Shavuot is one of the Shlosh Regalim, or Three Festivals. In times when the Holy Temple still stood in Jerusalem, the Israelites made pilgrimage to the Temple for these three holidays. In those times the traditions of the holidays were somewhat similar.
“We have a question for Beth Sar Shalom. Do you celebrate Christmas?”
This question is posed to us at BSS somewhat regularly, as to be expected.The following is an explanation of our position on Christmas in the life of a Messianic believer.
Christmas is, without question, a very sensitive subject for many Believers—and I would emphasize understanding between those who do not celebrate it, and those who celebrate it in ignorance. We cannot find in Scripture where God mandates that we observe a holiday with decorated trees, mistletoe, holly, Santa Claus, and presents.
On the contrary, the Prophet Jeremiah tells us that we are to not be as the heathen who adorn trees:
“Thus says the LORD, ‘Do not learn the way of the nations, and do not be terrified by the signs of the heavens although the nations are terrified by them; for the customs of the peoples are delusion; because it is wood cut from the forest, the work of the hands of a craftsman with a cutting tool. They decorate it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers so that it will not totter’” Jeremiah 10:2-4.
This same concept is reemphasized for us in Deuteronomy 16:21: “You shall not plant for yourself an Asherah of any kind of tree beside the altar of the LORD your God, which you shall make for yourself.”
We do not celebrate Christmas, nor do we endorse a “substitute” for it, either. We do not believe that the celebration of Christmas was God’s original intention. There is much more that can be said about the anti-biblical/anti-Jewish origins of Christmas, however, they fall outside of the scope of this explanation.
Christmas today is highly commercialized and is often more about self-indulgence than anything else. Of course, we are not against “giving gifts,” but the purpose of Christmas today for many people, including Believers, is about self rather than about seeing the Messiah lifted up.
We do not celebrate Christmas. But, we are not against people remembering the birth of Yeshua, either, although it probably did not occur during the Winter. The birth of Messiah Yeshua is a part of the Bible that is to be remembered and taught upon, something appropriate for any time of year (we do so during Sukkot, making the connection between the sukkah and the Gospel declaration that Messiah came to “tabernacle” with us). So with this in mind, it is important to remember that at “Christmas time,” people are relatively open to talking about Yeshua and the gospel, and many are presented to Him who would normally not be during the rest of the year. Obviously, in spite of the questionable origins of December 25.
Without question, this issue will continue to baffle many Messianic Believers in years to come, as we learn to properly deal with those who celebrate Christmas in ignorance, not knowing where it comes from. As a faith community we will need to change all the “Christmas is pagan!” rhetoric to something less sensationalistic, yet still be able to properly communicate that we do not celebrate it. We also must emphasize understanding and fairness for others in this area. Christmas as it is known today is not a Biblical, and on this basis we do not celebrate it.
The Festival of Shavuot (Pentecost) is traditionally held as the anniversary of the giving of the Torah as well as the giving of the Holy Spirit. As part of the commemoration, the Ten Sayings (Commandments) are often read publicly in the Assembly on the Feast of Shavuot.
According to the traditional reckoning, the first commandment is simply: “I am the L-RD your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:1-2)
The first of the Ten Commandments is to believe in G-d and to accept His claim of ownership over us. Unless we accept the basic premise of G-d’s existence, no number of commandments will have any authority or meaning for us. The need for such a command demonstrates the incongruity of ascribing to morality without believing in a moral authority. If we accept the premise of objective morality, we must accept that there is a higher authority issuing that objective standard.
We also learn from this that redemption must precede commandments. Before we can receive the Torah, we must already be “redeemed.” Israel’s salvation from Egypt was not accorded to her on the basis of her obedience to the commandments. She was already redeemed (on no merit of her own) before the Torah at Sinai were given to her. Thus, the first declaration at Sinai is a reminder of her redeemed status. Only because she is already redeemed is she able to receive the commands of God.
True legalism continually attempts to reverse this process by claiming that one’s obedience to certain commandments (or all the commandments) is the mechanism by which salvation is earned. The first of the Ten Commandments directly contradicts this notion. Salvation and relationship with G-d precedes the Torah. We obey His Torah because Yeshua has first redeemed us, not the other way around.