#TalkingThursday – If you don’t talk about Jesus who will?
Today we’re taking a peek at a very touchy, controversial and highly debated topic: why do we celebrate birthdays at all, particularly the birthday of Jesus?
We’re going to talk about birthdays in scripture, those who think we should celebrate them and those who don’t and then we’re going to look at the origin of christmas as a celebration of the birthday of Jesus. There’s a lot of speculation surrounding these issues but as always, it is important to have an eternal perspective as we discuss this. Okay! I’ll jump right in.
Birthdays In Scripture.
There’s no specific prohibition against celebrating birthdays in scripture, nor is there anything to indicate we should celebrate them. Scripturally speaking, it’s not an issue.
There are few incidents regarding birthdays in scripture but the bible does mention two individuals celebrating birthdays: the Egyptian Pharaoh in Joseph’s time (Genesis 40:20), and King Herod in the time of Jesus (Matthew 14:6; Mark 6:21).
In Genesis, Pharaoh, the Egyptian king, celebrated his birthday by executing his chief baker (Gen. 40:1-23). In the second account, the King Herod albeit reluctantly ordered the beheading of John the Baptist (Matt. 14:3-11).
We see so far that in all the accounts where birthdays were celebrated in scripture, something terrible occurred.
Whilst it is true that none of the above scriptures contain a direct condemnation of birthdays starting with the phrase “Thou shalt not…” or something like that, we cannot but consider for a moment the central lesson of each of these accounts. These accounts represent the only birthday celebrations described in the entire Bible and absolute disaster occurred on each occasion!
So the argument is thus:
If God felt birthday celebrations were something positive and good, why didn’t He record an account where something positive happened?
In response to this, we seem to forget that God does record an account of a birthday
though not necessarily a celebration where something good and positive happens – the birthday of Christ: Angels singing and shepherds rejoicing!
Christmas: Would Jesus Want His birthday To Be Celebrated?
The “wise men” who gave gifts to Christ are not evidence of a birthday celebration. Scripture says in Matthew 2:11: “And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.”
It is commonly supposed that these were birthday presents for a “baby Jesus”. However, a few things we see here, tell us otherwise. These gifts were not brought on His birthday. If they were, scripture would refer to Him as a baby but it does not; scripture refers to Him as a young child, in a house, not a manger.
Secondly, a long-standing, ancient custom of the East was to present gifts when one came into the presence of a king. These men understood that they were in the presence of the “King of the Jews.” As such, it is more likely that the intention of the Magi in bringing these gifts was to honour a King not just a baby celebrating His birthday.
Furthermore, God did not even choose to record the exact day His Son was born. The idea of December 25th is a speculation meant to replace the pagan festival of the winter solstice. Nowhere in the Bible do Christ’s disciples or the New Testament Church in Antioch celebrate His birthday. On the other hand God does tell us the exact month and day of His Son’s death (Matthew 26:1-2; John 18:28). This leads us to agree that King Solomon was rightly inspired when he wrote these verses:
“A good reputation is more valuable than costly perfume. And the day you die is better than the day you are born.”
— Ecclesiastes 7:1 (NLT)
There is not one word in the New Testament, or in the whole Bible telling us that we should observe Christmas and yet we celebrate it more than Easter! In Luke 2, The angels and shepherds gave praise to God, not to the little baby Jesus. This is not to say that Jesus becoming flesh was not a great thing but it is not by Jesus’ birth that we are saved. There are other lessons to be learned from His birth, none of which involve “celebration”. So that hymn/song which says:
“And man will live forevermore, because of christmas day”
What Are The Origins Of Modern Birthday Celebrations?
They originated from the pagan practice of astrology! Thousands of years ago, ancient pagan astrologers meticulously examined horoscopes and birthday omens because they believed that the date a person was born was crucial to who they would become.
Modern birthday parties and celebrations by children take their format mainly from Germany, where the birthday child received gifts, chose a menu, and received a candle-ringed butter or jam cake.
Should We As Christians Celebrate Birthdays?
Actually, the argument that birthdays are of pagan origin and shouldn’t be observed for this reason is illogical. Pagans traditionally had wild orgies at weddings and funerals but this does not prevent us from having decent weddings or funeral services today, so it shouldn’t prevent us from having birthday parties that reflect right, godly, christian values.
Birthdays are basically anniversaries. We celebrate many kinds of anniversaries — weddings, dates of employment, dates on which congregations were founded, and so on. A birthday is the remembrance of the date of one’s birth and is just as acceptable as other anniversaries.
Of course, the inappropriate revelry and partying that occurs at some celebrations is condemned in the Bible regardless of whether the occasion is a birthday or some other activity. Any and all birthday celebrations should reflect godly values. However, because some people act ungodly during a celebration does not make the celebration itself wrong.
We can give gifts and flowers to our family and friends on their birthdays, and celebrate with a party. There is nothing objectionable with this kind of celebration, but one must be wary of drunkenness and wild revelry associated with the partying attitude common in many parts of society.
There is still a huge difference between marking a day and celebrating it. The biblical record still shows no man or woman of God “celebrating” a birthday. However, nowhere in the Bible does God forbid us to celebrate joyous occasions in our lives – as long as we don’t idolize the situation.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.
— James 4:10 (NLT)
Christians should not take pride in or exalt themselves. As christians, we’re supposed to concentrate on God always and remember HE is the reason for our being and doing.
Yet, nowhere does the Bible tell us NOT to be happy and rejoice over certain things, including the day of our birth. Birthdays are a good reminder of what God has given us. In fact, reminders are biblical and God commanded the Israelites to set up stones to remind them of what God has done for them (Joshua 4:1–7).
Most importantly then, this means that when celebrating birthdays, it would be remiss if we were not to remember the most important birthday— the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. So Christmas is like those stones in Joshua: It should serve as a reminder.
The particular date is really not the point. What is important about the birth of Jesus Christ is the reminder for all of us about the sacrifice He made. Jesus loved us so much that He sacrificed Himself to wash away all of our sins with His blood (Revelation 1:5). If we are to love others as Jesus commanded, then we need to remember the love of Jesus and what He did for us (John 13:34–25) and we can start by remembering His birth. Remembrance, not celebration because we know Jesus does encourage us to do things in remembrance of Him (I Corinthians 11:24-25). In this way, we can use our own birthday to serve as a reminder of the most important birthday – Our Lord & Saviour Jesus Christ.
Above all things, the key thing to remember is this:
whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
— I Corinthians 10:31 (NLT)