Why Don’t Jewish People Celebrate Christmas?

So why don’t the Jewish people celebrate Christmas?  Well, they believe that Christians celebrate the birth of a wrong Messiah!  To be sure, “the expectation of the Messiah, who will deliver Israel . . .  from all the troubles of this world, has been a part of Jewish faith since biblical times” (Limburg).  Historically, this messianic expectation was borne out of constant suffering the Jewish remnant experienced not long after returning to Israel in the 6th century B.C., following 70 years of exile in Babylonia and Persian.  Now in their own land, they were oppressed by a succession of foreign intruders, namely, the Grecian, Ptolemaic, Seleucid, and Roman empires.  All this pain of shame and disgrace, however, paled in comparison to the suffering the Jews incurred when the Romans, after having destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70, drove them all out of the Holy Land by AD 135.  This painful sequence of events is how the Jews came to yearn not just for any Messiah but a deliverer who will free them oppression and suffering.
And it isn't as if the Jews had to wait a long time for the coming of this Messiah; the fact is that they have had many Messiahs to choose from during the Jewish diaspora in Europe wherein their suffering continued (antisemitism, pogroms, etc.).  “The Jewish Almanac”, for instance, lists twenty-four Messiahs appearing in Europe from 400-1816—all rejected, in time.  One reason these would-be Messiahs were declared to be false was because they (often in their death) left the Jews in the same state of “persecution, uncertainty or extreme poverty."  In that sense, Jesus failed just like those who came after him, which meant that he was not the Messiah.  This is to say, “the crucifixion of a Messiah did not say to a first-century Jew that he was the true Messiah and that the kingdom had come. It said exactly the opposite. It said that he was not [the Messiah] and that it had not [come]” (Wright).  Thus, as long as the Jewish Messianic expectation was and continues to be a strongman who could bring the long-awaited political deliverance for the oppressed Jews, Jesus was not then and could never be in the future their Messiah.

So strong and urgent was this felt need that even those Jews who followed Christ in the first century thought similarly to those Jews who didn't.  Note that two disciples said to the resurrected Jesus whose identity was hidden to them, “We had hope that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Lk. 24:21; Acts 1:6)—meaning, deliver them from the oppressive Romans.  At that point, Jesus rebuked them for their failure to understand the OT correctly ("O, fools"—Lk. 24:25 KJV), after which he told them, “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”  He then explained to them, "beginning from Moses and all the Prophets, what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Lk. 24:27).  An unmistakable connotation here is this: What is foretold in the Old Testament—the very Scripture upheld by the Jews as sacred—is the coming of a suffering Messiah who will deliver humanity from sin and guilt.  So why suffer "—even death on a cross" (Phi. 2:8)?  It's because that's what it took to pay "for the wages of [our] sin [which] is death" (Rom. 6:23).  No, Jesus didn't fail his messianic mission.  (Neither did he stay dead unlike all the false Messiahs who came after him.)

But truth be told, we aren’t all that different from these Jews who looked for a Messiah other than the one found in Scripture, including the apostle Peter who had a rude awakening when Jesus laid into him with a stunning comment.  One day, to Jesus who said “[I] must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things . . . and . . . must be killed and on the third day be raised to life,” (Matt. 16:21), Peter responded, “Never, Lord . . . This shall never happen to you” (22).  The apostle, no doubt, thought, “What do you mean you are going to die; if you die, how are you going to deliver us from these Romans.”  Then Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan . . .; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (23).  Can you imagine the look on Peter's face after hearing that from his Lord?  Yes, Peter, as part of the suffering Jews, had in mind the things of men (i.e., earthy freedom which is good but not the ultimate good), but Jesus had in mind the things of the God of the universe who has concern for the whole world (not just Israel) and how to rescue them from sin and guilt.  

Many of us who confess faith in Jesus also have in mind the things of men, like the love of money, hunger for power and desire for recognition (i.e., earthly prosperity).  In fact, the Jesus many believe is of "a different spirit" (2 Cor. 11:4)—a personal genie who does what we want—he is nothing like the Jesus of the Bible whose suffering has rightfully placed him in a position to demand that we deny ourselves and take up our cross daily and follow him (Lk. 9:24).  That’s the right Messiah and it is his entry into this broken world that we celebrate around this time of the year.  

I came to know this Christ in 1981 that instantaneously altered my eternal destiny and gradually changed the trajectory of my life from a meaningless to meaningful existence.   I hope that during this Christmas, many people without Christ, including those in the Jewish community—a people to whom Christians owe a debt of gratitude (Rom. 15:27)—will place their trust in the Messiah who suffered for our sins so that we don't have to.   Merry Christmas.