Originally posted Advent, 2016...
Every year around Thanksgiving, my Facebook feed fills up with reasons why you shouldn’t do the Elf on the Shelf, why you should do Elf on the Shelf, why we should give our kids only 4 presents, why we shouldn’t have a Christmas tree, why we should believe in Santa, why we shouldn’t believe in Santa, and on and on the articles go. If you know me personally, you know I have strong opinions and probably an opinion on all of the above, but I often keep those to myself (or share with my poor husband!); they’re beside the point.
So what’s right? How should we celebrate Christmas this year?
After Jesus ascended into heaven and the church was being grounded and established, the early apostles dealt with a similar question: how would they move forward in their faith, celebrating with others who did not come from a Jewish background and feasted differently? Peter was a devout Jew who followed all the laws his entire life, including the ceremonial laws of what they would and would not eat. The laws considered certain foods unclean. He had probably never put anything unclean even near his mouth.
Now as the church started growing and people were coming to Christ, the disciples were faced with a dilemma: people who had different backgrounds invited them to their house to feast and celebrate and the food was unclean. Their consciences couldn’t allow this and it was against the law. The idea that Jesus came as a fulfillment of the law and they were not under the law anymore was still forming in their hearts.
In the supernatural way God often used in the early church, He sent Peter a dream. …he (Peter) fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air (unclean foods). and a voice came to him, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’
But Peter said, ‘Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.’
And a voice spoke to him again the second time, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ This was done three times.
Although we don’t face this exact thing at Christmastime, it’s something that can help us think through how we celebrate and how we treat others who celebrate differently. Some, if not most of us, will probably stay home or go somewhere where they won’t celebrate in a way that offends you or makes you struggle with your personal convictions. Or maybe you will and it will have to be something you think and pray about.
We may not often use the phrase “unclean”, yet we feel that way about certain elements of Christmas. Are too many presents unclean in our eyes? Is Santa unclean? Is Elf on the Shelf unclean?
God’s Word says to us, But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother?...So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another. Let’s not judge those who believe or celebrate in a way we cannot, but remember we will have to give an account for our own convictions and how we lived them out. We must not go against our conscience but may not judge others who have different convictions.
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. My mentor often says to me, If you’ve done it to the glory of the Lord, then it’s considered holy. Meaning, whatever I do or however I celebrate (in this case), if I can do it before the Lord with a clear conscience, that’s right and good.
Knowing man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. No matter how we celebrate, we are saved and loved because we trust Jesus, not because we don’t believe in Santa.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. We are one family in Christ, no matter our backgrounds and traditions. Let us take up arms and be for each other and not try to convince each other that we are right.
However you feel about these things, I challenge you to celebrate in a way that gives peace to your conscience and that anticipates the glory of Christ coming into the world! Whether it’s Santa or not, Christmas tree or not, we have a great reason to celebrate. Let us not judge or condemn one another! Let’s instead focus on making Christmas fun, purposeful, and celebratory!