How difficult is it for you to abstain from observing Christmas? Do you feel strong pressure, pressure that you find difficult to resist, to compromise with God's law by participating in Christmas celebrations at this time of the year?
For some in the Church of God, the answer might be yes, there is strong pressure, and abstaining from all Christmas participation is difficult. This can be true for new members and prospective members who are just coming out of a Christmas tradition. They may feel pressure from family members and friends, even coworkers at work, to participate in the keeping of Christmas in some way.
But probably for the majority of people in the Church of God, it is not that difficult. For those who have given up Christmas many years ago, Christmas is no longer a tradition. They are accustomed to the new traditions of the Church of God: Passover, unleavened bread, the holy days, and the Feast of Tabernacles. Their friends and relatives outside the Church already know they do not keep Christmas. And for many who have grown up in the Church, Christmas was never a part of their traditions.
Yet, for many people in the world, giving up Christmas can be very difficult. And those are the people we preach a message to when we preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the world.
By teaching them the way of God on television, in print, in public Bible lectures, and on the Internet, we are teaching them to give up Christmas and the wrong traditions and ways of this world and to keep God's commandments and learn to live by every word of God, the Bible.
We must not forget the difficulties they face coming out of this world. We should remember them in our prayers, those being called by God to come out of this world.
With Christmas, if they have grown up in a religious family, their family members may feel offended when they are told by someone being called by God through the work of the Church that they will no longer exchange presents or sit down at a Christmas dinner with their family. There are all kinds of pressures and enticements such family members can use to try to persuade prospective members and new members to compromise.
And that is just Christmas. There are other things like Easter, Halloween, New Years, and birthdays. There are clean and unclean meats. There is just the general behavior of a Christian or one in the process of repenting and becoming ready for baptism vs. the behavior patterns of the world. Friends and relatives will think it strange that a new person coming into the truth no longer is willing to participate with them in their Christmas parties and other practices of the world. They will think it strange when a person repenting of such things says that Christmas is pagan and is an abomination to God.
"For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you" (1 Peter 4:3-4).
All these things can exert pressure and be a temptation for someone coming out of the world in response to our message on TV, in print, and on the Internet.
Just because it is easy for some of us to avoid Christmas because we have been in the Church of God for a long time does not mean it is easy for those coming into the truth for the first time.
But when we preach the gospel to the world, we are asking them to face these difficulties and overcome them.
We are asking them to face a trial and do something difficult that we are not required to do right now.
How should we respond to this?
First, we should remember to pray for those responding to our message, that God will strengthen and help them to come out of the ways of this world.
Second, we should remember their trial when we face difficulties in overcoming and doing God's work.
Though Christmas may not be hard for us, other things can be hard for us. It can be hard for us to continue to grow and to overcome bad habits. It can sometimes be hard for us to forgive, with all our heart, a brother or sister who has offended us (Matthew 18:34-35). It can be hard to make the sacrifices in money, time, and sometimes friendships to support the preaching of the gospel to the world. It can be hard to draw closer to God with prayer, Bible study, meditation, and fasting, and to spend more time seeking God than we spend with entertainment and recreation such as movies, TV, and games.
But we have to do these things. We have to do what is hard. And when we are faced with things that are difficult, it might be helpful to call to mind the difficulties of those who are being called into the truth because of our message. As they must overcome difficulties and do what is hard, so we must do the same. Each of us has his or her own difficulties and trials to face.
"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:13-14).
There may be a connection between our willingness to face and overcome difficulties in obeying God and our ability to preach the gospel to the world.
When we preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning, we are asking the general public to do what is hard for them. But God requires us to do what is hard for us. We have to be willing to face our trials and temptations with the same courage and zeal to obey God as we are asking the public to do to face their trials and temptations in coming out of the ways of this world, such as Christmas. If we ask them to do what is hard, we must also do what is hard.
We must not be like the Pharisees, who placed heavy burdens on others they were not willing to carry themselves.
"For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers" (Matthew 23:4).
If we preach the gospel to others, if we support such preaching with our tithes, offerings, prayers, and service, then for our efforts to be effective, we need God's blessing. We need God to bless and prosper the gospel message we support in order for it to be effective.
But God may require that we courageously face our difficult trials and temptations and overcome them, or at least make a strong effort and make progress in overcoming them, before He blesses our efforts to preach to others in the world that they should face and overcome hard trials, temptations, and pressures to come out of the world and into the truth. And Christmas can be one of those trials for a new person who hears our message.
Let's be sure we face our trials and overcome our temptations with the same courage and zeal we expect of those in the world we preach our message to. That way, we are practicing what we preach. That way, when God sees our effort, he can bless the preaching of the gospel as never before.