My earliest memories of Christmas include sitting on the family couch in my parents’ home in Arlington, practically buried in Christmas gifts. I was about 3 years old at the time, but I still remember a couple of those gifts. One was a set of motorized Nutcracker style marching soldiers and a large cloth poster of Mickey Mouse. That hung in my room for several years (though, I want to assure everyone, not now).
Christmas traditions in my family, as I grew up, included:
- putting up and decorating our Christmas tree right after Thanksgiving
- watching the wrapped presents accumulate over the next few weeks
- opening most of those gifts on Christmas Eve, and then one on Christmas morning
- eating “pigs and blankets” on Christmas Eve
- listening to my parents play Christmas songs on the family organ (and even attempting to play myself sometimes)
- and just frankly enjoying the time with my family
My parents were both Christians, and so our traditions included going to church (not only during the Christmas season but all year long). I was frequently a part of our church Christmas productions. One year, I stepped too close to the edge of the stage and fell off. That was memorable!
One Christian tradition my parents made sure was included in our family celebration every Christmas Eve was the reading of the Christmas story in Luke 2. That task fell to me, starting about the time I learned to read.
Today, many view the Christmas story of Luke 2 as nothing more than a fable. Indeed, every Christmas season, articles spring up all around the Internet — and in more than a few print publications as well — calling into question or outright denying the validity or authenticity of the biblical narratives surrounding the birth of Jesus.
Christmas should be a Wonderful Time for All
I recognize that not everyone reading this shares my Christian faith, and I respect that. I believe passionately in religious freedom — indeed in the freedom of thought and speech in general. It’s not my intent to manipulate or compel anyone to believe anything against their will.
Furthermore, I recognize that there is inherent value in Christmas — even if it is primarily viewed as a secular or cultural season of celebration. There’s great merit in the giving of gifts, loved ones spending more time together, and relationships being renewed.
One of my favorite movies is It’s a Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart. That movie is a reminder that (semi-spoiler alert) if you have friends and loved ones, you are rich indeed.
And I hope that all of us can appreciate, if nothing else, the fact that Christmas can (and should) remind us that life is (first and foremost) about relationships.
I, therefore, appreciate and value the background and perspective each and every reader brings to the table as they celebrate Christmas — and as they read this article. I simply want to offer up some of the reasons why I personally still believe in the Christmas story — the one I read each year as part of our family’s Christmas celebration.
Why I Believe in Christmas
I believe God is real, and I believe the Christmas story as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke is historically true. And I believe Christmas is primarily about the coming into the world of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
How can I — a man of the 21st century who respects science, facts, and reason — still hold to the faith I had in childhood?
Well, let’s talk about food!
Food factors into just about any family’s Christmas or “holiday” traditions. I mentioned the “pigs and blankets” that my mother made every year on Christmas Eve. For those of you who don’t know, “pigs and blankets” are Vienna sausages wrapped in biscuits. At least that’s how Mom made them — and they were delicious!
She also made a couple of other items, including a marvelous dessert item that still makes me salivate but which has been lost to the shadows of my memory. I can’t remember the name, nor how specifically it was made. And that makes me quite sad. I would of course just ask her, but she passed away in 2005.
My wife’s family likes fruitcake. Me personally? I’m not a fan. But Jane has kept the fruitcake tradition alive in her family by making and baking it for her parents and sisters (and their kids) most of the years since we’ve been married.
Whether we’re talking about fruitcake, pigs and blankets, cookies, nut bread, or anything else… Food is a big part of family traditions not only because we need food to survive, but because of the experience we get from enjoying food.
And how do we experience food? Answer: Through sight, smell, and taste. The latter two are particularly significant.
Have you ever considered what happens when you first smell those hot-out-of-the-oven Christmas cookies?
The aroma of the cookies permeates the air — air that you breathe in through your nostrils. Your brain then recognizes and identifies the smell of the cookies — and signals its approval.
