This post is republished from December 6, 2013. It was very popular then, and should also get some good traction again this year. Enjoy!
When I was a kid, and there were still knights in shining armor, Maid Marian was kid Marian, Robin hadn't gotten his hood, and the Sheriff of Nottingham was just learning to think scurrilous thoughts, no one ever said, "It's just not biblical to celebrate Christmas, and Jesus wasn't born in December anyway! He was born on Sukkot!" At that time, pretty much everyone realized that December 25 was just a time when it was traditional for many to celebrate the birth of Jesus, although the Eastern Church does so on January 6.
Nowadays, though, I occasionally run into people for whom this is a BIG deal. Not only is celebrating His birth on "the right day" considered important, and not only are arguments about Sukkot being for sure the right time zealously championed, but celebrating Christmas according to the church calendar is rejected as if rooted in the Whore of Babylon, something from which we must all come out.
This kind of discussion appeals to some people, and is even of interest academically. That is fine. The problem is when we find people for whom a pet date for Yeshua's birth is a non-negotiable article of faith, obliging the enlightened to correct or reject those who don't hold to that date, while judging them to be, if not simply misinformed, then surely deceived, and indifferent to the contaminating effects of grieving God with their unbiblical calendar.
To which I say, HOLD IT!
Now for starters, I am not big on Christmas. I don't have a tree, don't wear a Santa Claus suit, don't have a creche, and don't conduct an inquisition about over who does and does not do these things. But I will say this: whenever people get nostril-flaringly adamant about this day, that day, or the other, I get the creeps.
And of course we all know that Paul reminds us not to get all steamed up over such things (see Romans 14:5, for example), but that is not my line of argument here. My concern is over what kinds of communities we are forming.
Here's the problem.
When we form communities that get hot and bothered over the right day to celebrate the birth of Messiah, especially when they view those who disagree with them to be defectors from the True Faith, or to be defective in some manner; when we have people who pride themselves on being "more biblical than thou" on such matters; when we form communities fixated on such issues, we are very much in danger of creating sectarian looney bins, marginal groups for marginal people, which will attract no one but the religiously fixated. But don't believe me: ask yourself: What kinds of people are such hyper-intense religiously preoccupied groups likely to attract? Will such groups attract normal Jewish people who see modeled for them sane and balanced Jewish community that honors Yeshua as Messiah? Will these groups attract healthy everyday people? Or won't they rather attract the religiously fixated looking for an elite religion?
The answers are not only obvious: they should concern us greatly because they point to reasons why our movement fails to win the respect, interest, and faith of many Jews. Am I wrong? I wish I were!
Here is how I would quickly refute this date-preoccupied mentality. Those who feel that it is crucial that we not celebrate Christmas because it is a pagan-rooted holiday should immediately forsake the common calendar, because the names of the months are all modeled after pagan gods, like January, which is named after the Roman god, Janus. Furthermore, such people must as soon as possible also forsake using the names of the days, because all of them are pagan too. No more Monday because that is Moonday, etc. Are any of you prepared to live this way? And will people flock to your gates because you are so compellingly "biblical?"
This whole preoccupation with avoiding "the pagan roots of Christmas" is based on what is termed the genetic fallacy--that something should and may be fairly evaluated on the basis of its origin. This is FALSE. Things should be evaluated on the basis of their use, not their origin. The Star Spangled Banner's melody was taken from a pagan themed song which said "entwined (is) the myrtle of Venus with Bacchus' vine." And Wikipedia reminds us that "the song (titled 'To Anacreon in Heaven'), through its bawdy lyrics, gained popularity in London and elsewhere." Now obviously we can't continue to sing the Star Spangled Banner because of its pagan roots. Then, if we practice the genetic fallacy, we should, like Jehovah's Witnesses, cease having birthday parties, because the only birthdays celebrated in the Bible are those of pagan kings.
The ultimate disproof of the genetic fallacy is Solomon's Temple, which was built on the floor plan of Phoenician temples where children were sacrificed to idols to the sound of pipes and drums (remember Solomon had the aid of Phoenician builders). Yet the Temple was a place where God was pleased to manifest His presence over the Mercy Seat because it is use rather than origin which determines something's sanctity or lack of it.
