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  Is Christmas Christian?

 

 

Many nations throughout the world have established national holidays for various purposes to honor certain people or commemorate certain events. Some memorialize great victories in battle or pay respects to great national leaders or founding anniversaries of each nation. Holidays may vary from country to country but few countries have national holidays established to honor God. In the United States, there is one such holiday named Thanksgiving Day, which has been established as a day set apart to give thanks to God for his many blessings of abundance and protection over the country. In its foundational purpose, it is set apart as different from all the other national holidays of the year.

 

The day after Thanksgiving Day is also a special day. You might ask, "what is so special about the day after Thanksgiving?" It’s not a national holiday. It’s not marked on any American calendar as anything special. In fact, it’s marked on any normal western calendar as no different than any other day of the year; but, in the secular American society, it is a very special day of the year.

 

The day after Thanksgiving marks the first day of the Christmas shopping season. Stores are jammed with shoppers from early in the morning, even before sunrise, until late at night, long after sunset. For three to four weeks, depending upon how the days fall in a given year, most people will be in a frenzy, preoccupied with thoughts of materialism in the quest to give and get presents on Christmas day.

 

Have you ever thought about the mindset of people who go out of their way to rearrange their lives to accommodate the winter holiday on December 25th? It is extremely difficult to avoid being touched by the preparations for Christmas. If you listen to the radio, there is Christmas music. If you watch television, there are Christmas stories, Christmas movies, and advertisements for Christmas gifts. In fact, you can hardly have a discussion with anyone in society without hearing the parting farewell of "merry Christmas." It seems as though Christmas celebrations are just about everywhere you turn. In the western world, Christmas is one of the biggest traditions of the year.

 

Whether they call themselves "Christian" or not, most people who celebrate Christmas and exchange presents on that day think the day represents the birth of Jesus Christ and the giving of gifts to the Christ child by the three wise men. They think the holiday is authorized in the Bible and taken directly from the scriptures. Most of us were probably reared with that belief and conviction but most people might be quite surprised to find out the real truth of the matter.

 

 

The Whole Story

 

As we worship God the Father on the Sabbath today as God commands us, we need to ask ourselves what December 25th really pictures. Is it truly the anniversary of the birth of Christ as the world supposes or does it picture something else? Let’s go to God’s word to hear the truth of God about the birth of the savior he provided for us. In order to understand the full story, though, we have to go back more than a year before Jesus’ birth. The account begins in the first chapter of the book of Luke.

 

(Luke 1:5-80 NASB) In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.

 

Stop there first. We see that Zacharias was of the priestly line of the sons of Aaron. As a priest, he served in the temple during the year. There were so many priests, however, that there were too many to serve in the temple all the time. Because of that, several hundred years before during the time of King David, the priestly service time was split into twenty-four groups or divisions.

 

(1 Chr 23:1-6 NASB) Now when David reached old age, he made his son Solomon king over Israel. {2} And he gathered together all the leaders of Israel with the priests and the Levites. {3} And the Levites were numbered from thirty years old and upward, and their number by census of men was 38,000. {4} Of these, 24,000 were to oversee the work of the house of the LORD; and 6,000 were officers and judges, {5} and 4,000 were gatekeepers, and 4,000 were praising the LORD with the instruments which David made for giving praise. {6} And David divided them into divisions according to the sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.

 

We find their duties enumerated a little later in verse 24.

 

(1 Chr 23:24-32 NASB) These were the sons of Levi according to their fathers' households, even the heads of the fathers' households of those of them who were counted, in the number of names by their census, doing the work for the service of the house of the LORD, from twenty years old and upward. {25} For David said, "The LORD God of Israel has given rest to His people, and He dwells in Jerusalem forever. {26} "And also, the Levites will no longer need to carry the tabernacle and all its utensils for its service." {27} For by the last words of David the sons of Levi were numbered, from twenty years old and upward. {28} For their office is to assist the sons of Aaron with the service of the house of the LORD, in the courts and in the chambers and in the purifying of all holy things, even the work of the service of the house of God, {29} and with the showbread, and the fine flour for a grain offering, and unleavened wafers, or what is baked in the pan, or what is well-mixed, and all measures of volume and size. {30} And they are to stand every morning to thank and to praise the LORD, and likewise at evening, {31} and to offer all burnt offerings to the LORD, on the sabbaths, the new moons and the fixed festivals in the number set by the ordinance concerning them, continually before the LORD. {32} Thus they are to keep charge of the tent of meeting, and charge of the holy place, and charge of the sons of Aaron their relatives, for the service of the house of the LORD.