Saliva begins to form in your mouth as you then visualize and prepare to bite into one (or more) of those warm, delicious treats.
As you bite down, your taste buds send their strong approval to your brain, which interprets that feedback in a way that gives you specific sensations of flavor while also releasing pleasure chemicals in your brain.
Your enjoyment of food depends on several, highly complex systems in your body integrating and cooperating together in remarkable ways that we’re still trying to fully understand.
Each one of those systems is itself incredibly complex.
Let’s just take the nose. It has two holes called of course ‘nostrils.’ They are conveniently pointed down. Imagine the inconveniences and complications if they weren’t!
The nostrils bring air into your body — specifically your lungs. They also exhale air from our bodies. But since our environment (and the air we breathe) contains all kinds of stuff that wouldn’t be good for our lungs, the nose acts as a much-needed and quite complex filter for our lungs.
Air enters the nasal cavity through your nostrils on its way to the lungs. However, first, it encounters your nose hair. Your nose hair traps small particles, such as pollen, bugs (in some cases), and such.
In addition, the inside of your nose has a thin, moist layer of tissue called a mucous membrane. It moistens and warms up the air. And it also makes mucus, which captures dust, other small particles, and germs. Yes, that’s why we have snot!
The nose also interprets the air as it passes through the nasal cavity, identifying for the brain’s benefit the various smells that you experience.
Remarkably, the human nose has 400 types of scent receptors that can detect at least 1 trillion different odors. That’s 1 trillion!
With the air warmed, moistened, filtered, and interpreted, it then passes down the back of your throat into your windpipe (or trachea). Then into your lungs where the oxygen is processed into your body and the carbon dioxide is then expelled.
I can’t even begin to get into the complexity of the mouth, but let’s just focus on the tongue. The average adult person has up to 4,000 taste buds — which are replaced approximately every 2 weeks. Taste buds have tiny sensitive microscopic hair called microvilli which send messages to the brain about the food or beverages you consume. The microvilli let you know whether what you’re tasting is sweet, sour, bitter, or salty. And multiple combinations of such. Though there are only five or six categories of taste, the combinations and variations are too numerable to calculate.
Here’s the point: We know baked goods like fruitcake and cookies are prepared by someone working in the kitchen. While nature provides raw food, the cuisine that most of us enjoy has been prepared by a chef, a cook, a relative, or a friend — someone who knows what he or she is doing.
And yet…many people believe that our nose and our tongue came about through a series of random, unguided, evolutionary changes over billions of years.
It’s striking (at least to me) how intelligent people can see our tongue and our nose as anything but irreducibly complex systems requiring an intelligent Designer to plan, initiate, and complete.
This is among the many reasons why I believe in God.
Any other explanation for the origin of the universe, the creation of life, and the complexity of said life is not only unsatisfactory but fundamentally nonsensical.
Sorry, but I simply don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.
What then about the Christmas story itself?
Well, you can learn a lot about an artist by looking at his or her artwork. A painting by Rembrandt for example will tell you some things about Rembrandt himself. The same is true for those who design and construct buildings. You can learn about creators by looking at their creations.
When you consider the sheer complexity of the human body with its intricate and integrated systems, we see a Creator who is immensely powerful, highly intelligent, meticulous, and deeply caring.
The latter is evident by the fact that we can experience pleasure. Why else would our Creator allow us to experience the pleasures of taste, touch, sight, and smell?
When I then consider the desires and needs of the human heart, I see a Creator defined by love and who is committed to relationships.
The teachings of the Bible are consistent with what we can apprehend about God from Nature. When you add in the documentary and archeological evidence backing up the Bible, the central Christian message becomes rather compelling.
Christianity has its Problems
I understand there are emotional objections to Christianity. Many grew up in different faiths or in different perspectives and can’t bring themselves to abandon their heritage (something that they see as part of their identity and as key to the relationships in their life).
Others have experienced great pain and disappointment in their faith journey, including many in the Christian community.