And here's another refutation. Most of us are big on celebrating the seventh day sabbath. But suppose we ran across scholarly arguments "proving" that the world began on a Tuesday, and that therefore the seventh day would be a Monday. Would that rightly result in people bailing out on Saturday as shabbat because it wasn't biblical? Would that rightly result in groups splitting off and beginning to celebrate the true and biblical seventh day sabbath, from sudown Sunday to sundown Monday? I sure hope not. I hope we all agree that the key here is that the sabbath should be celebrated, NOT that if you've got the day wrong nothing else counts.
Now I am not ridiculing or minimizing the right of people to have convictions on which day is best for the celebration of Messiah's birth. Each should be persuaded in his/her own mind, and is more than entitled to his/her own convictions. In fact, some of the arguments about the Sukkot date sound pretty convincing, and the shepherds certainly weren't tending their flocks by night in the fields in December! That is a good point!
But when we become nostril-flaringly adamant about such things, when we patronize or denounce others whom we deem to be "less biblical" or less pure than ourselves, when we derive a sense of the rightness of our group because of our championing of such issues; when we become distressed over whether we've got the absolutely "right" position on these things, then we are very much in danger of becoming sectarian and even borderline cultic. Under such influences, the Messianic Movement would become an even more marginal movement, to be judged the lunatic fringe by most balanced people, including the Jewish people who are supposedly of special concern to us.
So have your convictions. But please don't major in the minors, because doing so brings no health or blessing to anyone.
But more to the point, it looks downright strange. Even to God.
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Thank you, Jill. As always, I value your opinion, especially when it comes to your strong suit which is anything having to do with sticky communicational challenges and opportunities.
Oooh. I'm so thankful I found your website/blog and so relieved by this article. I attend a Messianic Fellowship in the Inland Northwest (along with a couple of different Protestant fellowships) and have noticed this group slip silently into thought patterns which border on cultic practices. This has caused me great concern as I'm pretty tied in there and love them deeply! I'm in tune with "Let's Not Get Strange About Christmas..." It brings clarification to what I've been thinking about this subject for the past seven years as I hear such condemnation coming from the leadership about the pagan roots of Christmas, Shabbat, Saturday, is the ONLY day to worship, etc..... Last fall there was such bad mouthing of Jews for Jesus and Christianity and Christians I almost walked....again. I'm part of the worship team and find the worship to be deep and meaningful. However, perhaps it's only a matter of time before I walk for good or before it's discovered that I'm not in 100% complete agreement with the "strangeness," and I, like so many others, am forced to leave because there can be no disagreement. Thank you again!
I am afraid the group you are with is showing signs of cultism, not only in their beliefs and attitudes toward others, but also in this issue: "However, perhaps it’s only a matter of time before I walk for good or before it’s discovered that I’m not in 100% complete agreement with the “strangeness,” and I, like so many others, am forced to leave because there can be no disagreement." This is cultic behavior. You are obviously a good person who has a tenderness for God, but this group is definitely cultic.
Here is some material from a book I am writing. See if you don't find your group described in here in some way. My advice to you is to flee. WRITE ME AGAIN WHEN YOU HAVE READ THIS.
Let’s look at some red flags, some warning signals to look out for that indicate a toxic faith community that should best be avoided.
Mystification refers to a process that occurs when one or more members of an
organization fail to understand the meaning and or purpose of a communiqué
from another member, usually a leader. The communiqué is often deliberately
vague and made vague in order often places the mystified person in a "one-
down" position, which disempowers them and fails to produce a clear message. An example of mystification are new company "policies" and "principles" that clearly contradict other "policies" and "principles" recently articulated.
The key thing to watch out for is organizational cultures that reserve power for the Leader and his close in henchmen/henchwomen, and which leave the average underling one down and disempowered until some often indistinctly conveyed condition is met. Such conditions usually involve passing loyalty tests.
In a healthy organization you will have clarity on what is expected of you and will not have a creeping feeling that matters have being kept from you that affect your wellbeing and status in the organization.
