Dec 252015
 

Was Jesus born on dec 25Happy Christmas to all my readers, I hope you’re having a great day.

Last week we looked at some of the traditions we have become used to at Christmas time, which are probably only myths. Events such as; Jesus being born in a stable, Mary riding on a donkey while she is 9 months pregnant and 3 kings arriving for the birth. These things are not necessarily false, but they are certainly not mentioned in the bible.

Today I’m going to explore the age old question of whether Jesus was actually born on this day or not. I don’t want it to spoil your celebrations, the fact is He was born and it really doesn’t matter when it happened. I just thought it would be interesting to compare the assertions of those who say “yes it was December 25th” and those who think it must have been some other time.

It wasn’t December 25th

Let’s start with those who don’t believe it was this day;

They say It would be unusual to see Shepherds “abiding in the field” in December at a very cold time of the year when fields were unproductive. The normal practice was to keep the flocks in the fields from Spring to Autumn. Also, winter would be an unlikely time to hold a Census as fewer people would be able to make the journey. The weather was cold and the roads would have been in poor condition. To have a Census at that time would have been self-defeating.

A more probable time would be late September, at the time of the annual Feast of Tabernacles. when such travel was commonly accepted. This would coincide with an event widely celebrated in the Christian calendar of ‘Michaelmas’ named after the angel Michael the archangel who proclaimed to the shepherds that Christ was born. Michaelmas is celebrated on September 29th.

If September 29th was the date that Jesus was born, December the 25th(almost exactly 9 months earlier) was actually when Jesus was conceived. When you think about it, the darkest time of the year, the pagan celebration of ‘Saturnalia’ when the son is furthest away from the Holy Land, would be an appropriate time for God to give us the ‘light of the world’.

The original significance of December 25th is that it was a well-known festival day celebrating the annual return of the sun. December 21 is the winter solstice (shortest day of the year and thus a key date on the calendar), and December 25th is the first day that ancients could clearly note that the days were definitely getting longer and the sunlight was returning.

Since no one knows the day of His birth (the early church never celebrated it), the Roman Catholic Church felt free to choose this date, hoping to replace the pagan festival with a Christian holy day (holiday). They obviously came to the conclusion that rather than replace an established celebration day they would just compromise dates and change its focus so that the people would not be upset.

The bible itself points to an autumn date based on the conception and birth of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. Stay with me on this one because it is a bit complicated. Since Elizabeth (John’s mother) was in her sixth month of pregnancy when Jesus was conceived (Luke 1:24-36), we can determine the approximate time of year Jesus was born if we know when John was born. John’s father, Zacharias, was a priest serving in the Jerusalem temple during the division of Abijah (Luke 1:5). Historical calculations indicate this division of service corresponded to June 13-19 in that year (The Companion Bible, 1974, Appendix 179, p. 200). It was during this time of temple service that Zacharias learned that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a child (Luke 1:8-13). After he completed his service and travelled home, Elizabeth conceived (Luke 1:23-24). Assuming John’s conception took place near the end of June, adding nine months brings us to the end of March as the most likely time for John’s birth. Adding another six months (the difference in ages between John and Jesus (Luke 1:35-36)) brings us to the end of September as the likely time of Jesus’ birth.

Although it is difficult to determine the first time anyone celebrated December 25th as Christmas Day, historians are in general agreement that it was sometime during the fourth century. This is an amazingly late date. Christmas was not observed in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, until about 300 years after Christ’s death. Its origins cannot be traced back to either the teachings or practices of the earliest Christians.

It was December 25th

There are a few arguments that people use to support December 25thas the date of Jesus’ birth.

Firstly, the earliest Christian tradition dating back to the 3rd Century when an early church father, Hyppolytus (ca. 170-236) stated the date as 25th December. The earliest mention of some sort of observance on that date is in the Philoclian Calendar, a Roman Calendar dated around 336 ad. Another early church father John Chrysostom (349 to 407ad) also favoured December 25thas did Cyril of Jerusalem (348-386) who had access to the original Roman birth census, which also documented that Jesus was born on the 25th of December. These early church ‘heavyweights’ should not be ignored according to those who subscribe to the date we use today. They were after all, a lot nearer to the event than we are.

