Sunday, January 4, 2009

The "War Against Christmas" on Thursday, December 25, 1551 in Geneva

In a day when both the West and Christianity are under attack in various ways and under various guises, such as multi-culturalism or political correctness, it might be well to remember, that all that glitters is not gold. In other words, not all that passes for Christianity is exactly that. We think this applies to what some call "The War Against Christmas" in certain conservative, nominally Christian or even evangelical circles. To that end, an excerpt from a sermon preached on Micah 5:7-14 by the great Reformer of Geneva, John Calvin on December 25th, 1551.
. . . Now I see here today more people than I am accustomed to having at the sermon. Why is that? It is Christmas day. And who told you this? You poor beasts. That is a fitting euphemism for all of you who have come here today to honor Noel. Did you think you would be honoring God? Consider what sort of obedience to God your coming displays. In your mind, you are celebrating a holiday for God, or turning today into one. But so much for that. In truth, as you have often been admonished, it is good to set aside one day out of the year in which we are reminded of all the good that has occurred because of Christ's birth in the world, and in which we hear the story of his birth retold, which will be done Sunday. But if you think that Jesus Christ was born today, you are as crazed as wild beasts. For when you elevate one day alone for the purpose of worshiping God, you have just turned it into an idol. True, you insist that you have done so for the honor of God, but is more for the honor of the Devil. 
Let us consider what our Lord has to say on the matter. Was it not Saul's intention to worship God when he spared Agag, the king of the Amalekites, along with the best of the spoils and cattle? He says as much: "I want to worship God." Saul's tongue was full of devotion and good intention. But what was the response he received? "You soothsayer! You heretic! You apostate! You claim to be honoring God, but God rejects you and disavows all that you have done" [see 1 Sam. 15:8-9]. Consequently, the same is true of our actions. For no day is superior to another. It matters not whether we recall our Lord's nativity on a Wednesday, Thursday, or some other day. But when we insist on establishing a service based on our whim, we blaspheme God, and create an idol; though we have done it all in the name of God. And when you worship God in the idleness of a holiday spirit, that is a heavy sin to bear, and one which attracts others about it, until we reach the height of iniquity. Therefore, let us pay attention to what Micah is saying here, that God must not only strip away things that are bad in themselves, but must also eliminate anything that might foster superstition. Once we have understood that, we will no longer find it strange that Noel is not being observed today, but that on Sunday we will celebrate the Lord's Supper and recite the story of the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. But all those who barely know Jesus Christ, or that we must be subject to him, and that God removes all those impediments that prevent us from coming to him, these folk, I say, will at best grit their teeth. They came here in anticipation of celebrating a wrong intention, but will leave with it wholly unfulfilled.
In light of this holy doctrine, let us prostrate ourselves before the face of our gracious God, in acknowledgment of our faults. . . . (Sermons on the Book of Micah, trans. Farley, P&R, 2003, pp.303,4).
It is true the pendulum swung back and forth in Geneva. The ecclesiastical holidays were abolished at the first reformation of Geneva in 1536 by the civil magistrate, but were brought back in when Calvin, Farel and Corauld were exiled in 1538. Upon Calvin's return in 1541 there was some modification, again by the civil government, but it was not until 1550 that the days were outlawed again, though the birth of Christ was the subject of the sermon on the Lord's Day following the 25th of December. (The reader may consult Geo. Gillespie's Dispute Against English-Popish Ceremonies (1637, rpt. 1993, Naphtali, I:9) to see his handling of Calvin's position on the day itself versus the ruling of the civil government due to the arguable ambiguities contained in Calvin's correspondence.)

Still, for presbyterians, the answer to the question is quite clear in “AN APPENDIX, Touching Days and Places for Publick Worship” to the Westminster Assembly's Directory for the Publick Worship:
There is no day commanded in scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord's day, which is the Christian Sabbath.
Festival days, vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued.
In other words, the Scripture saith, Remember the Sabbath, not Santa Claus; Christ's resurrection, not Christmas.


1 comment:

VirginiaHuguenot said...

Thank you for this wonderful quote.