Triangles occur in communication when a third person is brought into a
dyadic relationship--usually a dispute between two people. Generally, the two
people involved in the dispute are either communicating to one another
through the third person, or are talking about the other disputant to third
person. In every instance of triangulation, two people need to be
communicating directly, but enmesh a third person so as to avoid any direct
In such situations, then, it is the third person who is empowered, and the two other parties are disempowered. Another way this works is that one of the two parties is in collusion with the third person, in which case the person who is not in the know is powerless and being manipulated.
Therefore, look for healthy organizational cultures where people are empowered and expected to deal respectfully and directly with each other.
3. The Elephant in the Room
The elephant in the room is the problem that no one wants--or dares--to talk
about. Like their namesakes, elephants are often large, threatening, and clearly
visible to those who would only open their eyes. Fear and shame are two
common factors that prevent people in organizations from discussing the
"elephant" problem. Individuals are often afraid of retaliation if they speak
about the real issues, but they are just as often ashamed of the problem and
sometimes blame themselves. Those who assist the elephant in maintaining
his invisible presence are called enablers.
Examples of "elephant" behavior are substance abuse, fits of rage by a
supervisor, unethical behavior that "everyone knows about" but no one talks
about, and more.
4. Lack of Differentiation
A certain level of autonomy is important for any individual, whether in a
family or in an organization. Autonomy represents the degree of
independence that an individual needs to function apart from others in the
system. Fusion is the absence of differentiation, when an individual becomes
attached to one or more other persons so that that blurred emotional boundaries and
interdependency are the end result. There is a lack of clarity on where I end and where you begin, and often in such systems, individuals know that to differentiate in a healthy manner is to be regarded as “having something to hide,” or being “untrusting.” In each case, the individual is being denied the right to autonomous thought and decision-making.
Where lack of differentiation exists, individuals may become defined by and enmeshed in meeting and responding to the needs, wants, and desires one or more colleagues or superfisors above one’s own needs. Most often, this occurs when the emotional needs of a colleague or supervisor either become the enmeshed person's needs, or the meeting of those needs becomes the enmeshed person's first priority.
5. Lack of Boundaries
All individuals need boundaries. The absence of boundaries produces unclear
limits in terms of what others may or may not say or do to a person. People
without boundaries are easily abused and overworked. They can be called
upon at any time and rarely--if ever--say no.
Oftentimes, people with unhealthy boundaries will have no boundaries in
some areas, and overly rigid boundaries in other. These individuals are often
unable to emotionally relate to others. Ideally, individuals and organizations
can maintain flexible boundaries that set reasonable limits on others yet at the
same time allow accessibility.
6. Closed Systems
An open system allows new information in, and is willing to change. A closed
system is isolated, limits information flow, and resists change. Clearly, open
systems are preferable to closed ones, since open systems welcome new data,
look at situations from different perspectives, and are willing to change if
Closed systems often have varying degrees of inner circles, and those outside
the system completely are viewed as having nothing to contribute (e.g. they
wouldn't understand the "way we do things.") Such social systems have an implicit or even implicit high sense of insider/outsider.
In such groups, contact with outsiders is looked upon as dangerous or disloyal. Cultic religious groups stigmatize, discourage, or even forbid contact with one’s parents or family members, or with people one knew prior to being involved in the group, because these “outsiders” are seen as a threat to the loyalties which the group extols. As a result, in cultish groups, one becomes isolated from everyone with the exception of the group members.
7. Collusion and Secrets
Collusion occurs when members of an organization "collude" with each other
(often unconsciously) to maintain certain "secrets." Collusion can occur
through the existence an unofficial or unofficial "inner circle" or even an
unofficial "outer circle." Often collusion is expected by higher-ups and is rewarded with “access to the throne.”
8. Double Bind
Double binds occur when one person gives two mutually exclusive messages
that require contradictory action on the part of a second person or group. The
relationship between the two parties is often such that no discussion about the
double messages is permissible, and the result is usually mystification and
paralysis. Double binds are hurtful and unfair, and again, are disempowering, and they should be broken and exposed whenever possible. In any social system you have a right to clearly know what is expected of you, and the right to make a free decision as to whether and how you will agree to meet that expectation.