 

Let’s see how they were divided by David in chapter 24.

 

(1 Chr 24:1-19 NASB) Now the divisions of the descendants of Aaron were these: the sons of Aaron were Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. {2} But Nadab and Abihu died before their father and had no sons. So Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests [and therefore, the descendants of Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests down through the centuries]. {3} And David, with Zadok of the sons of Eleazar and Ahimelech of the sons of Ithamar, divided them according to their offices for their ministry. {4} Since more chief men were found from the descendants of Eleazar than the descendants of Ithamar, they divided them thus: there were sixteen heads of fathers' households of the descendants of Eleazar, and eight of the descendants of Ithamar according to their fathers' households. {5} Thus they were divided by lot, the one as the other; for they were officers of the sanctuary and officers of God, both from the descendants of Eleazar and the descendants of Ithamar. {6} And Shemaiah, the son of Nethanel the scribe, from the Levites, recorded them in the presence of the king, the princes, Zadok the priest, Ahimelech the son of Abiathar, and the heads of the fathers' households of the priests and of the Levites; one father's household taken for Eleazar and one taken for Ithamar.

 

Now, we can see that the actual choosing of the divisions was made through an appeal to God by casting lots as we see in verse 7.

 

(1 Chr 24: 7-19 NASB) Now the first lot came out for Jehoiarib, the second for Jedaiah, {8} the third for Harim, the fourth for Seorim, {9} the fifth for Malchijah, the sixth for Mijamin, {10} the seventh for Hakkoz, the eighth for Abijah, [now, that’s the one we want].

 

If we read on, we would find that there were a total of twenty-four divisions. During the year, the priests comprising each division served in the temple for a period of two weeks: one week in the first half of the year and one week in the second half of the year. In addition, all priests served for one week at each of the three holy day times as we read in Deuteronomy 16 and verse 16.

 

(Deu 16:16 NASB) "Three times in a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses, at the Feast of Unleavened Bread and at the Feast of Weeks and at the Feast of Booths, and they shall not appear before the LORD empty-handed.

 

Keeping all of this in mind about the division of priestly service, we should go back to the main story in Luke. Speaking of Zacharias and Elizabeth, we read:

 

(Luke 1:6) And they were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. {7} And they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. {8} Now it came about, while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, {9} according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. {10} And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. {11} And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. {12} And Zacharias was troubled when he saw him, and fear gripped him. {13} But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. {14} "And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. {15} "For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and he will drink no wine or liquor; and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, while yet in his mother's womb. {16} "And he will turn back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. {17} "And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." {18} And Zacharias said to the angel, "How shall I know this for certain? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years." {19} And the angel answered and said to him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God; and I have been sent to speak to you, and to bring you this good news. {20} "And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which shall be fulfilled in their proper time." {21} And the people were waiting for Zacharias, and were wondering at his delay in the temple. {22} But when he came out, he was unable to speak to them; and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple; and he kept making signs to them, and remained mute. {23} And it came about, when the days of his priestly service were ended, that he went back home. {24} And after these days Elizabeth his wife became pregnant; and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, {25} "This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men."

 

We learned above that the service of the priests was divided into twenty-four courses or weeks of duty. As we know, Abib or Nisan was the first month of the year in what equates to our March/April. Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread go from the fourteenth to the twenty-first of Abib, with the Feast of Weeks occurring on "the morrow after the seventh Sabbath following the Wave Sheaf offering during the days of Unleavened Bread. All the priests were to serve for a week at each of those holy day periods

 

If you were to make a chart and count off the weeks, you would find that there were three divisions of the sons of Aaron who served as priests during the three weeks of the first month; then there were four more who served during the second month; then the eighth division of Abijah served during the first week of the third month or Sivan. Depending upon how the day of the Wave Sheaf offering falls during the week of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks or Firstfruits would probably fall after the week of the eighth course of Abijah. So, Zechariah probably served in the temple for two weeks back-to-back.. He would have returned to his home in early to mid June and Elisabeth would have become pregnant shortly thereafter.

 

Now if Elizabeth’s pregnancy began shortly after Zacharias finished his priestly duties in, roughly, mid- June, we see that for five months Elizabeth hid herself. That would bring us up to about mid-November. The account continues in the next verse to tell us that in Elizabeth’s sixth month, or probably early December, Gabriel again visited the earth with news.

