Joseph Herrin (12-18-2014)
Many of my most joyous experiences as a child involved the Christmas holiday season. It was a special time of year when people would put extra attention into making their homes beautiful. I remember as a child watching my father, staple gun in hand, hanging strings of colored Christmas lights from the eaves of our home. It was a magical moment when darkness would fall and the outdoor lights would be switched on. A large wreath would also be hung on the door.
Inside, my mother would make everything beautiful as she was in charge of the interior decorating. Each year my parents would take me, along with my siblings, to choose a live fir tree to bring into the home. I remember the metal base my father would screw onto the bottom of the tree. It held a small water reservoir so that the tree could continue to draw moisture and not dry out so quickly, dropping fir needles onto the carpeted floor.
Either my father or mother would hang a string of lights on the Christmas tree. After this was done, they would allow us children to hang ornamental bulbs, tinsel, and other decorations, from the tree branches. It was an unusual time of family cooperation on a project, something that rarely occurred at any other time of year.
I distinctly remember one year when I was young, somewhere around seven years of age, being enthralled by the beauty of the Christmas tree. It had just been set up that evening. When the lights were turned on I was enraptured by the beauty of it. I lay on my back and scooted up under the boughs of the tree and looked at the twinkling colored lights through the branches. I was concerned that my mother might tell me to come out from under the tree, but she did not do so. I lay there for a long time, feeling like I was in some type of fairy land. Everything was so beautiful.
Our family typically decorated for Christmas the week after Thanksgiving. This gave us at least three weeks of the year when our home was awash with the sights, sounds, and fragrances of the Christmas holiday. I still remember the Christmas albums my mother would play on our old console phonograph. I can still hear Bing Crosby singing Christmas songs, as well as Perry Como. I also distinctly remember our Little Drummer Boy album.
The Little Drummer Boy
The church community we were a part of would have various Christmas events during this season. Consequently, I had plenty of exposure to spiced apple cider, wassail, eggnog, Christmas cookies, fruitcake, and other holiday treats. Many years, we would make a trip from our home in Portland, Oregon up to Washington State close to the Canadian border to visit my mother’s relatives. I got to play with cousins I only saw once or twice a year.
Of course, the big event for a child is the opening of presents at Christmas. It was our family’s tradition to open gifts on Christmas Eve night. I suppose my two sisters and I (and later my younger brother) gave our parents so much grief about not wanting to wait until Christmas morning that they made it a tradition to give us our gifts the night before. This also allowed them to sleep in the next morning, as we would be occupied for many hours with our presents.
Many years, my parents would try to introduce some focus on the birth of Christ during our evening of gift giving as we gathered around the Christmas tree. I remember my father sitting us all down and reading to us the story of the birth of Christ from Luke’s Gospel. In truth, this is the only negative memory I have of Christmas. I remember how much I wanted my dad to finish reading the rather lengthy account from Luke so that we could begin opening presents. Here we were, young children sitting in the living room with the Christmas tree all alight and gifts piled underneath. Some of the gifts had been there for weeks as my sisters and I would shake boxes and try to peer through the wrapping paper in an attempt to discover what our parents had bought us. It was agonizing to be so close to having these new treasures in our hands, yet have to wait for my dad to read the account of the birth of Christ, the wise men, and the angels.
I share these childhood memories to note how utterly beguiling the Christmas holiday is. If Satan can get his hooks into us when we are children, it makes it all the more difficult to depart when we are adults. The saying is as true of Satan’s actions as it is of parents:
Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.
Perhaps there is some devilish humor at work in the fact that many people have adopted the tradition of setting up a small train track under the Christmas tree. Children are literally being “trained” to embrace rites, symbols, and traditions that originate in idolatrous worship of false deities.
By the time I reached adulthood, I had thoroughly associated the Christmas holiday with thoughts of joy, excitement, pleasure, family gatherings, feasting, and beauty. I had grown up in churches that would erect a Christmas tree in the sanctuary, or decorate with poinsettias, garland, and wreaths, and hold Christmas plays where the children would act out the story of the birth of Christ. It all seemed so positive and innocent, as if God had blessed mankind with a special time of year when they could engage in celebratory activities that were pleasing to the flesh and soul of man, and do so without guilt. There is a Scripture passage that I find to most aptly describe my experiences of the Christmas holiday.
“Tomorrow shall be a feast to Yahweh.” So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.
If you don’t recognize the passage, I must inform you that this was no feast day that Yahweh ordained being spoken of here. These words are NOT in reference to Passover, Pentecost, or the Feast of Tabernacles. No! They are speaking of the Israelites’ feast they held before the golden calf when Moses was away up on the mountain of God receiving the tablets of the Law.