Others are turned off by the actions, attitudes, and hypocrisy of many who profess to be followers of Christ. And others find some of the teachings of the Bible to be objectionable to their personal beliefs and practices.
To those who have been hurt by Christians, I offer my understanding and (as a Christian pastor) my personal regret. I wish more Christians acted like the Christ they claim to worship to serve.
I know Christianity has its share of problems.
But I’m not asking you or anyone to believe in Christianity. I’m asking to prayerfully look to Christ.
I’m asking and hoping that you will consider the One whose birth is celebrated each Christmas — and not necessarily those who claim to follow Him.
The Bible says that we should put our hope and trust in the Lord, and not in people (Psalm 118:8–9).
I can’t think of better advice, because human beings have frankly messed up everything we’ve touched — including religion.
I’m asking you to look to Christ — not Christians. And make your decision accordingly.
This doesn’t let Christians off the hook. Those of us who claim to worship and follow Jesus need to actually do that — instead of hitching our wagon, so to speak, to earthly substitutes and/or our own agendas and preferences.
My point is that even professing Christians — if they are insincere in their faith claims or if they take their focus off the One they claim to believe in — are susceptible to the same problems as everyone else.
We are all sinners and we all “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10,23).
There are those, of course, who don’t believe they need a cosmic figure to “save” them from anything. And any talk of “sin” or “judgment” is roundly and vociferously condemned, quite often, as ridiculous (at best) or inflammatory and bigoted (at worst).
But I don’t need to prove to you the existence of sin. All one needs to do is read or watch the news to see that our world is sick and confused. And all any honest person need do is look inside themselves to see that we humanity is ultimately the reason why.
There are degrees of sin, and indeed you may be a better and more moral person than your neighbor next door. You may even be more ‘moral’ than some professing Christians that you know. But none of this changes the fact that you are imperfect.
When you were a kid, no one had to teach you to lie, make poor choices, or get into trouble. You came by those things naturally.
All of us — whether in childhood or adulthood — have done things, said things, or thought things that we shouldn’t. Sin is real.
And sin (any amount or degree of sin) is enough to separate us from a perfect and just Creator. In order to have a close, rewarding, and fulfilling relationship with said Creator, the Bible says that something must be done to atone for (or pay for or satisfy) that sin and do a work in us to eradicate that sin nature.
That is why Jesus came.
I believe as the Bible tells us, that God loved us so much that He sent His Son into the world so that the world through Him might be saved (John 3:16).
He is our bridge to God’s holiness. He came in the form of a human, took upon Himself our sins, and paid the price of our sins on the cross at Calvary — making Himself the perfect sacrifice.
Your Beliefs Are Your Choice
Once again, I believe in religious freedom. I believe that communities and governments everywhere on planet Earth should respect the prerogative of each person to decide their own spiritual path.
No individual, community, or government should force a person to join or profess a certain religious belief, group, or identity.
Accordingly, I don’t write this article to force anything on anyone.
What you believe is up to you.
My intent is to simply explain why I believe what I believe — and to hopefully lay out what the Christian message is really all about so that people can make an intelligent decision.
I recognize that some of you have or will disagree with this article and will reject Christianity. I leave that completely up to you. Once again, I accept that not everyone shares my faith, and I fully embrace freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.
I also recognize that some of you, while being open to the Christian faith, may have questions or concerns. I encourage you to pick up a copy of the Bible and read it. Let the Bible speak for itself.
And, in that spirit, since I’m writing this around Christmastime, I encourage you to read the Christmas story as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
Then follow that up by reading through the Gospels and then Paul’s letter to the church in Rome (the Book of Romans). Reading the Gospels and Romans will give you an excellent overview of the Christian faith. And then you can prayerfully and conscientiously decide where to go from there.
Whatever you decide, I thank you for taking the time to read this. I wish you the best in your spiritual journey.
And I wish you a Merry Christmas.