A lesser form of the double bind is the lose-lose proposition; an example of
which is "either fire your subordinate or I'll fire you." Such propositions put
enormous emotional stress on individuals. And again, the person being so treated is being put in a powerless position, unless that is, he or she wants to leave the group, and thereafter be stigmatized.
Organizations sometimes scapegoat one individual for all of the organization's
problems. This member carries the tag of troublemaker or any number of
other pejorative labels. This person may actually be behaving in a somewhat
erratic manner. However, in reality this person is simply displaying the
symptoms of an unhealthy organization. Another term for such a person is “the identified patient,” the person who is pointed out as the problem in the system.
Lesser forms of scapegoating occur when every failure or perceived failure
must be pinned to an individual; e.g. the project failure was so-and-so's fault.
Such scapegoating rarely takes into consideration any other factors such as
resources, the wisdom of the undertaking in the first place, or factors beyond
Unhealthy organizations often "cut off" individuals who "betray" the group in
some way. Often this is called “shunning.” Individuals who have been cut off are often mystified, since the alleged betrayal may only have been communicated to the group. If there is any communication at all between group members or the higher-ups and the "cut off" individual, it is either superficial, consists of innuendo and accusations ("you know what you did") or is is attempt to bring the individual back into the group.
This refers to relationships in organizations that appear to be civil and even
congenial externally, but underneath the surface lies bitterness, resentment,
and broken relationships.
Pseudomutuality often only manifests itself within triangulation. Two people
maintain cordial relations, but pour out their resentment to a third party who is
often known to both, and generally placates both so that they can continue to
keep the image of civility.
The late Margaret Thaler-Singer identified seven characteristics of groups that practice what she termed “thought reform” which she define as “a coordinated system of graduated coercive influence and behavior control designed to deceptively and surreptitiously manipulate and influence individuals, usually in a group setting, in order for the originators of the program to profit in some way, normally financially or politically.” To put it more simply, it is tactics used to make people malleable without their freely deciding to be so in order that others might benefit from their malleability.
Here are her seven tactics.
1. Being softened up, often through repetitive stimuli, through reduced caloric intake, and through sleep deprivation.
2. Rewards and punishments, the carrot and the stick, within the context of restricted access to supportive others from family and friends.
3. Restricted freedom to disagree, with rules about what is permissile to discuss with outsiders. Communication is tighty controlled “in group language” becomes the rule of the day.
4. Frequent attempts to make the individual doubt core aspects of his or her selfhood and prior conduct. The name of the game is to get the individual to doubt their own view of life and reality and defer reality-testing to the group or its leader.
5. Frequent and intense attempts to undermine the individual’s self-confidence and faith in his or her own judgment, leaving the person feeling somewhat powerless.
6. Social punishment, humiliation, loss of status and privileges, social isolation, inducement of guilt and self-reproach because the individual is judged in some manner inappropriate or otherwise stigmatized.
7. High level psychological menace resulting in threats of server punishment, dire consequences, hospitalization as crazy, the threat that their life will become unraveled if they leave he group or fail to conform. The leader and the group in some manner pronounce doom upon the individual as a means of forcing conformity.
Obviously, these are rather severe, but sadly they are not rare. Although one ought not live in fear and paranoia, it us always wise to be attentive to whether you feel uncomfortable about how the group treats you. The Bible says, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” This means that coercion and limitations on your freedom to decide and think for yourself is a real danger signal.
So pay attention and look for groups that respect your freedom to make up your own mind, and your freedom to disagree. And as in abusive romantic relationships, beware of any group that restricts your contact with friends and family—in other words, do not allow such groups to isolate you.
Hello Dr. Dauermann, I've read your comments and found them to be very helpful. Thank you for your quick response! I'm quite familiar with many of the terms and have experienced over the years varying degrees of unhealthy/toxic personal & professional working relationships in faith based communicates and organizations.