That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So, there is nothing new under the sun.
How cunning is the guile of Satan? He has repeated among the church of Christ the same error he led the Israelites of old to embrace under the old covenant. What is the difference between constructing a golden calf and proclaiming a feast in Yahweh’s honor, and erecting a Christmas tree and proclaiming a holiday in honor of Yahweh’s Son? Both events give mankind an opportunity to sate the flesh, revel in the delights and joys of this world, and to do so without guilt, even with a pretense of honoring God.
Sometime in my mid thirties I began encountering bits and pieces of information regarding the pagan origins of Christmas. For a few years I struggled with this subject as I could not comprehend how something that brought such joy and happiness to people, and which purported to be held in honor of the birth of Christ’s son, could be viewed as evil in God’s sight. I could not deny the historical origins of the Christmas holiday. This date, its attendant rites, symbols, and customs, were borrowed wholesale from idolatrous religions that existed during the first centuries of the church. The Roman Catholic church was known to engage in the practice of syncretism, the merging of idolatrous practices into Christianity in order to make the harlot of Rome acceptable to people of all religious persuasions.
For a few years I vacillated. One of the verses that I used to justify the continuance of my family’s participation in Christmas was Titus 1:15. “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.” I reasoned that since the focus of my family’s celebration was the birth of Christ, and we were not in any way intending to honor a false deity, that Christmas to us was pure for our intentions were pure. Surely God would see that we did not intend to worship anyone other than Him. It was the name of Christ that was being lifted up in our home. I even erected a sign in our yard, and wore a button that said “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.”
In hindsight, I see that this was no different than what the Israelites did in the wilderness. They erected a golden calf. It was the focus of their worship, even as the Christmas tree is at Christmas. What many people do not perceive in the account of the golden calf is that the Israelites proclaimed the golden calf to be a symbol of Yahweh. This fact is hidden due to the practice of popular Bible translations of replacing the name Yahweh with titles such as “Lord,” or “God.” Following is the passage as it appears in the NKJV Bible.
And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.”
Notice Aaron said “This is your god, O Israel… Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.” The actual word in the Hebrew text that is rendered as “the Lord” is Yahweh. It is referred to as the tetragrammaton, literally denoting a name of four letters – Yod Heh Vav Heh. The Israelites declared the golden calf to be a symbol of “Yahweh.” Golden calves were common in the idolatrous religion of Egypt from which they had just departed. They were also common in the land of Canaan to which they were heading. However, they were never sanctioned by Yahweh to be used as a symbol of Himself. He strictly forbid doing any such thing.
So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day Yahweh spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water below the earth. And beware, lest you lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which Yahweh your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.
As time passed, and I was brought to consider this subject further, I became increasingly uneasy about continuing to erect a Christmas tree, cook up a feast featuring Christmas ham, hold a celebration on the date of the Winter Solstice, or to participate in any of the myriad of events associated with the Christmas holiday. The verses that kept coming to mind were the following:
“Moreover, [My priests] shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean.”
II Corinthians 6:14-18
For what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty.
I was fully convinced that Yahweh wanted His people to worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. Despite some of the arguments of early church fathers such as Irenaeus and Tertullian to explain why December 25th was adopted as a date to celebrate the birth of Christ (one argues He was possibly born on this day, the other that He was conceived on this date), people are being disingenuous if they suggest that pagan practice had no influence on the adoption of this holiday. The apostles and church of the New Testament held no celebration of the birth of Christ. They certainly did not erect Christmas trees, serve Christmas ham, or burn the Yule log at this time of year. Biblical evidence points to a much higher probability of the Son of God being born at Passover or during the Feast of Tabernacles. These God ordained Feast days occur in the Spring and Fall, not at the Winter Solstice.
The apostle Paul wrote of a time when the church would fall into apostasy, exchanging the truth of God for lies. Can there be divinely approved worship of Yahweh and His Son without truth? I became persuaded that there could not. As a result, in November of 2001 I sent out a letter to every member of my family and my wife’s family, informing them that we would not be participating in Christmas celebrations anymore. The members of our families were a mixture of Christians and non-Christians. I had no illusions about any of them seeing things as I did. Nevertheless, because many of them would expect us to participate with them in Christmas festivities, the exchanging of gifts and Christmas cards, I found it necessary to declare very plainly to them the direction in which our family was heading. Following is the letter, I sent out to all family members. Although it is a little long, I recognize that others are considering how to communicate their convictions to family members. Some may find reading the letter helpful. If you do not wish to read it, I encourage you to skip down and pick up where the letter is concluded.