 

(Luke 1:26) Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee, called Nazareth, {27} to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin's name was Mary [or, in Hebrew, Miriam]. {28} And coming in, he said to her, "Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you." {29} But she was greatly troubled at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be. {30} And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. {31} "And behold, you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. {32} "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; {33} and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end." {34} And Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" {35} And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy offspring shall be called the Son of God. {36} "And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month [again, we have corroboration from the messenger of God that at this point in time, Elizabeth was six months pregnant].

 

Continue in verse 37.

 

(Luke 1:37) "For nothing will be impossible with God." {38} And Mary said, "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her. {39} Now at this time Mary arose and went with haste to the hill country, to a city of Judah, {40} and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. {41} And it came about that when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. {42} And she cried out with a loud voice, and said, "Blessed among women are you, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! {43} "And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? {44} "For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy. {45} "And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord." {46} And Mary said: "My soul exalts the Lord, {47} And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. {48} "For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. {49} "For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. {50} "AND HIS MERCY IS UPON GENERATION AFTER GENERATION TOWARD THOSE WHO FEAR HIM. {51} "He has done mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. {52} "He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. {53} "HE HAS FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS; AND SENT AWAY THE RICH EMPTY-HANDED. {54} "He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy, {55} As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his offspring forever." {56} And Mary stayed with her about three months, and then returned to her home.

 

So, we see that Mary stayed with Elizabeth an additional three months when Elizabeth would have been in her ninth month or, probably, sometime in early March when Mary would have been about three months pregnant. Mary then went home, to Nazareth in Galilee, before Elizabeth gave birth in, probably, mid-to-late March, which would have been about the time of Passover.

It is an interesting sidelight to note that at the Passover Seder (or meal), a special place is set for Elijah and the door is also left open to welcome him. Remember what Christ stated in Matthew 11:

 

(Mat 11:10-14 NASB) "This is the one about whom it is written, 'BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER BEFORE YOUR FACE, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.' {11} "Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. {12} "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. {13} "For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. {14} "And if you care to accept it, he himself is Elijah, who was to come.

 

The Birth of Christ

 

So, as we followed the clear chronology specified in the scriptures, it was very easy to see that John the Baptist was, most likely, born about the time of Passover in late March. We also read that Mary had stayed with Elizabeth for three months from the time of Gabriel's announcement of Mary's conception of Jesus. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that Jesus was born about six months after John the Baptist (for more insight, please see our booklet, The Dates of our Messiah’s Birth and Death).

 

Now, let’s go back to Luke.

 

(Luke 1:57) Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she brought forth a son. {58} And her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed His great mercy toward her; and they were rejoicing with her. {59} And it came about that on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zacharias, after his father. {60} And his mother answered and said, "No indeed; but he shall be called John." {61} And they said to her, "There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name." {62} And they made signs to his father, as to what he wanted him called. {63} And he asked for a tablet, and wrote as follows, "His name is John." And they were all astonished. {64} And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God. {65} And fear came on all those living around them; and all these matters were being talked about in all the hill country of Judea. {66} And all who heard them kept them in mind, saying, "What then will this child turn out to be?" For the hand of the Lord was certainly with him. {67} And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying: {68} "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, {69} And has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant-- {70} As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old-- {71} Salvation FROM OUR ENEMIES, And FROM THE HAND OF ALL WHO HATE US; {72} To show mercy toward our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, {73} The oath which He swore to Abraham our father, {74} To grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, {75} In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. {76} "And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; For you will go on BEFORE THE LORD TO PREPARE HIS WAYS; {77} To give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, {78} Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high shall visit us, {79} TO SHINE UPON THOSE WHO SIT IN DARKNESS AND THE SHADOW OF DEATH, to guide our feet into the way of peace." {80} And the child continued to grow, and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel.

 

Continue in the second chapter of Luke.

 

(Luke 2:1-39 NASB) Now it came about in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. {2} This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. {3} And all were proceeding to register for the census, everyone to his own city. {4} And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, {5} in order to register, along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. {6} And it came about that while they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. {7} And she gave birth to her first-born son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn [here we have a hint of the time of year because it says "there was no room for them in the inn]. And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night [here we have another hint of the time of the year because it says that the shepherds were "staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flocks by night].

 

The book of Ezra gives us a report on what the weather was like in Israel in the month of December. The eight days of the Festival of Lights or the Feast of Dedication, which we know today as Hanukkah, generally occurs in early to mid December. It is begins on the twenty-fifth of the ninth month, Chislev. The following ancient weather report was given just five days before at, roughly, the same time of year.