The second argument really disputes the assertion that Shepherds couldn’t have been outside in the fields in December because it was too cold. There is strong historical evidence that unblemished lambs for the Temple sacrifice were in fact kept in the fields near Bethlehem during the winter months. December is not the coldest month in Bethlehem, January is. Even then the temperature rarely goes below freezing. In fact the average temperature is 8 degrees (a couple of degrees warmer in December), which although cold, would not be beyond the possibility of hardy shepherds being out in the fields, with shelter and fire etc. Even in the bible there is evidence of someone looking after sheep outside in the cold. When Jacob wanted to marry Laban’s daughter Rachel, he had to work 20 years in total, tending the sheep. This was in Paddan-aram which was more northerly and therefore colder than Bethlehem. Jacob said;

These twenty years I have been with you. Your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried, and I have not eaten the rams of your flocks.What was torn by wild beasts I did not bring to you. I bore the loss of it myself. From my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. There I was: by day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes. (Genesis 31: 38-40)

Thirdly, the issue of the timing of the census was not an issue. The census could still have been in the Autumn. Mary and Joseph could have completed the Census but not wanted to travel back whilst Mary was heavily pregnant, so they stayed in Bethlehem until after Jesus was born. This is quite a simple solution and fits perfectly into the biblical record, although slightly troublesome is the fact that there was still no room for them months later.

Fourthly, if the Romans had wanted to overtake a pagan ritual, why didn’t they choose December 21stwhen the winter solstice was celebrated?

The truth is we simply don’t know the exact date of Jesus’ birth. In fact, we don’t even know for sure what year He was born. Scholars believe it was somewhere between 6 B.C. and 4 B.C. One thing is clear, if God felt it was important for us to know the exact date of the Jesus’ birth, He would certainly have told us in His Word. The Gospel of Luke gives very specific details about the event, even down to what the baby was wearing, where he was laid, a bit of a guest list etc but not the date.
The fact is that He was born, that He came into the world to save us from our sins and to bring us into a relationship with Him. That’s the true meaning and reason to celebrate the incarnation. Enjoy the rest of your day!

 December 25, 2015  Posted by at 10:00 am Christmas 2 Responses »
Dec 182015
 

Christmas mythsI’ve decided to have a break from the sermon on the mount for a couple of weeks as I usually like to write a seasonal blog at this time of year.

I’ve always been interested in how we arrive at the Christmas scene we see year after year, especially as quite a lot of our traditions and what we think happened isn’t even in the bible.

The Christmas scene we have arrived at is usually set in snow. Mary is on a donkey and Joseph is standing by, leading the donkey with a staff in his hand. They arrive at Bethlehem on 24thDecember (year 0) the night before Mary gives birth and are frantically going round town trying to find a room in an inn. Talk about ‘last minute dot com’. Eventually they manage to find a stable, clear out the trough, put some straw in, just in time for Mary to give birth and lay the baby in the trough. To make the night even stranger they are visited by some smelly shepherds who look like they have seen a ghost and 3 rather regal looking chaps with big beards, bringing gifts, muttering something about following a star. They have been rather busy to go star gazing though.

The problem with that scene is it is probably quite a long way from what actually happened. Let’s look at the clues and use our imagination a bit;

There is nothing in the bible to say Mary was on a donkey. Their journey was 90 miles and it was unlikely she would have made that Journey ‘full term’ In Luke 2:6 it says “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.” That sounds like they had arrived well in time. The census would have been known about in advance given the logistics of getting everyone to their ‘home’ town. They were very poor and riding a donkey was the cheapest option (besides walking) so it is possible, but not guaranteed. They may well have travelled with other family members because they were all in the same situation and they repeated this journey every year after this to get to Jerusalem for the Passover (Luke 2:41). Bethlehem is only 5 miles from Jerusalem.

Because of the census including family members, they probably stayed with relatives. The bible doesn’t mention Inn’s and innkeepers (the word inn is better translated guest room). The family rooms were all taken (likely by older relatives who would have had priority) so their likely resting place was a part of the house where animals would have been kept. Usually people stayed on an upper level and animals were kept on a lower level. Animals were kept inside for a variety of reasons;

· To keep the house warm on cold nights

· To stop them getting stolen

· Their dung was often used for fuel

· The milk they produced would be easily accessible.

