (Hippolytus, 2nd century and Chrysostom, 4th century).[ref] Jack Kinneer, “When was Jesus Born? and Other Commonly Asked Christmas Questions.” See also my post “Demythologizing 7 Popular Christmas Myths.”[/ref]
Second, the birth of Christ is a great milestone in God’s redemptive plan. It was foretold and alluded to in the books of Moses and in the Prophets, and received significant treatment in the Gospels (two chapters in Matthew and three in Luke) as well. Silence doesn’t necessarily mean wrong. Is worship on Sundays wrong because the New Testament doesn’t tell us anything about the celebration of Christ’s resurrection? Is the doctrine of the Trinity wrong because there’s no such word in the Bible?
Third, the abuse and commercialization of Christmas do not make the celebration evil in itself. Is Lord’s Day worship evil because of so much abuse, corruption, and commercialization by the televangelists? God instituted the great feasts for Israel so they would mark the great events in their redemption and enjoy the food, wine, family, and merrymaking while giving thanks to God for his mercy and goodness. But later, these feasts were also abused corrupted, so Jesus drove out the seller and moneychangers from the Temple court. But even then, Jesus faithfully observed the Jewish feasts.
Fourth, there is some Scriptural ring, if not precedent, to gift-giving. While the Purim celebration and gift-giving were not God-centered (Est 9:22), nevertheless, the idea is present. The Magi had gifts for the baby Jesus. Jesus himself is a “free gift” from God to his people (Rom 5:15). In the church, we “exchange presents” by using the different gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit for the building up of the body of Christ (1Cor 12:27-30; Eph 4:8-12; 1 Pet 4:10).
Finally, Christians should focus on the redemptive significance of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection to “save his people from sin.” This means that our celebrations can be more Scriptural if we lessen (or even eliminate) the extraneous trappings of Christmas such as mistletoe, Santa Claus (not St. Nicholas), Rudolph, “little Lord Jesus no crying he makes,” etc.
Therefore, let us not be quick to judge Christmas as pagan. For in our zeal to get rid of its “pagan” accoutrement, we don’t see that in our regular Lord’s Day worship are many gimmicks and innovations extracted from the pagan world around us – “praise and worship” music, drama, entertainment, pop-psychology “sermons.” God condemned these as “whor[ing] after the Baals” (Jdgs 8:33) and as lusting after paganism (1John 2:15-16). Today’s churches are guilty of the same sin that led to Israel’s judgment, when they inquired how the pagans around them worshiped, so “that I also may do the same” (Deut 12:30).