 

(Ezra 10:9 NASB) So all the men of Judah and Benjamin assembled at Jerusalem within the three days. It was the ninth month on the twentieth of the month, and all the people sat in the open square before the house of God, trembling because of this matter and the heavy rain.

 

A little later, in verse 13 we read:

 

(Ezra 10:13 NASB) "But there are many people, it is the rainy season, and we are not able to stand in the open. Nor can the task be done in one or two days, for we have transgressed greatly in this matter.

 

The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible records that, "broadly speaking, weather phenomena and climatic conditions as pictured in the Bible correspond with conditions as observed today (R.B.Y. Scott, Vol. 3, 1962, p. 625)." Describing the weather in Bethlehem, Sara Ruhin, chief of the Israeli weather service, noted in a 1990 press release that the area has three months of frost: December with 29 degrees Fahrenheit [which is minus 1.6 degrees Celsius]; January with 30 degrees Fahrenheit [which is minus 1.1 Celsius]; and February with 32 degrees Fahrenheit [which is 0 degrees Celsius].

 

Therefore, we have established that the month of December is during the rainy season with average nighttime temperatures slightly below freezing. Remember that the emperor in Rome had called for a census to be taken of "all the inhabited earth" (which means throughout his whole empire) as we read in verse one. Remember also that the Roman empire reached all the way from the English Isles in the west to Persia in the East and from northern Africa in the south to almost Germany in the north. It was an empire that went from sea level of the Mediterranean to the snow-capped mountains of northern Italy and France. Surely if it was cold and rainy or possibly snowy in December in Bethlehem, there would be many parts of the empire where it would have been colder and snowier with travel even more impassable. Does it make sense that the emperor would call for an empire-wide census at a time of year when travel was so difficult? Anyway, Christ’s birth was at a time of year when the shepherds were still in the fields keeping watch over their sheep at night.

 

Look at the account of the shepherds in the field in Luke 2:9.

 

(Luke 2:9) And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. {10} And the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; {11} for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. {12} "And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger." {13} And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, {14} "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased." {15} And it came about when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds began saying to one another, "Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us." {16} And they came in haste and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.

 

Notice that: when the shepherds came to where Mary and Joseph were, the baby was still in the manger. So, it’s obvious that the shepherds made their way into the town of Bethlehem and found where Mary and Joseph were staying all within the same night.

 

(Luke 2:17) And when they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. {18} And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. {19} But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. {20} And the shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. {21} And when eight days were completed before His circumcision, His name was then called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. {22} And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord {23} (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "EVERY first-born MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD"), {24} and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, "A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES, OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS."

 

Let’s go back to that reference in the Old Testament, in Leviticus and see what it says in its entirety.

 

(Lev 12:1-8 NASB) Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, {2} "Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'When a woman gives birth and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean for seven days, as in the days of her menstruation she shall be unclean. {3} 'And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. {4} 'Then she shall remain in the blood of her purification for thirty-three days; she shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary, until the days of her purification are completed. {5} 'But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean for two weeks, as in her menstruation; and she shall remain in the blood of her purification for sixty-six days. {6} 'And when the days of her purification are completed, for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the doorway of the tent of meeting, a one year old lamb for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. {7} 'Then he shall offer it before the LORD and make atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, whether a male or a female. {8} 'But if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, the one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.'"

 

So, we can see from comparing the command given by God in Leviticus with the narration in Luke of what kind of offering was actually given by Joseph and Mary, that they chose the less expensive option. This should also give us some idea of their economic state at that stage of their lives.

 

(Luke 2:25 NASB) And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. {26} And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. {27} And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, {28} then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, {29} "Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; {30} For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, {31} Which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, {32} A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of thy people Israel." {33} And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. {34} And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, "Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed-- {35} and a sword will pierce even your own soul-- to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." {36} And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with a husband seven years after her marriage, {37} and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. And she never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. {38} And at that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. {39} And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth.

 

Now let’s go to the parallel account in Matthew. We’ll find that Matthew adds some details that help fill in the story.

 

(Mat 1:18-25 NASB) Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. {19} And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly. {20} But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. {21} "And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins." {22} Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, {23} "BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD, AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL," which translated means, "GOD WITH US." {24} And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took her as his wife, {25} and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

 

Continue in the second chapter of Matthew.