Imagine today having a house full of people and the only place someone can stay is the garage, that sort of idea. The bible doesn’t say Jesus was born in a stable, just that he was placed in a manger. It would be very difficult to be born in a manger as Mary would have had to have been an extremely talented gymnast! A manger was a sort of feeding trough, but with a bit of creativity could have easily been converted into a cot.

The shepherds arriving would have ensured that it wouldn’t have been a ‘still’ night and I doubt very much that Jesus didn’t cry (the phrase in the carol “no crying he makes” has always bothered me). Imagine the scene; a house full of guests, a mother giving birth, unexpected smelly shepherds arriving unannounced and clearly quite excited. This was a stressful night and I imagine Jesus did a fair bit of hollering. To make the picture complete a drummer boy appears banging his drum! Nah, that almost certainly didn’t happen.

At least it was extremely unlikely that the 3 kings arrived on that night. For starters they were not kings but wise men (magi) and there is no indication how many there were. It is assumed 3, because 3 gifts were presented, but the number is never actually stated.

It is actually quite likely, given the circumstances that when the wise men arrived, Jesus was anything up to two years old. The bible calls Him a child and not a baby. If it was a long period of time after Jesus’ birth, they would have visited Him in Nazareth, as Mary and Joseph left Bethlehem for Nazareth soon after Jesus’ birth. The main account of this is in Matthew 2 which states that Herod had ascertained from the religious leaders that the child would be born in Bethlehem. Herod had assumed that He was still there. Even though Mary and Joseph were in Nazareth, it was still a good idea to escape to Egypt, because they could quite easily be traced from Bethlehem back to Nazareth.

Next week we will continue this theme and ask if Jesus really was born on December 25th or not.

 December 18, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Christmas No Responses »
Dec 202013
 

When has been the earliest reference to Christmas you have seen in the shops? For me, I think it has been as early as September!

With the usual Christmas frenzy in the media and in the shops at this time of year it can be so easy to get fed-up with the whole thing, especially as it can lead to a lot of stress and disharmony-the exact opposite of what it should be about. However, if you will forgive my play on words, we need to be careful not to throw the baby (Jesus) out with the bathwater.

There are a number of reasons given by Christians for not celebrating Christmas (apart from the rampant commercialism): Some say we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas because it is largely a pagan festival, with many pagan objects used as idols such as the Christmas tree, yule logs, mistletoe etc. Some would say that scripture doesn’t authorise it, even suggesting that some obscure passages forbid it.

In my opinion, to boycott Christmas altogether would alienate us further from society when, on the contrary, we should be building bridges to reach our society. We can choose to be negative and critical, or we can make a decision to be positive and use the season as a time to remember and communicate the birth of our saviour.

Let’s consider how we can sanctify the season and show by our lives what God has done for us by sending his son into the world to save mankind. We can represent our saviour in all kinds of ways during the Christmas season: not getting drunk or over-indulging ourselves with too much food; not grabbing presents or constantly thinking about what we can get, but instead being generous; we can contribute our time and our money to various excellent charities such as ‘Food-bank’ or ‘Surviving Christmas’; we can seek to be peace makers even when others (in many cases some of our closest family members) are looking for a fight.

Let’s determine to be a blessing to others this Christmas, in a small way reflecting our wonderful, generous God.

 December 20, 2013  Posted by at 11:39 am Christmas 2 Responses »
Dec 122013
 

Does santa existIs Adrian having another ‘bah humbug’ moment? Is he fed up with Christmas already and now wants to ruin it for everyone else?

Actually, no. I’m looking forward to Christmas this year. Thinking about what to write in this blog has helped me focus on the important aspects of Christmas.