In this Fellowship there was a Double Bind that caused Mystification. Last year there were some congregational meetings regarding signing the new Halakah which just seemed to pop up out of nowhere from the new leadership. We never had a covenantal Halakah the previous six years. There was confusion among many members regarding what was meant and which sections did we have to agree to, etc. I personally know the Pastor/Ruah/Rabbi told some people one thing and others another. One young man who is incredibly zealous had been allowed into leadership and I'm thinking he influenced Group Think in this regard. This young man actually followed me out to my car after a rather heated meeting one evening when I stood up to challenge whether or not we were going to show grace to visitors who called God's son Jesus, instead of Yeshua. I think it upsets them more than it upsets God. Mind you, about 98% of those who attend this fellowship are not Jewish and all, even the true Jews, came to faith through some Christian denomination or group! Disconnect with the past. A couple of the true Jews are less Jew than the overly zealous Gentiles!
And then there's THE Elephant. It, like many large rotting elephants, has created quite a stink and several good families have left or been kicked out because of it. It could be just a matter of time before the people in leadership are sued over this matter. It's that big and that stinky. I won't say more here but would through email. Also, according to the leadership, I would be committing Lashon Hara. Others who talked to others about this subject were accused on Lashon Hara and banned from fellowship. We are forced into silence as the past is the past and forgiven. They want to have a Closed Community (on purpose) and even though they've not kept this "secret" 100% a secret, they protect the perpetrator and continue to allow him to access to a leadership position even though I was told he was stepping down. I have a very difficult time listening to him when he is speaking. Their rationale for keeping him in leadership is: He really is a Jew, He's our cantor and the only one who can speak Hebrew well, God's forgiven him and so should we, God has redeemed him and he's not that broken man anymore. The rabbi and his wife are very good friends is another reason that they can't bear to see him go very far. One particular family were accidentally left out of knowing some very important information and inadvertently set themselves and their toddling daughter up for much confusion and pain when they invited him for Erev Shabbat. I think you can read between my lines. As I'm writing, it seems to me there have been many people banned over the past seven years for various reasons. Some because the pastor's wife got a bad vibe.... or perhaps they weren't dressed "right," in accordance with the dress code... A few summers ago I recall the Rabbi meeting one particular man out in the parking lot. He'd visited about four or five times always wearing the same clothes, blue jeans, blue and white stripped button up shirt, and logging boots. Not unkempt. Whenever I saw him the verse about 'entertaining angels unaware' came to my mind. It saddened me when he didn't come in that day and never returned. I've heard that some Messianic fellowships don't allow Gentiles to enter their buildings. At least the one I've been attending isn't like that....probably because, as mentioned above, most are Gentile and if they banned Gentiles...well....they'd have to ban themselves!
As far as Margaret Thaler-Singer's Seven, I think there is some of #3 and #7 going on at this fellowship. I've personally experienced #s 3-7 in my 20 year abusive marriage that ended almost 8 years ago. Once I woke up...well...my eyes were open! HA! And then I became a very quick study of what constitutes healthy and toxic personal and group relationships.
Why did I go in the first place and why have I stayed? I had always been drawn to Hebrew, Jews for Jesus (who, I discovered this group's rabbi believes is hell spawn,) the culture, the dance! When I woke up and stared tragedy in the face in 2009, I had to move away from the local town people and Protestant denomination I had grown up in in different parts of the country. My father was a pastor, retired as a prison chaplain in Texas and my brother and brother-in-law (and ex and ex-father-in-law) all pastors in this particular denomination.) It was very messy and semi public. The Messianic Fellowship was a place I could escape to where I could focus on learning more about my Jewish Lord, learn some Hebrew, etc, and perhaps meet some people who desired to love God more. I was involved in music ministry in the Protestant denomination for many years but lost all that in the divorce. Over the past two years the Messianic Fellowship added live worship when more musicians came into the group. I am part of that and find the worship songs deep, meaningful, and full. The Ruach HaKodesh is certainly present in worship and in the Torah service and Bible Studies and the Lord has been present in my tutelage. I have chosen to overlook many things and forgiven many people to be able to stay as a contributing member of the fellowship. Some are....strange things... like one of the leaders wives told me God had told her not to pick up a box on Shabbat....hmmmm....okay...who am I to question that!?