 

(Mat 2:1-23 NASB) Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, {2} "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him." {3} And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. {4} And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he began to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born. {5} And they said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet, {6} 'AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH, ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH; FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER, WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.'" {7} Then Herod secretly called the magi, and ascertained from them the time the star appeared. {8} And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, "Go and make careful search for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, that I too may come and worship Him." {9} And having heard the king, they went their way; and lo, the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was. {10} And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. {11} And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.

 

Look at that: we just read that the magi "came into the house." What house? The newborn infant was laid in a manger because there was no room in the inn. The manger wasn’t in a house on the night the shepherds came to find Mary and Joseph. Unlike the nativity scenes showing the shepherds and the magi together as is pictured in so many places in the world today, it doesn’t take any great insight to see that they were actually two separate incidents occurring at two separate times. On the day that Christ was born, the implication is that Joseph had tried to find accommodations at the inn but had to settle for the stable because the inn was full of people. By the time the wise men came along, which was days or weeks after the birth of Christ, Joseph had found more permanent accommodations and he and Mary and the child were living in a house.

Notice also that the magi brought presents to the newborn child. Many today claim that this is the Biblical justification for giving presents on Christmas but let’s look at the account closer to see what actually happened. Verse two quotes them as saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?" So, they were searching to find the King. Yes, it has long been the custom, when visiting a King or head of state, to take presents of honor and great value to give as gifts to the King. The gifts have been seen to be a "door opener" to be granted an audience with or to gain favor before the King. The magi brought expensive gifts of "gold and frankincense and myrrh" in order to show honor to and to be granted favor by the newborn King and his parents. They did not exchange gifts with the child or his parents. They did not say, "Here are your gifts, now where are our gifts?" They did not exchange gifts among themselves. They brought "treasures" of very expensive gifts and they presented their expensive treasures before the one whom they knew had been born as "King of the Jews."

 

Now, continue the account in Matthew 2:12.

 

(Matthew 2:12) And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way. {13} Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, "Arise and take the Child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him." {14} And he arose and took the Child and His mother by night, and departed for Egypt; {15} and was there until the death of Herod, that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "OUT OF EGYPT DID I CALL MY SON." {16} Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its environs, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the magi.

 

Here we have another clue which shows that the magi arrived in Bethlehem at some time after Christ was born. Why else would Herod have given the order to kill all the male children "from two years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the magi." Why would Herod have chosen a period as much as two years if they had arrived on the night of his birth?

 

(Matthew 2:17) Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying, {18} "A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH, WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN; AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE." {19} But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, {20} "Arise and take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child's life are dead." {21} And he arose and took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. {22} But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he departed for the regions of Galilee, {23} and came and resided in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazarene."

 

Are we, then, the only ones who can see that all the pieces to the puzzle don’t fit? Let’s hear what other authorities have to say on the subject.

 

In Adam Clarke’s Commentary, we can read "as these shepherds had not yet brought home their flocks, it is a presumptive argument that October had not yet commenced, and that, consequently, our Lord was not born on the 25th of December, when no flocks were out in the fields; nor could He have been born later than September, as the flocks were still in the fields by night. On this very ground the nativity in December should be given up. The feeding of the flocks by night in the fields is a chronological fact, which casts considerable light upon this disputed point (Adam Clarke’s Commentary, note on Luke 2:8)."

 

In their commentary, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown state: "From about passover-time in April until autumn, the flocks pastured constantly in the open fields, the shepherds lodging there all that time. From this it seems plain that the period of the year usually assigned to our Lord’s birth is too late (Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, pg. 991-992)."

 

Speaking of the shepherds in the field, Matthew Henry’s Commentary states: "They were employed now, not in acts of devotion, but in the business of their calling; they were keeping watch over their flock, to secure them from thieves and beasts of prey, it being probably in the summer time, when they kept their cattle out all night, as we do now, and did not house them (note on Luke 2:8)."

 

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states: "There is no certainty as to the month or day of the birth. The Christmas date, December 25th, is first met with in the West in the 4th century [that’s AD, more than 300 years after the event]… and was then possibly borrowed from a pagan festival. December, in the winter season, seems unlikely, as unsuitable for the pasturing of flocks… A more probable date is a couple of months earlier (International Standard Bible Encyclopedea, article Jesus Christ, Part 1, Date of the Birth of Christ)."

 

According to the Catholic Encycolpedia, "The census would have been impossible in winter: a whole population could not then be put in motion. (Catholic Encyclopedia, article Christmas)."