Dear Family Members,
As we enter into the midst of the holiday season, we desire to let you know of some changes we are making in our home this year. Our Heavenly Father continues to lead us into new truths that require obedience from us, and we are finding that many things that we could do in former years, without any violation of conscience, we are now not able to do.
I am sure you have noted that we are living in dark days where there is much rampant sin in our society. Homosexuality continues to gain greater protection from our government (there is even now a bill before congress to give homosexuals increased rights), pornography is spreading like wildfire across the Internet, increasingly sexually explicit programming is being aired on TV and in movies, abortion rights have given the girls and women of this nation the right to kill their children even up to the moment of birth, gang activity is at an epidemic proportion in our cities, drug abuse is a major problem that the war on drugs cannot seem to stem, and the list goes on and on.
In the midst of all this, America is experiencing terrorism on her own soil and many people of this nation have had their sense of security and peace shaken. Many are afraid to fly, ride on buses, or visit public venues that seem to be a likely target of terrorism. People are even afraid of what they might find in their mail boxes today. Throughout scriptures we find that the lowering of the hedge of protection around a nation occurs when a people allow sin to run unchecked in their midst. When a nation’s leaders give special protection to those who practice sin then judgment is a result, and the enemy is able to come in and create devastation.
The things I have mentioned to you are all physical sins which are very evident, but there are also spiritual sins that bring forth the judgment of God upon a people and a nation. One of these spiritual sins is showing honor to false deities, and this type of transgression is perhaps more grievous to God than the others mentioned. In fact, the very first commandment of the ten commandments states, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
Recently, I have been saddened to see that the leaders of this nation have been violating this first commandment as well. After the events of September 11, the President and many other leaders and dignitaries gathered at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. for a national prayer service. The President and many others bowed their heads reverently as a Muslim Cleric began the prayer service with a prayer to the false god Allah. Just this past Monday night, the President hosted an Iftar dinner for 53 Muslim leaders from various countries. To the Muslims, this is the month of Ramadan, their holiest month. For the whole month the Muslims eat nothing during the day and they have a special meal at night to break their fast, and this meal is called an Iftar meal.
It was noted in an Associated Press article that it was thought to be the first time that a Muslim Iftar dinner was hosted by an American President in the White House. During this dinner a Muslim Cleric gave a prayer to Allah asking Allah to make all those there “true believers.” It was recorded that the President, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, and other dignitaries shared in this event to a false god and that President Bush bowed his head reverently when the prayer to Allah was given.
These are serious matters before the true God, the Father of Jesus Christ. In a time when our nation and her leaders should be seeking to repent and find forgiveness before the one true God, they are instead bringing further judgment upon themselves and the nation. During this time, our family feels that the Father is calling us to a greater separation unto Him. He is calling us to do that which our nation’s leaders should do, that is to distance themselves from any association with false gods.
It may come as a surprise to some that there are a number of holidays that are routinely celebrated by Christians that have their origins in the worship of false deities. It was prophesied by both Jesus and the Apostle Paul that in the last days before Jesus returned that the church would turn aside from truth and they would embrace many myths and fables and false traditions. This has occurred and, as the Father reveals these false traditions to us, we are hearing His call to separate ourselves from them.
There is a scripture in Revelation that is written to those who have participated in these false traditions in the days we live in. The scripture is Revelation 18:4, “Come out of her, My people, lest you participate in her sins and partake of her plagues.” We have been hearing the call of God to come out of all that does not originate in Him that we might obtain His favor and escape the judgment to fall on those who walk in disobedience.
I am sure that it will surprise some to learn that the highest holy day of the church has its origins as a pagan celebration. The highest holy day for the church is Easter, and almost all churches celebrate it in some fashion. There is no command found in scripture to celebrate Easter, and the very name of the holiday is the name of a pagan goddess of fertility. In German the name is Eostre, and it is the same name as Ishtar, Astarte and Ashtoreth of other ancient cultures.
This goddess who bore many different names was a symbol of fertility, and she was worshiped on a special day at the beginning of spring in hopes that crops would be plentiful, animals would bear many young, and women would bear children. This is why we see images of fertility associated with this holiday. Eggs are a symbol of fertility, as are rabbits, baskets of grass and hats with flowers on them.
The church claims to be celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ on this day, but He was crucified on Passover, and He arose three days later, not on Easter. The Roman Emperor Constantine was largely responsible for this mixing of pagan and sacred events, and his error has been perpetuated until this day.