I still haven't signed the Halakah as it doesn't make sense to me to be forced to sign it...to take a vow under pressure...and later revoke it during Yom Kippur. Also, picking and choosing which laws you're going or not going to follow and then making others follow the same ones you follow sound very legalistic and border on, as you've written, cult behavior. For example, we can't cut vegetables to make a salad, but we can grind coffee beans, allow hot water to run over them, and call it coffee! We also have to agree not to be cremated or embalmed when we die. Just a pine box....which I've always joked about anyway....with only wood screws so everything returns to dust. If we don't sign it we can't participate in ALL the feasts and festivals, just weekly Shabbat and the community Passover meal and perhaps a Hannukah celebration. (Don't remember right now which we are excluded from if we don't sign.)
I think the Rabbi and his wife are very passionate people. They truly want to serve Adonai and please Him. At times I think they are gullible though and can easily be mislead. Within the first year I was part of the group another young man joined the fellowship. He creeped me out a bit but he seemed sincere and was put into leadership. Within a few months he had divided the small flock and took half with him. Later I heard they had rejected Messiah...and they weren't Jewish either!
I've tried to have a heart to heart with the rabbi and his wife. My times with them are usually filled with much joy and laughter even when I try to speak sincerely from my heart about troubling issues. I was told the Elephant was going to step down and others were being trained to take over. I've seen that somewhat, but, just when I think he's going to stay at the back, he's back up front! I've lessened my Shabbats with them on purpose though they don't know that. The Lord has arranged much of my schedule as I've had other commitments with my son or daughter and/or trainings to attend or to lead. As I've learned, Messianics can be very messy.
I welcome continued dialogue with you sir. Thank you again for your quick response. I truly appreciate it. By the way, I was searching online for some information about a Norwegian Lutheran Missional Outreach to Jews that I discovered upon reading Richard Wurmbrand's, "Tortured for Christ," and stumbled upon Immanual Church in Tel Aviv, which led me to Rev. Torkild Masvie, bishop of the Lutheran Church in Norway which connected me to Steve Cohen with Apple of His Eye, who I met some years ago in St. Louis. That led me to your site of which I am, once again, very thankful! Peace to you!
I am wondering your views of some of the Halakah things I shared. Not cutting vegetables on Sabbath and must be buried in a pine box.... Perhaps you have written about these things elsewhere in your blog. I haven't had time to explore the subjects you cover on your website yet. If you have, could you point me in the right direction. Thank you!
My concern for your congregational situation goes far beyond any particular halacha. It is the relational atmosphere there. It sounds like mostly an elitist group of Gentiles who think themselves more spiritual and enlightened because of their version of Torah obedience. It sounds like there are cultic controls of shunning, and of cutting people off if they don't get with the program. It sounds like a place where if you don't get their version of halacha just right, you are stigmatized. This is all TOXIC. I trust you see what I mean.
I do see what you mean and am very thankful to hear back from you. Everything you mentioned is true and I appreciate the time you took and the clarity with which you wrote. I'm praying for the right timing and the right words to share the truth in love with them and then make my exit. It will be very soon as the Lord is impressing it greatly on my heart. I so wish there was a congregation in my neck of the woods that would be led by moderate Messianic/hybrid Judeo-Christian leadership. I'd like to read your book "Christians and Jews Together." Years ago I began to think that there might be, like a 'completed Jew,' a 'completed Christian,' of course acknowledging the opposite, the, 'incomplete Jew,' or the 'incomplete Christian.' Incomplete in terms of missing one leg on a three legged stool making it unsteady. Or the heart, lungs, or brain being removed from a person's body resulting in death. My thinking at the time before discovering this Messianic Fellowship went something like this: The Baptists are really great with the Law, the Lutherans really great with the Gospel, and the Pentecostals really great with the Spirit. BUT if Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, His disciples must operate in all three areas, not forsaking the God of the entire Bible who out of His extreme love for us shows Himself to us through all three. I want to be an answer to Yeshua's prayer in John 17, that we may be One. It's impossible for us to be One when so many keep moving to the fringe in their extreme thinking. I look forward to ordering and reading your book on this subject. Thank you again Dr. Dauermann!
I shared your post by introducing it by stating I find it ironic that as a
Gentile believer in the Messianic movement, the harshest critics I hear from relative to celebrating Christmas are not from the Jewish believers, rather, from the Gentile believers in the Messianic movement.