 

In Mystery Babylon The Great, Darrell Conder writes, "Most every historian, Christian as well as agnostic, states as fact that the birth of Christ was not celebrated for the first three centuries after His birth. Perhaps the early Church of God knew that Christ Himself didn’t want the day of His birth to be more important than His message – the Gospel of the Kingdom of God – which it has now become! So when was Christ born? Certainly NOT on the 25th of December… The evidence to prove this comes from many sources: first from the Bible itself. We can read there, for example, that when Jesus was born the shepherds were watching their flocks in the field. This shows definitely that it was not winter, December 25th - it would have been too cold, based on historical accounts of the region in the days of Christ. We need not, however, argue the point from the "Bible, because some of the most damning evidence against the December 25th date is supplied by the VERY CHURCH that instituted the Christmas custom to begin with! The Encyclopedia Americana and many others, states that the Roman Catholic Church ordered the birth of Christ to be observed on December 25th, the old Roman feast of the birth of the pagan deity SOL, (Sol Invictus) also called Mithra, the sun-god (Mystery Babylon The Great, Darrell W. Conder, pg. 89)."

 

Who was the pagan sun-god Mithra and what did his followers believe? Mithraism was a male-only religion that excluded women. It taught that Mithra was the mediator between God and man. From the Catholic Encyclopedia we learn that "this function first arose from the fact that as the light-god he is supposed to float midway between the upper heaven and the earth. Likewise a sun-god, his planet was supposed to hold the central place amongst the seven planets… Mithraists were strongly inclined towards asceticism; [the self-denial of] abstention from food and absolute continence seemed to them noble and praiseworthy, though not obligatory. They battled on Mithra’s side against all impurity, against all evil within and without. They believed in the immortality of the soul, sinners after death were dragged off to hell; the just passed through the seven spheres of the planets, through seven gates… leaving at each planet a part of their lower humanity until, as pure spirits, they stood before God… Sunday was kept holy in honour of Mithra, and the sixteenth of each month was sacred to him as mediator. The 25 [th of] December was observed as his birthday, the natalis invicti, the rebirth of the winter-sun, unconquered by the rigours of the season (Catholic Encyclopedia, article Mithraism)."

 

There were ranks in Mithraism, actually seven degrees of initiation into the mithraic mysteries. The first stage was a crow, the second an occult, the third a soldier, the fourth a lion, the fifth a Persian, the sixth a solar messenger, and the seventh or top rank was that of a father or pater. Mithraism originated from the Persians. When Babylon was conquered by Persia, the Babylonian mysteries became entwined with Mithraism. When Persia was conquered by Alexander the Great, mithraism was drawn toward the west as it was a religion readily adopted by soldiers because of its manly rites. When Greece was conquered by Rome, Mithra was brought into the capital by returning soldiers where it was readily received because of its association with the Roman god Saturn, the god of agriculture, who had similar traditions embodied in the winter festival of Saturnalia.

 

Harper’s Bible Dictionary states: " Mithraism originated in Persia. Mithra was a foe of evil, a savior of righteousness, and a guarantor of life in the seven heavens to come. He was presented as a mighty hero, and as such made a strong appeal to soldiers, who frequented his shrines… This cult was a formidable rival to Christianity (Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Miller & Miller, article Mystery, pg. 471)."

 

In the book 4000 years of Christmas, Earl W. Count states that even though the Saturnalia was an "abomination in homage to a disreputable god… the Christians… were dedicated to the slow uphill task of converting these roistering pagan Romans. The habit of the Saturnalia was too strong to be left behind… When a river meets a boulder which will not be moved, the river flows around it. If the Saturnalia would not be forbidden, let it be tamed. The Church Fathers now sought to point the festival toward the Christian Sun of Righteousness (4000 years of Christmas, E.W. Count, pg. 12)."

 

The trend is best summed up in Gieseler’s Ecclesiastical History: "In exact proportion as paganism has disappeared from without the church, in the very same proportion it appears within it (Ecclesiastical History, Gieseler, Vol. II, pg. 45)."

