According to Wikipedia, “A dilemma (Greek: δί-λημμα "double proposition") is a problem offering two possibilities, neither of which is practically acceptable. One in this position has been traditionally described as "being on the horns of a dilemma", neither horn being comfortable. This is sometimes more colorfully described as "Finding oneself impaled upon the horns of a dilemma", referring to the sharp points of a bull's horns, equally uncomfortable (and dangerous).”
For some Christians, Christmas is a dilemma. They are not sure what to do with it. Some don’t feel comfortable celebrating Christ’s birthday as a religious holy day because nobody really knows when Christ was born and we don’t read in the Bible of the church ever observing the day. Others don’t feel comfortable merely making it a secular holiday because they have been told that much of it has pagan origins and they also don’t want to be looked upon as though they don’t believe in Christ.
Because of this dilemma some have said “bah humbug” and walked away from Christmas altogether. But in doing so they are looked upon by others as a scrooge and have lost any influence they might have for Christ.
Some of you may think that all of this is silly and unimportant, that none of it really matters but these are real concerns of many Christians and it is always important that we consult God about everything that we do. In Paul’s discussion of the observance of days in Romans 14, he writes “let each be fully convinced in his own mind…he who doubts is condemned…for whatever is not from faith is sin” (vv. 5, 23).
So, we want to consider three questions that will help us with this dilemma called Christmas.
1. What is condemned? Paul’s concern in Romans 14 is that we do not judge another in the matter of observing days as long as it is observed to the Lord (vv. 4-10). Of course, any observance of days for some so called “god” besides Yahweh, our Creator and Redeemer would be condemned (Mat. 4:10; 1 Cor. 8:4), as well as any other kind of false worship (John 4:23-24; Mat. 15:8-9).
There are many forms of paganism still practiced in our day around the world and Christians must have no fellowship with such. This is why many have a problem with some of the symbols of Christmas and even the time of year that Christmas is celebrated because they were originally associated with paganism. The key word is “were” but they no longer have such a connotation. No one I know puts up a tree or stockings on their mantle in worship to some idol. It just doesn’t mean what it once did anymore. Christmas has no more to do with pagan gods than Sunday, Monday and Thursday have to do with the gods of the sun and the moon, and Thor!
For example, at one time shaving the side of your head (Lev. 19:27) or boiling a goat in its mother’s milk (Deu. 14:21) was condemned because of its association with paganism but who would say these things are wrong today now that there is no such association with paganism? For the same reason why would we say there is anything wrong with Christmas today?
But what about the Catholicism and denominationalism associated with Christmas? There are many forms of false worship to the true God that are practiced by Catholics and the many denominations at Christmas time, as well as other times, such as the use of instrumental music, the burning of incense and candles, the use of holy water, and praying to Mary and the saints. We must not implement such things into our worship if we want to please the Lord. All forms of false worship should be avoided at Christmastime and every time.
But its not their celebration of Christ’s birth that’s wrong, its their false worship. The prophets prophesied of the birth of Christ, the angels celebrated it, Matthew and Luke recorded it, the church read, taught, preached, sang and prayed about it! We can do the same at Christmas and any other time, too!
In Galatians, we learn that observing days can cause us to lose our souls if they are made a requirement of salvation and bound upon others (Gal. 4:8-11). Those who were freed from the requirements of paganism were being bound by the law of Moses but again Paul makes it clear that Christians are not bound to observe these days!
So, what is condemned is threefold: 1) judging others for observing days to the Lord, 2) any observance of false gods or false worship, and 3) requiring others to observe days.
2. What is permitted? Paul permits a Christian to “esteem one day above another” and “observe it to the Lord” (Rom. 14:5-6). These may have been days that were once observed by pagans to false gods with false worship. They may have been days that were required of the Jews by the law of Moses. Then, some of those same days were being observed to the Lord by Christians. Paul says that that’s alright!
Let’s apply this to Christmas. It may have been observed by pagans to false gods with false worship or required by Catholics and denominationalists but now it is observed to the Lord by some Christians. They do not judge others if they do not observe Christmas. They do not engage in any observance of false gods or false worship. They do not require others to observe the day. Paul says they are permitted to observe it to the Lord.
We do this all the time. Special days are set aside for Gospel Meetings, seminars, lectureships, retreats, VBS, summer camp, prayer meetings, Bible study, evangelism, visitation…all to the Lord. From time to time I will set aside a day for me to fast to the Lord and spend time in prayer, perhaps some of you do, too.
Suppose we had a VBS about Noah’s ark. We would set apart the days for this event. We would decorate the building with an ark and animals. We would invite others. We would come and read the Scriptures about it and sing songs about it like “Arky, Arky”. We would thank God for saving Noah and his family. It would be quite an affair, a remembrance and celebration of these things.
So, why do some get so upset when someone wants to decorate, send a Christmas card, read the Scriptures, sing songs and thank God for the birth of Jesus on December 25 or any other day? On the otherhand, why do some get so upset when someone does not observe Christmas but esteems every day alike? Paul says that both are permitted.
3. What is expedient? Christians are not just interested in what is condemned and what is permitted but also in what is helpful and edifying (1 Cor. 10:23). Paul wrote, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way…let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God (Rom. 14:13, 19-20). So, we do not judge, bind and divide over the observance of days but respect one another’s faith and conscience.
“Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking [rd – or observing days like Christmas], but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men” (Rom. 14:16-18).
What matters is the kingdom of God!
So, what will you do with Christmas? A better question, a question that will not only help us with the first question but also with our life now and in eternity is this: What will you do with Christ?