Around A.D. 336, the Christian Church made December 25 the official date to celebrate the birth of Christ. Some of the images and rituals popular in Christmas celebrations today, have their origins in ancient pagan celebrations. The Christian Church could have rejected these images but instead redeemed them, pointing them to Christ instead of false gods. The Biblical authors had no problem with such methods. In Psalm 29, David described a storm rolling over Lebanon striking down trees with lightning. Canaanites thought Baal was behind such power, but David corrected this notion, claiming YHWH was behind it all. Pagans were right to acknowledge a deity who brought the storm, but their adoration was misdirected! David took the religious enthusiasm fomented by the image of a storm and directed praise toward the Lord. He used an image that was common to his Canaanite neighbors and corrected the theology behind it.
Likewise, in the New Testament, Paul recognized the religiosity of his audience by noting the pagan idols they worshipped and paid special attention to the writing on one particular altar (Acts 17:23). Paul used the altar devoted to “the unknown god” to preach the good news to his listeners! They had religious momentum, yet Paul sought to correct their misconceptions about religion and direct their devotion to the true God.
So when I remember Christ in December of each year, I enjoy putting up my Christmas lights and admiring their beauty during some of the longest nights of the year, because they remind me of Christ–the light of the world who shines in the darkness. When I decorate my Christmas tree, I think about how it stays green and vibrant while the other trees of the woods look dead. Christ similarly makes believers alive in a world spiritually lifeless in sin. The gifts under that tree remind me of how Christ was a gift from the Father to the world. The Yule log in the hearth should keep a home warm through the night until the daylight shines once again, just as Christ’s Spirit in our hearts will keep us until the dawn of the second advent. Just as God has redeemed our lives and corrected our theology, some of the traditions of Christmas which had pagan roots long ago are now symbols that point to the true God.