The same is true of the holiday Christmas. The Romans worshiped many false gods and they had many celebrations for them. Winter solstice, the day with the least sunlight of the year, was a key time for these holy days that were dedicated to false gods. The Romans celebrated Saturnalia at this time, which was a celebration of their god Saturn. There were also many other celebrations at this time, for Rome was a huge empire and its people celebrated many gods. The Syrians had a celebration at the same time called Sol Invictus (victory of the Sun). It was set at this time of year when the Sun appeared less than any other time, and it was celebrated in anticipation that the Sun would come forth victorious over darkness.
Constantine wanted to combine the worship of all deities together so he established Sol Invictus as the standard celebration for the Empire. Sol Invictus reached its climax on December 25th when the Roman calendar indicated this holiday: Dies Natalis Invicti Solis — the Day of the Birth of the Unconquered Sun. Later Constantine changed this to be the day of the birth of the Son of God.
Jesus was not born on this date, however, nor do the scriptures even indicate that His birth date is to be celebrated. This holiday was simply a pagan celebration that Constantine determined would be merged with Christianity, even as he did with the fertility celebration to Easter. Nearly all of the symbols of Christmas, the colored lights, the decorated trees, wassailing, the exchanging of gifts, Santa Claus, candy canes, the Yule log, etc., are pagan in origin having no association with the Bible or the worship of Christ.
This mixing of the sacred and the pagan, the holy and the profane, is not pleasing to God. In the book written by the prophet Ezekiel, the following words are related to us:
“Her priests have done violence to My law and have profaned My holy things; they have made no distinction between the holy and the profane, and they have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean…”
The Father has revealed throughout the Bible that He is not pleased by the mixing of that which is holy and that which is profane. He was so adamant in revealing the knowledge that He hates mixture that He even forbid the Israelites from mixing two types of cloth together. How much more would He be displeased at mixing the worship of His Son with the worship of false deities, such as Saturn, the Sun, or a fertility goddess?
As the Father has given us light and understanding of these things, we feel that we must respond in obedience and separate ourselves from these practices. For this reason we will not be celebrating these holidays established by man, instead we will seek to remember the holy days established by God; Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Trumpets. All of these are recorded in scripture and their dates are given.
We are not judging any others who choose to still remember the dates of Christmas and Easter, or to participate in these celebrations. We must all walk in the light we are given, and we simply desire to share what we have received from the Holy Spirit as the manner in which we are to walk. We want to let you know of our decision that was arrived at after much prayer and consideration.
We acknowledge that many family members have taken these holidays as an opportunity to express their love for one another through the giving of gifts, and we have done so ourselves in years past. We will not be able to participate in the giving or receiving of “Christmas gifts” this year, and we hope that no one will take offense at this. We are simply seeking to be found pleasing to God by walking in a clear conscience before Him.
The Father has revealed nothing wrong in giving or receiving gifts, as it is an expression of love, and there were many gifts given from one person to another in scripture. The greatest gift we have ever received is the free gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. However, this gift has no association with December 25th. We will continue to give and receive gifts on appropriate occasions, or simply as an act of love from one person to another.
As the days we are living in grow darker in many ways, we feel called to walk in a greater separation from the darkness. This is our heart and we hope you will understand and that you too will find a place of peace and security in the midst of troubled times.
In gratitude and sincerity,
Joseph, Tony, Kristin and Josiah
I sent a copy of this letter to my parents, my two sisters, my brother and their families, as well as my wife’s parents, her two brothers and their families. I did not receive a response from any of them.
I do not think it was coincidental that this break in our lives from the observance of Christmas occurred at a time when Yahweh was making many profound changes in our lives. In October of 1999 the Father directed me to leave my employment as a computer manager at a hospital complex and to follow Him wherever He would lead and to do whatever He asked of us to do. The next year and a half was particularly difficult as Yahweh stripped us of the many possessions we had accumulated until that time, including our home, furnishings, custom van, and many smaller items. For the next year after leaving my employer, we lived to a significant degree off of the proceeds from the sale of these worldly goods.
By the time November of 2001 rolled around, 14 months after I had left my employer, we were at a very vulnerable time. We had sold everything and were down to a bare minimum of possessions. Other than a china cabinet that my wife had stored with some friends, all we owned could be carried in our car. Our money was running out, as we were living off the proceeds of our very last yard sale. I had enough money to rent a hotel room for our family for two weeks, and I did not know what we would do next.
Those who have not yet experienced an abandoned walk with the Lord, may have trouble relating to the things I went through. Yahweh would not permit me to return to secular employment. I could easily have done so and removed myself from the stress, difficulties, and reproaches that came with following the Lord down the path we were walking. I knew the Father had other plans for us, however. I had a growing sense for some time that Yahweh would provide a motorhome for us and this would be our home for as long as He should choose.
