Series: “CHRISTMAS AT EXPECTATION” by Pastor David R. Stokes
Sunday, December 2nd, 2018: “THE CASE FOR CHRISTMAS”
FROM PASTOR STOKES:
This is a special edition of our EXPECTAKEAWAY as an addendum to my message on December 2nd, titled: “THE CASE FOR CHRISTMAS.”
Here are some thoughts about WHEN Jesus was born:
We celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas. The word means “coming of Christ.” The 25th day of December was first observed in 336 AD, some 24 years after the Roman emperor Constantine established Christianity as the state religion.
The modern Christmas celebration combines many strands of tradition including the ancient Roman pagan festival of Saturnalia (merrymaking, exchange of presents), the old Germanic midwinter customs (Yule log, decorating evergreen trees), the tradition of Francis of Assisi (displaying the crib, or crèche of Jesus), the medieval feast of St. Nicholas (Sinterklaas in Dutch, hence “Santa Claus”), and the British sending of greeting cards (1840s). The Puritan pilgrims did not celebrate Christmas because of its many unbiblical associations.
Christmas was officially recognized as a holiday in the United States in 1870.
The Dutch Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) is the origin of the North American Santa Claus. According to legend, Sinterklaas makes his rounds on December 5, Saint Nicholas’s Eve. Dressed in a catholic bishop’s robes, Sinterklaas rides through the streets distributing sweets to the children.
But the real story is much more fascinating…
According to the account in Luke’s gospel, Mary conceived Jesus in the sixth month of her relative Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptist. This means that Jesus was born fifteen months after the angel Gabriel appeared to Elizabeth’s husband, Zacharias, and informed him that his wife would bear a child.
Here’s a key point—according to Luke 1:5, Zacharias was a priest of the division of Abijah and Luke 1:8 says that Gabriel appeared to Zacharias while he was serving as a priest in the Temple.
We know from the Talmud and other sources that the division of Abijah served as priests during the second half of the fourth month of the Jewish religious calendar — which would have put it in late June (the Jewish religious calendar begins in March with Passover).
Fifteen months later would place the birth of Jesus in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar. That would be in the fall of the year, in either late September or early October. His conception, not His birth, would have occurred in December of the previous year.
The seventh month of the Jewish calendar is the month of the Feast of Tabernacles. John 1:14, speaking of Jesus as the Word, says: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” The word “dwelt” that is used here is the Greek word “skenoo” which literally means “to tabernacle,” as you’ve likely heard me quote.
So, when God came to earth to “tabernacle” among men it appears that He timed His arrival in the Bethlehem manger to coincide with the Feast of Tabernacles. That was only appropriate, for the Feast of Tabernacles is the most joyous of all the Jewish feasts. It is, in fact, their feast of thanksgiving.
To expand a bit on all of this…
First, here’s the Jewish calendar compared to what we use:
Jewish Month Gregorian Calendar
1 Nisan (Abib) March-April
2 lyyar (Ziv) April-May
3 Sivan May-June
4 Tammuz June-July
5 Av July-August
6 Elul August-September
7 Tishri (Ethanim) September-October
8 Marcheshvan (Bui) October-November
9 Kislev November-December
10 Tebeth December-January
11 Shebat January-February
12 Adar February-March
Zacharias was serving in the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem when he was chosen to enter the holy place to burn incense outside the Holy of Holies. The archangel Gabriel appeared to him and revealed that he and his barren wife Elizabeth would have a son named John, who would precede and prepare the way for the Messiah. He returned home after his two-week service, then his wife conceived, as Gabriel had prophesied. The earliest date for John’s conception would be the first of Av, corresponding with our July-August.
In the sixth month (Kislev-Tevet, December) of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Gabriel visited Mary in Nazareth to announce that she would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit (see: Luke 1:31).
Gabriel also revealed to Mary that her relative, Elizabeth, was six-months pregnant. Elizabeth’s sixth month included the celebration of the Jewish feast of Hanukkah, the “Feast of the Dedication” connected with the rededication of the temple after the Maccabean revolt. Without delay, Mary hurried to visit Elizabeth, about a week’s journey on foot from Nazareth.
When Mary arrived, Elizabeth greeted her: “How blessed is the child in your womb.” From this, we conclude that the miraculous conception took place sometime between Gabriel’s visitation and Mary’s arrival at Elizabeth’s house.
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months, until John was born (probably during Passover, 15-21 Nisan, April), circumcised on the eighth day, and given his name. By the way, one of the long-held Jewish traditions is that the prophet Elijah will return at Passover. Gabriel had prophesied to Zacharias that John would come “in the spirit and power of Elijah.”
Mary returned to Nazareth, where an angel (probably Gabriel again) reassured her betrothed husband: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home with you as your wife; for what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”
Emperor Augustus ordered a census that required Joseph to take Mary to Bethlehem where she gave birth to Jesus (probably during Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, 15-21 Tishrei, September-October). “The Word [Jesus] became a human being and lived [tabernacled] with us,” as it says in John 1:14.
If Jesus was born during Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, (which began the 29th of September in 5 BC—this calendar “glitch” has to do with the difference between lunar calendar of 360 days and solar calendar of 365 days, etc.), as suggested from the evidence above, then His conception was probably during Hanukkah, possibly as late as the 25th of December in 6 BC.
Now, this is not a matter for dogmatism or endless debate—but simply a way to “redeem” the idea of December 25th and the wonderful story of INCARNATION and REDEMPTION.
MERRY CHRISTMAS! – Pastor Stokes