There are so many pagan influences in our culture that it can be hard to assess how damaging their influence is in our Christian life.  Grace Communion International’s website points out; “Paganism is a highly controversial subject. Can we use pagan customs in the church of God? We already do. Simply because something has a pagan origin does not mean that it is sinful to use it, even for a religious use.” Their article on paganism lists wedding rings and the ceremony, putting flowers on graves, embalming, symbols on money and the names of the days of the week as examples.

Some pagan activities are ‘no brainers’.  Mediums, psychics, divination (Acts 16:16-19,19:17-19) and witchcraft (Gal. 5:20,21)  have clear Biblical injunctions against them.   To accept any part of these practices in our Christian life will destroy our spirit and witness.  But other practices are not so clearly spoken about or against.    What about our Christmas tree?

Wikipedia says that the ‘Christmas’ tree originiated in Germany; “The custom of the Christmas tree developed in early modern Germany (where it is today called Weihnachtsbaum or Christbaum or ‘Tannenbaum’) with predecessors that can be traced to the 16th and possibly 15th century, in which ‘devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes.’] Christmas trees were hung in St. George’s Church, Sélestat since 1521. It acquired popularity beyond Germany during the second half of the 19th century.  The Christmas tree has also been known as the ‘Yule-tree’, especially in discussions of its folkloristic origins.”

Others point out that the Church and ‘Christmas’ trees have a troubled past;

The evergreen tree was an ancient symbol of life in the midst of winter. Romans decorated their houses with evergreen branches during the New Year, and ancient inhabitants of northern Europe cut evergreen trees and planted them in boxes inside their houses in wintertime. Many early Christians were hostile to such practices. The second-century theologian Tertullian condemned those Christians who celebrated the winter festivals, or decorated their houses with laurel boughs in honor of the emperor . . . .

But by the early Middle Ages, the legend had grown that when Christ was born in the dead of winter, every tree throughout the world miraculously shook off its ice and snow and produced new shoots of green. At the same time, Christian missionaries preaching to Germanic and Slavic peoples were taking a more lenient approach to cultural practices—such as evergreen trees. These missionaries believed that the Incarnation proclaimed Christ’s lordship over those natural symbols that had previously been used for the worship of pagan gods. Not only individual human beings, but cultures, symbols, and traditions could be converted.

(Christian, The history behind evergreens, ornaments, and holiday gift giving., Edwin and Jennifer Woodruff Tait, posted 12/11/2008)

Some argue that everything about Christmas, including the Christmas tree is pagan and should be tossed out of our homes;

Clearly, the pagan customs of Christmas had nothing remotely to do with the Messiah, or the Word of YEHOVAH God, the Scriptures. Clearly, they had nothing to offer to the Church of YEHOVAH God, as they were the very antithesis of true Christianity! Yet, somehow, this ancient pagan festival wormed its way into the established “Christian” Church and became its most prominent holiday of the year! What a monstrous mystery!

(The Shocking Pagan Origin of CHRISTMAS!,

How does a sincere person of faith ‘navigate’ through the season with all these opposing views of Christmas and Christmas trees?  How do we relate to others and engage the culture we live in?  What do we say to our neighbors about Christmas and the Christmas tree?  Why not check with Jesus?   The Bible gives guidance on this question even if it doesn’t mention Christmas trees or Christmas.  Jesus lived in a world that was run by a global political power that was unchallenged in its military strength.  Jesus lived in a world that was pagan, diverse and full of tension.  Jesus lived in our world!  How did He relate to others? How did Jesus relate to religious people full of their own self-righteousness?

He met them where they lived and spoke to their situations without judgement or compromise  and with compassion.  Jesus knew everyone has a past and struggles with the grime of their upbringing, their life situation and culture.  His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well is a beautiful illustration of this (John 4:4-30);

This was an extraordinary woman not so much because she was a Samaritan, a race of people that the Jews utterly despised as having no claim on their God, but because she was an outcast and looked down upon by her own people. This is evidenced by the fact that she came alone to draw water from the community well when during biblical times drawing water and chatting at the well was the social highpoint of a woman’s day. However, this woman was ostracized and marked as immoral, an unmarried woman living openly with the fifth in a series of men.

In spite of the similarities in the two meetings between Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, there are differences in the way Jesus unveiled grace to them. While Nicodemus needed to see himself as a sinner in order to understand grace, the Samaritan woman, who knew she was a sinner, needed to see herself as a person of worth and value. And this provides us with one of the most powerful lessons in all of Scripture.

This story teaches us that God finds us worthy of His love in spite of our bankrupt lives. God values us enough to actively seek us, to welcome us to intimacy, and to rejoice in our worship. As a result of Jesus’ conversation, only a person like the Samaritan woman, an outcast from her own people, could understand what this means. To be wanted, to be cared for when no one, not even herself, could see anything of value in her—this is grace indeed.

Read more:

The woman at the well had bigger problems in her life than a Christmas tree in her living room yet Jesus offered her a drink of ‘living water’.  Nicodemus didn’t think he had any problems and Jesus patiently explained to him (and us) how salvation works (John 3:1-21).

There is so much in our lives that draws us away from Jesus.  Yes, Christmas trees and the gluttony of Christmas can do that.  Yet, no matter what the season or situation, the really important question is:  Are you searching for Jesus or do you have your back firmly turned away from Him?  You may be able to toss out the Christmas tree from your living room but only Jesus can toss out the spirit of selfishness from your heart.  Some may feel that they have cleansed themselves of all pagan unrighteousness but that is a delusion.  No one can cleanse themselves of all paganism.  Since the fall of mankind, paganism is part of who and what we are without Jesus Christ.  If we think otherwise, then like Nicodemus we need to be taught about what it really means to be ‘born again’.

The apostle Paul speaking to the pagan Athenians at Mars Hill didn’t tell them to get rid of all their idolatrous gods.  No, Paul told them that God won’t overlook ignorance anymore and  calls all men to repent (Acts 17:30)   Following Jesus’ example he spoke into their life situation using their paganism as a leadin to the Gospel; “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:22,23)

I have no doubt that there is much that I worship in ignorance.  I need Revelation;  I need it daily.  Tossing out the Christmas tree and thinking that I’m the better for it won’t make me righteous in God’s eyes.    Jesus is the only cure for my lack of sight, my idolatry and my brokenness; “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Turning my back on the Christmas tree and the idolatry of Christmas won’t do me any good if I’ve not turned towards Jesus.  We have an inbred proclivity to find false gods to worship even while we pretend to  purify our own lives on our own strength by casting out some of our idols.  The last idol and greatest stronghold in my life (maybe yours) can be seen in the bathroom mirror – and it isn’t the Christmas tree!  Jesus tells us; “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.” (John 12:24,25)

If you have a  Christmas tree, what do you see when you look at it?  Do you see Jesus, even ever so faintly?   Or do only ‘visions of sugar plumbs’ dance in your head?  Are you grateful for Jesus or just the presents under the tree?

If you’ve gotten rid of your Christmas tree, what do you see in its absence?  Condemnation for others who still have such ‘pagan’ idols in their homes?  Or do you see Jesus and His pure love for your  neighbor standing by his Christmas tree?

What does God see in you?