Every year my wife’s parents had been in the practice of giving a generous financial gift to each of their children and their children’s spouses. The previous year they had given $4,000 to each child and each spouse, for a total of $8,000 per couple. They had traditionally given this gift on Christmas day as we were all gathered to celebrate and open gifts at their home.
In reality, this annual gift had very little to do with Christmas. My wife’s parents were not religious people. Christmas was simply a convenient time for them to give a blessing to their children. I sought earnestly to know what Yahweh’s will for us was in this matter. I felt led to separate my family from Christmas, yet I knew my wife’s parents would not consider giving a financial gift to their sons while neglecting to give a gift to their daughter. I sensed that Yahweh would have no disapproval of the gift as long as it was not associated directly with Christmas.
The first week of December opened with my family and I staying in a hotel room in Perry, Georgia. I had enough money to pay for two weeks, then we would be out on the street if Yahweh did not intervene. Of course, I considered how much benefit the annual gift from my in-laws would be if it was given in a timely fashion. If it were given at Christmas, this would present a problem for us in multiple ways. First, in the letter I had recently mailed out, I announced we would not be participating in any Christmas festivities. Second, the money I had on hand would not last us until Christmas.
I have found that Yahweh is committed to testing both the resolve of His people to walk in obedience to Him, and to test their faith. He was doing both in my life. As head of my family, I carried a great weight of concern for the welfare of my wife and children. I did not relish the thought of being homeless, cast out on the street with no provision. At the same time I felt constrained of the Father to wait upon Him. These were very difficult days for me.
On December 8th, 2001, a significant event occurred. My in-laws announced for the first time since my wife and I had been married that they would not be hosting a Christmas gathering in their home. They also decided to distribute their annual financial gifts to their children and their spouses early. They gave the same amount as they did the year before, $8,000 to each couple. However, they made one change. Instead of giving me a check for $4,000 and my wife a check for the same amount, they wrote a single check for $8,000 and put it in the name of my wife. They did this only with us, not with any other family members. I recognized it as a slight, and a rejection of me as their son-in-law.
My mother-in-law also did one other thing she had never done before. The checks had always been unadorned. They were certified checks from their bank. This year my mother-in-law had written in the “note” line on the front of the check the words “Merry Christmas.” In addition to this, she had placed two Christmas stickers on the face of the check. I recognized this as a rejection of the letter I had written regarding our decision to no longer participate in Christmas. I saw in this action a challenge, as if she were saying, “We will see how committed you are to your beliefs.”
I knew at once that I could not accept the money as it was given in this manner. The date was December 8th, and we had only enough money to stay one more week in the hotel. I had no other resources, and I did not know how we would get by without this money, but I sensed Yahweh was testing me in this matter. Would I place personal expedience and self-interest over obedience to Him? Or would I cast the welfare of myself and my family wholly over into Yahweh’s hands?
I could see no other choice than to refuse to accept the check if I were to maintain a good conscience before God. I spoke to my wife about the matter, and she fully understood. She too perceived the challenge and insult present in her mother’s actions. She volunteered to take the check back to her father and explain to him why we could not accept it. We had no guarantee that he would replace the check with another, for it was evident that both of my wife’s parents no longer regarded me with favor. They could very well say, “Take it or leave it.”
Yahweh tested us in this matter, and He also showed us great grace. My wife went to her father’s office at work and spoke to him. He volunteered to take the check back and to write her another one without any reference to Christmas, a date that was still 17 days off. This day proved to be a turning point in our experience. It marked the end of our period of stripping from our former life, and a time of new beginnings. Significantly, the number 8 denotes new beginnings and the check was written on December 8th and it was for $8,000. With this money we were able to purchase a 28 foot motor home the following week. The motorhome was advertised at $10,000, well out of our reach, but my daughter Kristin encouraged me to make an offer anyway. The woman selling it sold it to us for $6,300, well below what it was worth.
I wanted to share this testimony as an encouragement to others. We should not expect that our commitment to walk with God in holiness will be met with favor among those who are close to us. We will be tried, and our decision may be a costly one. Nevertheless, Yahweh will uphold those who seek to honor Him with their lives, especially when doing so leads to them facing some personal peril, reproach, or suffering.
May you be blessed with peace and understanding in these days,
P.S. I am not advocating that Christians must observe the Biblical Feast days. I believe they are at liberty to do so if they choose, but they are not under any compulsion in the matter.