 

The pattern continued as the Roman church encountered new potential "converts" on the frontiers of the empire such as the teutonic tribes in the area of Germany. Darrell Conder writes, "Some few people will know that the old Germanic god Woden is honored in the day of the week called Wednesday, a corrupted form of WODENSDAY. But very few people realize that history clearly shows that Woden was renamed St. Nick or Santa Claus, and is the real god of modern Christmas. In 4000 Years of Christmas we read, ‘Of most interest to us, however is the fact that Woden has become Santa Claus or, as he is better called, St. Nicholas’… The beliefs and customs of Woden’s followers would not be forgotten when they entered the new ‘Christian’ religion. They were not forgotten and NEITHER WAS WODEN! The god Woden was said to have had a sacred tree, which when approached at yule tide (December 25th), would bestow a special GIFT. Also, as with the Babylonian Religion [with] the obelisk, [the] tree, mistletoe and holly, were part of his worship. There was also the great feast in VALHALA, where Woden was ‘LORD of the Feast.’ All types of revelry, similar to Saturnalia, was practiced there. Woden, presiding over the revelries, was often pictured as sitting on a throne… with a wreath of holly around his head, just like the Santa Claus of the recent past. The Germanic peoples had found in the Roman Saturnalia, now called Christmas, and the Catholic ‘savior,’ enough of their beliefs to make their entrance into that church quite easy. It was then that Woden entered the Roman Saturnalia giving it his customs and worships, and making it uniquely his own (Mystery Babylon The Great, Darrell W. Conder, pg. 99)."

 

This winter festival was not merely to be found in Germany. Many of its traditions spread throughout Europe and were intertwined with old local customs, now under a new name.

"During the midwinter feast in Norway, evergreen branches, mistletoe and holly were used long before the Christmas tree became a tradition. Not until the first half of the 1800’s [AD] did this German tradition come to Norway. Today the Christmas tree has a central place in the celebration of Christmas in Norway… In ancient times, Christmas was a mid-winter sacrificial feast a festival of lights marking the transition from the dark winter to spring and summer. Christmas was a time for celebrating the harvest, fertility, birth and death. In the 900’s [AD] King Haakon I decided that the heathen custom of drinking Jul (Yule) was to be moved to December 25th, in honour of the birth of Jesus Christ. Gradually, the pagan feast was Christianised. The name Jul was retained, but the holiday was dedicated to Jesus Christ, the babe in the manger. Christmas is thus a mixture of ancient heathen and Christian traditions (Norway Ministry of Foreign Affairs, article: Christmas in Norway)."

 

 

American Observances

 

In his article, Christmas in America Becomes Battleground, author Joe Kovacs shows that the secular holiday celebrations we see today in America are not the way December 25th has always been observed. He writes, "The fact that atheists view Christmas with disdain is not astonishing, since they've attempted to remove the phrase "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance and "In God we trust" from U.S. currency, as well as Ten Commandments displays from numerous publicly owned places. What may be surprising, though, is that some devout Christians, many dating all the way back to the days of Jesus, never celebrated the birth of Christ, nor sought to. America's early colonists banned observance of Christmas, and still today, there are many Christians abstaining from what millions more of their brethren joyfully celebrate as God's coming in human form. The Catholic Encyclopedia states, '"the word for Christmas in late Old English is Cristes Maesse, the Mass of Christ, first found in 1038, and Cristes-messe, in 1131." It explains, "Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church," pointing out "first evidence of the feast is from Egypt" around A.D. 200 with attempts by theologians to assign not only the year of Christ's birth, but also the precise date. Historians agree that through the subsequent centuries, traditions from ancient pagan (non-Christian) religions became intertwined with those of Christianity, and depending upon one's point of view, either paganism became Christianized, or Christianity became paganized. In 1644, the English Parliament outlawed the holiday, compelling shops to be open that day, and condemning plum puddings and mince pies as "heathen." In his Pulitzer Prize finalist, "The Battle for Christmas," historian Stephen Nissenbaum at the University of Massachusetts documents the American development of the holiday now ensconced in popular culture. "In New England, for the first two centuries of white settlement," writes Nissenbaum, "most people did not celebrate Christmas. In fact, the holiday was systematically suppressed by Puritans during the colonial period and largely ignored by their descendants. It was actually illegal to celebrate Christmas in Massachusetts between 1659 and 1681 (the fine was five shillings). Only in the middle of the nineteenth century did Christmas gain legal recognition as an official public holiday in New England." Nissenbaum agrees with other historians that the first recorded observance since the New Testament recounted Christ's birth took place hundreds of years after Jesus' resurrection. "It was only in the fourth century that the Church officially decided to observe Christmas on Dec. 25. And this date was not chosen for religious reasons but simply because it happened to mark the approximate arrival of the winter solstice, an event that was celebrated long before the advent of Christianity. The Puritans were correct when they pointed out - and they pointed it out often - that Christmas was nothing but a pagan festival covered with a Christian veneer." Christmas in America saw huge growth during the 19th century, starting with Washington Irving's 1820 book "The Keeping of Christmas at Bracebridge Hall." A week before Christmas in 1834, Charles Dickens published "A Christmas Carol," and in 1860, American illustrator Thomas Nast created Father Christmas, also known as Santa Claus, based on European stories of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children.

