We are still in the 'Advent' season, as we discussed last week and people around the world are anxiously looking forward to Christmas at the end of Advent. Now I am someone who is not comfortable with Christmas, never have been since after my youngest boy grew up. I know, however, that the vast majority of Christians regard it as the central feast in the church calendar, and I respect their views on this subject. So I thought we would take a look at the common assumptions that people make about the Christmas story and the misconceptions the world has accepted as fact. It's up to you to decide whether you believe it to be true or false.
God choose to bring Jesus into the world through a virgin birth [Matthew 1:23], Mary conceiving a child through the supernatural intervention of the Holy Spirit [Luke 1:35]. The conception needed to be without human intercourse, in case Jesus was born through the sin of lust, and a demonstration of it being God's will rather than a man's. At this point Mary's cousin Elizabeth, was six months into here pregnancy with John, who would become the Baptist [Luke 1:36]. The strange thing is that both Mark and John' Gospel seems to ignore the virgin birth, and concentrate on His ministry. Luke was a physician and is maybe used to noting details, many scholars have suggested that Luke went to Mary in later life and interviewed her, because there is so much detail in Luke 1 & 2. Matthew's account in chapters one and two, concentrate on the genealogies of Jesus, and his account sounds like one of someone who knows the story but does not go into the detail of Luke. The two accounts seem to fit the people who wrote them, a doctor and an accountant. Does the lack of record of the virgin birth in Mark and John's Gospel mean that the virgin birth was insignificant to early Christians? I believe not, as the New Testament affirms it when it mentions the issue [Compare Mark 6:3 to Matthew 13:55].
As we have seen in other Bible Studies (Appearances of Jesus in the Old Testament), God could have created Him as a fully grown human, a special creation as He did with Adam. Matthew's and Luke's account of the virgin birth both connect the reality of God with eternity and history to the core of the Christian faith. John Gospel clearly reveals the pre-existence of Jesus prior to His human birth [John 1:1-18]. The account clearly connects the eternal nature of Jesus in His pre-existence with the historical corporeal Jesus, both natures embodied in the physical Jesus. The spiritual conception of Jesus truly makes Him both fully God and fully human, giving Him both the capacity to sin and the option not to sin.
“For as by the one man's disobedience (Adam) the many were made sinners, so by the one man's (Jesus) obedience the many will be made righteous.” [Romans 5:19]
We also have a Saviour who understands our weakness for sin because of His incarnation and humanity [Hebrews 4:15]
The word 'incarnation' is a Latin word 'carne' meaning 'infleshed' a good word to describe the condition of Jesus', 'God in-fleshed' rather than a man with the Spirit of God. This condition goes beyond just the situation of His birth, 1 Timothy 3:16 sums this up neatly in one verse. Paul maintains that Jesus' incarnation and act of sacrifice on the cross [Colossians 1:22] could accomplish what the law of Moses could not hope to accomplish [ Romans 8:3; Ephesians 2:15] . John reflects on his belief that people who reject the incarnation show themselves to be anti-Christ [1 John 4:2 and 2 John 7]. Though He is our Creator, it could have been impossible for God to appreciate the emotions, trials and nature of the fallen human, because sin formed a barrier between Him and the human race. For this reason God may have decided to step out into history, showing Himself to man in a personality. Jesus experienced the full range of human trials and emotions, so that God Himself as the Father could touch human existence. Jesus was not half human and half God, He was wholly God and wholly man, more than a good person or prophet as the Jews and Muslims believe.
It seems that those early followers of 'The Way' who knew or lived along side Jesus struggled to understand Hi divinity [John 10:25-30 & John 14:10 & 28], whereas Christians in our time seem to struggle with Jesus' humanity and find it easier to think of Him as wholly God. Being both at the same time makes His sacrifice even more significant, Jesus experienced humanity so He experienced human pain and frailty, on the other hand He was God who could have summoned a host of angels to save Him the pain. Jesus didn't call for support, He went through with what He knew He had to do proclaiming that God’s love is not long-distance love but a present and personal love [Hebrews 2:18; & Hebrews 4:15].
Most Christians agree that Jesus was not born on Christmas Day, December the twenty-fifth, but are confused as to when it was, and the Bible says nothing as to the date. Jesus' birthday was considered insignificant during the the first few centuries, in fact no one celebrated birthdays back then. It wasn't until the fourth century AD that the Roman Emperor Constantine declared Christ's birthday as a feast on twenty-fifth of December, substituting it with a Roman festival of Saturnalia a pagan feast, associated with the winter solstice, in 336, AD. As the Romans adopted the faith of the countries they conquered, they also adopted Yuletide a festival connected with Odin's wild hunt. Let's look a little closer at how a Roman Emperor chose December for Christ's birth, the clue is in the names of the months. Witness here how the names of the twelve months of the Roman year are hopelessly confused. September is the ninth month in our calendar, but “Sept” actually means 'seven' month in Latin. October is our tenth month, but 'Oct' means “eighth month, as in Octagonal. Similarly November is our eleventh month, yet it means “ninth month,” and so Decca, which means ten and the word 'December' means the tenth month, but it is the twelfth month on our calendar. Straight away we can see the error, when Emperor Constantine designated Christ's birth to be in December, he actually meant the tenth month, our October.