One of the less important aspects of Christmas that my wife and I decided to ditch as soon as we had children was to play along with the whole charade of pretending that Santa exists. As it happens, this decision was fairly easy to make: From an early age our daughter was petrified of Santa (in fact, anything dressed up in a costume). At children’s parties, the various giant cuddly characters that other children would run to, she would run screaming in the opposite direction from. She was terrified of the thought that some red-suited stranger was going to descend the chimney and wander around the house in the dead of night. This obviously made our decision easier, but we had determined to do it anyway.

This may seem cruel to you but I would like to set out our reasons below so that you can have an informed opinion:

As a Christian family, believing in God is very real. We don’t doubt that God exists. He has changed our lives and led and guided us over the years. We have many years of experiencing his goodness and nearness to us, through good times and bad. A child does not have this wealth of experience. They believe in Santa, they believe in God, almost the same thing to them. From the outset we wanted to differentiate between fairy tales and reality. Fairy tales are fun but we don’t ask our children to believe in them. On the surface, to a child, Santa and God can both seem quite similar. After all, Santa is omniscient (all knowing). Well, he certainly knows if you’ve been bad or good! He is omnipresent (everywhere at once), at least for one night of the year! He is an old man in the sky with a white beard who loves giving out presents. (Actually God is not like that but the popular conception is that He is). You get my point.

The fundamental difference and the heart of the gospel is that God knows we have all been bad. There is no-one good at all. Romans 3:23 states that “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s standard.” None of us deserve our gift of eternal life, and the reason we celebrate Christmas is because God provided the solution. The sacrifice that Jesus made by appearing as a baby in a stable and then going on to die a cruel death 33 years later has meant that we can be saved and receive the greatest gift of all-eternal life.

Showing our children the difference between a fictional Santa and the ever present reality of a loving heavenly father is fundamentally important. And there are other encouraging points as well; being truly thankful for gifts received from parents who love them rather than a gift from someone they have never met; in many cases, knowing that these gifts come from family members with limited resources will engender an appreciation of the gift given rather than presents received from a ‘bottomless sack’; and finally, knowing that God’s generosity is reflected by God’s people encourages a sense of willingness to help others and bless those less fortunate.

Whether you tell your children about Santa or not, let’s determine this Christmas to reflect on the greatest gift that has ever been given to us and imitate this grace and kindness by being generous and expressing our love to others.

Finally, on a lighter note. What do you call someone who’s scared of Santa? …………..Claustrophobic

 December 12, 2013  Posted by at 10:17 pm Christmas No Responses »
Dec 052013
 

god-came-downBy now the preparations and planning for Christmas have probably reached fever-pitch: so many things to think about, lists to write and things to do. It can be a time of great pressure but I hope also brings a sense of fun and expectation.

During December I am going to be writing some Christmas reflections, some thoughts to share with you that I hope will bless you. In all the busyness of this season, it is so important to take time out and reflect on what Christmas really is all about. (If I get time myself I may send a few extra blogs out on other days, not just Fridays, but we will see!).

One of the most amazing mysteries in the history of the world is that the God who made us, the creator, the one who spoke and stars were formed in a moment, should come to the earth and live as a man for about 33 years.

He could have come in so many ways; He could have come as a fully formed man (without the fragility of being a baby); He could have come as a king in a palace; He could have come with a perfect body which didn’t get tired and hungry. He could have appeared in any way He wanted to but He chose to come as a baby, born in a smelly cattle shed to an unmarried couple in a desperately poor third world country.

God Himself became a man. I have become very familiar with this fact over the years. Maybe you have too if, like me, you have been a Christian for a long time. I have been told this story since childhood many many times, not just at Christmas. But I never want to get used to the wonder of what this actually means. ‘God Himself became a man’. Perhaps this could be a reason why so many people don’t believe it; because it is simply too amazing to be true.

But why would God do this? The answer is woven throughout the bible and perfectly summed up in one of the most well known verses:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)

Jesus came because He loves us, because He knew there was no other way. A perfect man had to die and so God became a man and lived a perfect life.

I don’t know whether you feel loved at Christmas or not. For some it can be a very lonely time, but even if you have nobody around you at Christmas, consider this when you look at a nativity scene: this is God in the manager and He is lying there because He loves you. Now that’s a great thought to start with.

 December 5, 2013  Posted by at 10:35 pm Christmas, The gospel 1 Response »