Hi, Mike, and Season's Greetings! That is the politically neutral greeting, isn't it? I grew up in the USA, living three-quarters of my life therein, though the other quarter consisted of two extended periods in Israel, where I live now. My early training didn't include a lot of Jewish experience, and only in my teens did I begin to appreciate Jewish identity and praxis. Consequently, Christmas-related cultural observances were familiar to me. But I became gradually estranged from them as my knowledge of Judaism grew, along with my knowledge of the apostolic writings, because I have also been involved with "Messianic Judaism" for the entirety of the past 50 years. It would certainly be fair, by this time, to say that I am a stranger to Christmas culture, and it is strange to me. I suppose, for this reason, I don't need to "get strange about Christmas". Living as a Jew here in Israel, I can pretty much ignore it as a foreign anachronistic phenomenon.
I understand, however, the pressures faced in the galut by Jewish messianist disciples of haRav Yeshua ben-Yosef, and the confusions and uncertainties faced by non-Jewish disciples. I imagine it's not so different from the confusions faced by the Galatian disciples with whom Rav Shaul had to remonstrate vehemently to disabuse them of the false notion that converting to Judaism, and thus adopting full Torah observance responsibilities, would be "good news" that could resolve their social problems. Nowadays it has become necessary to emphasize to non-Jewish would-be disciples that they are not to become pseudo-Jews or adopt Jewish cultural religious practices and celebrations. They are not wrong to honor such biblical celebrations, and should very rightly learn their meanings in order to extract from them spiritual lessons for their own beneficial application. Certainly if they attend common gatherings with Jews, they should conform with Jewish norms. If Hanukah is being celebrated, certainly they're welcome to eat a latke or two, or some sufganiot if Israeli custom is expressed. On the other hand, I would discourage Jewish disciples from attending Christmas celebrations or engaging in their culture, because Jews are still in a process of recovery from longstanding assimilation in foreign cultural environments. It's just not conducive to Jewish cultural recovery to participate in such things, regardless of the questionable origins of the celebrations vis-a-vis the winter solstice and Sol Invictus.
But Stuart is certainly right to emphasize an easygoing attitude about such things, that no one should be condemning anyone else for what they do or do not observe -- just as Rav Shaul emphasized it to his gentile charges in Colossae (Col.2:16) and elsewhere. If there is to be any discussion about such matters, let it be informative -- with a view to increasing knowledge that supports wise decision-making about cultural involvements or distancing from the same. But non-Jewish disciples do not face the same covenantal or cultural constraints as Jewish ones, nor do they share the same responsibilities. on the other hand, they have a greater responsibility to evaluate the spiritual consequences of their freedom.
As for those who wish to conform themselves with the greatest historical accuracy that they can obtain, and who wish to recognize the most likely date when Miriam gave birth in Beit-Lehem, they need only consider the six-month differential between the pregnancies of Miriam and her sister Elisheva, and the timing of Elisheva's conception of Yohanan relative to her husband's temple service period of Aviyah, which period was defined in the books of the Chronicles, and the curious availability of an extra shelter when accommodations in Beit-Lehem were otherwise all filled, coupled with the coincidental tending of sheep still in the fields at nighttime, in order to conclude that the circumstances best fit the beginning of the Sukkot holiday, when a sukkah could serve as such an extra shelter, whether in town for a woman desperately in need of shelter while giving birth, or for shepherds out in the fields at night.
Of course, these facts do not address the questions about whether to celebrate a birthday at all, or for whom or for what reasons. Most often, a birthday is an event for an individual's immediate family to celebrate; and it is rare to celebrate a birthday publicly, even when such a date is noted for special individuals like US Presidents Washington and Lincoln, or Martin Luther King, Jr. Even then, it is limited to one nation, while other nations may commemorate other people or events. Indeed, even the development of Christmas celebrations varied among the nations during the past 15 centuries. Hence, one must evaluate its function independently in any given modern society, along with its spiritual and theological implications. If gentile disciples would do this thoughtfully, there would likely be a lot less "strangeness" in the responses to it.