Many Old Testament passages look forward to the coming of our Lord, conceived in a virgin’s womb, born in Bethlehem. Matthew devotes almost two chapters to describing and explaining the event; Luke does the same. John takes us right back into eternity when he invites us to reflect on its significance. There are other passages in the New Testament that help us to understand it. In other words, the Bible pays a great deal of attention to the birth of the Saviour and the theology of the incarnation. Why shouldn’t we?
The other year I read an article by a Christian lamenting the fact that his church celebrated Christmas. He didn’t believe it was “biblical.” After all, evangelical Christians and their churches are guided by Scripture—and there’s nothing in the Bible telling us to celebrate Christmas each year, far less celebrate it on December 25. I have friends who share that point of view. They believe we should order our lives, and our churches, exclusively in obedience to the directives of Scripture. And there’s no command to celebrate Christmas—much less Advent!
When you add to that the way that Christmas, and the month preceding it, has been hijacked by commercialism, and then consider how many people find Christmas an especially difficult time, then maybe there’s a case for evangelicals abandoning it. What would really be lost?
What does the Bible say?
I think there is a biblical response to the objection, and also an answer to the question “What would be lost?”
First, the biblical response. We are responsible to obey all God commands in his word. But that isn’t the same as saying that unless Scripture specifically commands it we should not do it.
Think of marriage. The Bible doesn’t command you to get married. Nor does it tell you whom to marry. It gives you principles and encourages you to work them out in your life, and promises you the help of the Spirit to do that. You seek to apply these principles wisely.
The same is true of church life. We know there are certain basic principles that direct us how to live and worship together as church families. But we’re not given an order of service, told how many services there should be on Sunday, and a thousand other details. God expects us to use wisdom in regulating both our personal lives and our worship, fellowship, and service together.
How does this apply to the church celebrating Advent and Christmas? Fairly simply, really. A church can decide to hold a conference in the spring over a weekend. It isn’t commanded. But it isn’t disobedience. They do it because they think it’s wise and helpful. A preacher can decide that he’s going to spend a whole month preaching on John 3 v 16. He’s not commanded to—but he thinks it would be spiritually beneficial for the congregation. It is completely within the power of the elders in a church to decide, for example, that every Autumn there will be a thanksgiving service for the harvest, or that every time the Day of Pentecost comes round the preacher will expound Acts 2 or a related passage and they will sing appropriate hymns.