 

Mr. Kovacs continues: Today, followers of ancient paganism strive to remind the public about the heathen origins of traditions that many may never have questioned. They've published books, given speeches, and created websites proffering a heathen history of modern customs. CircleSanctuary.org is among the Internet addresses run by nature-worshipping pagans. Wiccan high priestess Selena Fox discusses the state of being pagan and celebrating the lengthening of days during the Northern Hemisphere's darkest time of year. [She states] "Yule, the winter solstice, is a festival of peace and a celebration of waxing solar light. I honor the new sun child by burning a[n] oaken yule log in a sacred fire. I honor the great goddess in her many great mother aspects, and the father god as Santa in his old sky god, father time, and holly king forms. I decorate my home with lights and with holly, ivy, mistletoe, evergreens and other herbs sacred to this season. I ring in the new solar year with bells (Worldnetdaily.com, Christmas in America Become Battleground by Joe Kovacs, December 14, 2002)."

 

 

God’s Perspective

 

We need to ask, however, is it pleasing to God to have old festivals celebrating worship of pagan gods renamed in honor of the one true God, our Father, and of his son, Jesus Christ? Jeremiah 10:2 shows us just what God thinks when we adopt the ways of the Gentiles in preference to his ways.

 

(Jer 10:2-5 NKJV) Thus says the LORD: "Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; Do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, For the Gentiles are dismayed at them. {3} For the customs of the peoples are futile; For one cuts a tree from the forest, The work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. {4} They decorate it with silver and gold; They fasten it with nails and hammers So that it will not topple. {5} They are upright, like a palm tree, [the palm tree was the sacred fertility tree of the Egyptians like the evergreen was to the German’s god Woden] And they cannot speak; They must be carried, Because they cannot go by themselves. Do not be afraid of them, For they cannot do evil, Nor can they do any good."

 

The whole nation of Israel was taken captive by the instrument of God, the Assyrians.

 

(2 Ki 17:7-15 NASB) Now this came about, because the sons of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up from the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and they had feared other gods {8} and walked in the customs of the nations whom the LORD had driven out before the sons of Israel, and in the customs of the kings of Israel which they had introduced. {9} And the sons of Israel did things secretly which were not right, against the LORD their God. Moreover, they built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city. {10} And they set for themselves sacred pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, {11} and there they burned incense on all the high places as the nations did which the LORD had carried away to exile before them; and they did evil things provoking the LORD. {12} And they served idols, concerning which the LORD had said to them, "You shall not do this thing." {13} Yet the LORD warned Israel and Judah, through all His prophets and every seer, saying, "Turn from your evil ways and keep My commandments, My statutes according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you through My servants the prophets." {14} However, they did not listen, but stiffened their neck like their fathers, who did not believe in the LORD their God. {15} And they rejected His statutes and His covenant which He made with their fathers, and His warnings with which He warned them. And they followed vanity and became vain, and went after the nations which surrounded them, concerning which the LORD had commanded them not to do like them.

 

Remember God’s second commandment:

 

(Exo 20:4-6 NASB) "You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. {5} "You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, {6} but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

 

Elijah asked the rebellious people of the northern House of Israel a very pertinent question for their time and one which we should seriously consider for our day as well.

 

(1 Ki 18:21 NASB) And Elijah came near to all the people and said, "How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him."

 

Even Christ spoke of behavior that nullified the law of God.

 

(Mat 15:7-9 NASB) "You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, {8} 'THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. {9} 'BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.'"

 

Tradition is what God speaks of as driving the ways of this world around us.

 

(Rom 1:20-25 NASB) For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. {21} For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. {22} Professing to be wise, they became fools, {23} and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. {24} Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. {25} For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

The apostle John speaks of our duty to God.

 

(1 John 2:15-17 NASB) Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. {16} For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. {17} And the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever.

 

What is that will of God? We can see a clear definition in the book of James.

 

(James 1:27 NASB) This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

 

Remember the first commandment in the law of God.

 

(Exo 20:2-3 NASB) "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. {3} "You shall have no other gods before Me.

 

So, the question for anyone who keeps Christmas is: "By your actions, Whom do you really worship on December 25th?"

 


Sermon given by Philip Edwards

December 16, 2006


Copyright 2006, Philip Edwards

 

 

 

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