Did you know that there are disputes about the date of Christ’s birth and what day we should celebrate Christmas on? There is the dispute between the Eastern and Western church traditions. The West celebrates Christmas on December 25th, and the East celebrates Christmas on January 7th. This dispute between the two traditions is actually where the Twelve Days of Christmas comes from. The dispute comes from the Eastern Tradition following the Julian calendar that predates the Gregorian calendar, which is the most commonly observed. Likewise, many non-Christians will argue that the reason Christmas is celebrated on December 25th is that it replaced a pagan holiday, and it had to occur at some other time because shepherds would have never been in the fields at that time. Today, I just want to briefly address three details of Christmas.
It is a common belief that because we celebrate Christmas, Christ’s birth, on December 25th then that must be the day Jesus was born. However, the precise date of the birth of Jesus is unknown. Unlike the death and resurrection of Christ, the date of his birth is unknown. We don’t even have the right year in which he was born according to the Gregorian calendar. So why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25th? I’ve heard it suggested that church leaders replaced the celebration of Sol Invictus (Unconquered Sun), a pagan holiday, with the celebration of Christmas. However, there is very little evidence to prove this assertion. The most reasonable suggestion is that it seems early Christians believed that the date of Mary’s conception was the same date that Jesus was crucified – March 25th. They then take that date and add nine months and come to the date on which we celebrate Christmas – December 25th.
Does it matter if we have the exact date of Jesus’ birth? No, because if God wanted us to know the date it would have been recorded in scripture like the date of Christ’s death and resurrection was. Likewise, the manger wouldn’t have meaning without the cross and empty tomb. At Christmas, we celebrate the humility of Christ coming in the mystery of the incarnation and dwelling among his creation.
Now, I happen to favor Christmas being in the winter months of either December or January. What I am about to suggest not all scholars and pastors accept, but it is a beautiful picture pointing to the sacrifice of Christ at the earliest moment of his life. It may or may not be true, but I’ll leave that up to you to decide. While it is true that most shepherds
While it is true that most shepherds wouldn’t have had their flocks in the fields at this time of year, if we have the time of Christmas right, and I am one who believes that we do, then these were probably the shepherds who watched over the flocks of the sacrificial lambs in the Temple. This draws an amazing parallel if they are the ones who go and see Jesus. The shepherds who watch over the lambs who are sacrificed for the atonement of sins are the ones who God and see the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Furthermore, Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling cloths. In ancient times strips of cloth were used to wrap babies to keep them calm, warm, and protected. Interestingly enough, if these are the shepherds who watch over the Temple’s flock, then they know about swaddling cloths because when sacrificial lambs were born, they wrapped them in swaddling clothes to keep them warm, calm, and to protect them from creating any blemishes. This is a beautiful dynamic between Jesus, the sacrificial lambs, and the shepherds.
Finally, when looking at a nativity scene, we see the Holy Family, the shepherds, and the three wise men. We do not know much about the wise men except that they come from the east and bring three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We actually do not even know how many there were. We often say that there were three, but the reason we land on that number is because that is how many gifts were given.
Likewise, the wise men were most likely not even there on that first Christmas. They probably arrived two years later guided by a star and came to the place where the holy family was staying. In Matthew 2, when the magi arrived and proclaimed that a new king of the Jews had been born, Herod was troubled and in verse 7: “summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared.” Herod conceals his real intent in asking the magi when the star had appeared. In verse 16: “When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, post became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.”As we see, Herod killed all the male children who were 2 years old and younger. The estimate for this massacre is anywhere between 10-30 children being slaughtered. However, what we see is that the magi probably showed up almost two years after Christ had already been born. I am actually preaching on this tomorrow for Christmas Eve service. In light of that, I won’t press on. However, what we do see is that not only is Jesus the Jewish Messiah, but he is also the savior of the whole world drawing men and women all over unto himself, and that is why these men came from the east.
The point to these blog posts was to shed light on how our conception of stories found in scriptures are shaped more by popular perceptions and modern retelling than by the text of scripture itself. By no means are the ideas that I have put forward absolute truth and history, rather they are just my speculations. I actually just read a blog by Dr. Michael Kruger who might have convinced me that Jesus was born in a family home. My aim and hope are that you would read the stories of Christmas found in scripture (Luke 1-2; Matthew 1-2) and contemplate the true meaning of Christmas. I hope that the posts have made you think and consider the story of Christmas this Advent and Christmas Season.
Merry Christmas, and may the grace of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ be with you this Christmas!