Lets get back to the Bible for conformation of this, Luke 2:1, announces that at the time of Jesus' birth the Emperor Caesar Augustus decreed that a census should be taken to register everyone in the empire. Luke also tells us that Quirinius was governor of Syria. and all went to be registered, I his own town [Luke 2:2-3]. Luke continues to tell us that Joseph went to his home town of Bethlehem in order to register, with Mary, and during this time Mary came full term and gave birth [Luke 2:3-7]. There are records existing of Roman registrations or censuses, between AD 20 to 270, which tells us that the Romans held a census every seventeen years, (The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1982, Vol. 2, p. 105) and that they were never held in wintertime when the weather was bad. Luke also supplies us with further evidence that the birth was not in December, or winter, when he states that there were shepherds living out in the fields [Luke 2:8-11]. It was then, as it is today a tradition in the middle east that the sheep are brought into the home pens at the beginning of November, keeping the flocks in the fields between April and October. Believe me the winters out there are just as cold and wet as they are in northern Europe or the US.
If then we can accept that Jesus was not born on the twenty-fifth, or even in December, we need to ask when was Yeshua actually born. We have seen already how the months became mixed up during the conversion from the Roman year to our modern month designations, and how December was confused with October. If the birth occurred in October, then what date could it have been on? Are there evidences we can take from the Bible, or inferences, that point to any specific date? The answer is most certainly 'yes'. A little research comes up with a Old Testament feast day called 'The Eighth Day'. Tradition dictates that eight days after a baby’s birth, the Jewish male child is circumcised; here Joseph will have circumcised Yeshua on the eighth day. That was when they gave him the name Gabriel announced to Mary at the time of the conception, and to Joseph in a dream. The final day of Sukkot also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, is an add-on festival day, one that the Torah calls “The Eighth Day” [Leviticus 23:36-39]. If Yeshua was actually born on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, then they would have circumcised him on the day called the “Eighth Day”. This would then have literally fulfilled the scripture prophesy that says, “On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised.” [Leviticus 12:3]. For what other reason would God add a feast called 'The Eighth Day'?
In John 1:14 we find a curiosity the verse states, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”[ESV] What drew my attention to this verse was that other translations used a different word for 'dwelt', one version translated the Greek as 'dwelling', another actually translated it 'tabernacle'. If we look this up in Strong's we find that the Greek word used is 'skenoo' which means 'tent or tabernacle'. So the verse could alternatively say that 'The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us', again making a link to the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot. These little errors in translation, of which both are legitimate, once righted with the Greek, give us some new information, highlighting again the importance of a little research. From these simple corrections to find that one possible date for the birth of Yeshua, our Savour is the very first day of Sukkot, which is also the day of the Jewish Harvest Festival, when thanks is given for all God's gifts. What to us seems like coincidences are all a part of God's plan, why else would His sacrifice take place at Passover, the anniversary of God saving His people for the first time.
The most likely year of Yeshua's birth, calculating from historical events, such as the death of Herod, etc. is the year, 5 BC, this date is proposed by a vast majority of biblical scholars. We can easily find the date of Sukkot using the Hebrew calendar, which in that year was Tishri 15-21, in the Hebrew year of 3757, this equates to October 16-22, 5 B.C. . As the first day of The Feast of Tabernacles seems to be the 6th, a good bet for Jesus' birth is possibly October 16th , between 5 and 4 BC; N.B Sukkot is a movable feast calculated by the phase of the Moon. Should we recognise this date? That is a matter of your own beliefs, but I give you one thought, would you be happy if everyone decided to ignore your birthday and celebrate it on a pagan holiday instead? Paul warns us about believing fables and untruths, following false teaching and believing what they wish to believe [2 Timothy 4:2-4]. Instead of following man-made traditions and feasts, which are condemned in the Bible, why not keep the Biblical feast days the ones that God commanded and that were observed by Jesus Christ Himself, as well as the apostles and the early Church? Following these feasts can totally reinvigorate your understanding of the Bible and make seemingly obscure prophesies make sense.
Just peruse the limited list of traditions below, that are totally untrue, relating to Christmas.
No shepherds in the fields of Israel in December then as now, so if the shepherd's story is correct, it had to be at some other time.
No where does the Bible say there were three wise men, or Magi, it is assumed because there were three gifts, there could have been just one or many.
There were Magi, not kings, nor were they astrologers, they were men who were deemed 'wise men' who may have been astronomers, and there is a huge difference.
No hovering star. We know that God uses the heavens to give us signs, as astronomers the Magi would watch for signs and one of these signs was used to guid the Magi [Matthew 2:1-2] then on to Bethlehem [Matthew 2:9-10], which triggered the slaughter of the innocents by Herod.
No magi in the stable, the wise men arrives at least a couple of years later.
No stable, animals shared their living space with their animals, especially at inns.
Although the Romans held a census, there is no record of one specifically in wintertime.
A Roman census took place over a full year, not on one day, so Bethlehem would not have crowded because of a census, but some other reason, like feast.
At that time an Inn would not have had a separate stable, animals always shared the lower floor with humans.
Jesus was not born in 0BC, otherwise Herod would have died before He was born in 4BC; suggesting a year for the Birth of 5 or 6 BC.
The feast of Sukkot or Tabernacles (Booths) entails every household to build a booth close to the house, where they would eat meals, in remembrance of the time wandering the wilderness. The custom was to celebrate Sukkot in your home town, at least once in every several years. So it could well have been that Joseph and Mary were offered one of these booths for the night.
Every booth was equipped with a shelf on which food was placed out of the reach of animals, this shelf was called a Manger in Hebrew rather than the Greek that meant a place for animal food.
These are just a few of the inconsistencies between our human view of Christmas and the Biblical and historical actuality of Christmas.
There is a prophesy in Zechariah 14:16-19 that:
“Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. 17 And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. 18 And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain;[a] there shall be the plague with which the Lord afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. 19 This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths.”
Why would God make this prediction and decree that all the world must go to worship the King and Lord of Hosts (Jesus/Yeshua) in Jerusalem at 'Feast of Booths' if it was not connected with His Son, even His birthday.
In God's love.