Answers in Genesis is a back-to-the-Bible ministry founded by Ken Ham and headquartered in Petersburg, Kentucky, home to the Creation Museum. Its recent book The War on Christmas: Battles in Faith, Tradition, and Religious Expression (2013) contains more than twenty articles (three by Ham) on the origin and meaning of Christmas, including modern celebrations. This book would make a wonderful Christmas gift. Its front and back covers, plus most pages, contain lovely Christmas paintings, photographs, and computer-generated designs. Still, “the war on Christmas” is a misnomer. This book explains the origin and meaning of Christmas, rather than modern battles over its celebration here in the U.S., and its title should reflect this fact.
The last thing Christmas needs is war, even over “Merry Christmas” and nativity scenes. This world makes war on Christmas because it hates Jesus Christ and his Word. Yet he is the Prince of Peace who brings the Father’s peace to those who believe, so we’re not here to wage war on sinners. We must declare the truth of Christmas instead: Jesus came to earth to save us from hell, the eternal consequence of sin. Those who believe will receive God’s peace. Those who don’t will be defeated in death and at Jesus’ Second Coming. This is why films like Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas (2014) miss the point.
Regarding Christmas wars, the authors never mention that we live in a pluralistic society and that other religions battle for equality in the public square. “Happy Holidays” has been in vogue since the 1950s, but other holidays are celebrated in December: Hanukkah (Judaism) and Kwanzaa (Western African Diaspora). As a result, tolerance walks in the front door, while communism sneaks in the back. Unbelievers don’t want to offend people with Christianity’s exclusiveness, so they dictate “all or none.” “All” is still a wiser and more educational choice, as the UK has done.
The articles themselves answer questions on Jesus’ birth date and name, Mary’s virginity, the inn, the wise men, the star, and others through archaeological, biblical, and historical analyses. I also learned about Saint Nicholas (270-343), Bishop of Myra, who was corrupted into Santa Claus. Some authors synthesized their research and focused on Jesus as Savior; others did not. One writer discussed Jesus’ humility in coming to earth, being born in a manger to poor parents, and living in Nazareth, but he didn’t apply this humility to our lives. Another writer discussed the wise men; unlike The Nativity Story (2006), he ignored the prophetic meanings of their gifts. Gold is for a king, frankincense is for a priest, and myrrh is a wedding and burial spice.
I wish the authors had analyzed Bethlehem, which means “house of bread,” and how Jesus is the “bread of life” (John 6:35). I also wish they had discussed Judea’s spiritual darkness and how Jesus came to bring light. Like Jack Hayford’s The Christmas Miracle (1999), they could have discussed how God wants to replicate the virgin-birth miracle in our lives by replacing darkness and sin with light and hope. They could have also discussed God’s salvation of Gentiles: the “heathen” wise men traveled from Persia to see Jesus, while the “devout” Pharisees couldn’t travel from Jerusalem.
Editor Bodie Hodge is the most mediocre writer in the book and many of his articles need editing. I also disagree with his flawed analysis of Jesus’ birthday. He discusses “sixth month” in relation to Jesus’ conception, as though it were six months into the Jewish civil or religious year, but this phrase refers to Elizabeth’s conception rather than the calendar (Luke 1:26). Then Hodge analyzes the idea of Zacharias’ temple service falling on Rosh Hashanah (New Year), but he later dismisses it. He never considers the other Jewish feasts or other biblical evidence.
Why does Jesus’ birth date matter, since only name prophesies purpose in Jewish culture? The answer is the Jewish feasts. Jesus died on the feast of Passover and rose on the feast of Firstfruits. The Holy Spirit came on the feast of Pentecost (Shavuot). Jesus’ Second Coming will coincide with a feast, so why not his conception or birthday? Zacharias might have served in the temple during the 22-day fall feast cycle: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), and Sukkot (Tabernacles). He was chosen to “burn incense” (Luke 1:9). If John was conceived after Tabernacles (September-October), then Mary conceived in the spring (March-April) near Passover and Jesus was born in winter (December-January). So he may have arrived on the first night of Hanukkah, truly “the light of the world” (John 8:12).
Another possibility exists. Jesus’ ministry lasted 3.5 years. Then he died on Passover. If we go backward 3.5 years, when John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, then we find the feasts of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In between are “ten days of awe,” when Jews search their souls and repent. This was the theme of John’s ministry. Jesus began his ministry at age thirty (Luke 3:23). If his baptism fell on or near his birthday, Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, then truly Jesus is the New Year for converted believers and his death is our atonement.
Most disturbing is Hodge’s idea that pagan elements can be transformed into Christian ones. Roman Catholic priests have done this for centuries, giving Christian names and meanings to pagan rituals and gods. The result is a Christian veneer without conversion that makes recipients wrongly think they are saved. We cannot approach Christmas the same way! Hodge mentions Old Testament tree worship but not the same pagan idolatry in ancient Europe. The iconoclast Saint Boniface (c.675-754) cut down pagan trees in Europe, but Hodge never mentions him.
I don’t shop on Black Friday, decorate a tree, or exchange gifts. I prefer mincemeat pie and Selah’s “Rose of Bethlehem” to Santa. Still, I wish we’d celebrate Christmas like we used to: attending church and visiting the poor. According to Washington Irving (1783-1859), modern Christmas began in a post-Enlightenment Europe. It has nothing to do with Jesus. So instead of converting pagan rituals into Christian ones, we should listen to Answers in Genesis and return to the Bible.