When was Jesus of Nazareth born? Was it on December 25th? Does it matter? In this first short episode of "The Myths of Christmas", I'll discuss the limited evidence we have regarding the date of Jesus' birth and the importance of knowing the larger story surrounding Christmas.
Hey everyone, welcome to the first episode of The Myths of Christmas. Today’s myth: “We celebrate Christmas on December 25th because Jesus was born on December 25th.”
Well, that’s probably not true. Some historians believe that the December 25th date was a Christian reaction to a Roman pagan holiday under Constantine, while others believe the date is a response to the traditional date of Jesus’ crucifixion in March. Honestly, we don’t really know the particular month or day when Jesus was born because the Bible doesn’t give us an exact date. Even if it did, it’s not generally common knowledge here in the West that the Jews use a lunar calendar and the modern Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar. Of course that’s why the Jewish festivals of Hanukkah and Passover don’t line up with the more well known holidays of Christmas and Easter every year. So that would complicate things even more.
Now when we think of Christmas, at least here in the West and particularly in America, we think of lighted trees, Santa Claus, and holiday hams. But it wasn’t until 1870 that the United States recognized Christmas a a national holiday, and since then it’s become so commercialized. I remember walking into the home improvement store near my house here in Texas at the end of September and there were Christmas trees on display at the entrance. The older I get, it seems like the earlier in the year it comes.
Well one thing scholars have pointed out about the timing of Jesus’ birth comes from the story of the shepherds in Luke 2:8 where it says “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”
In the land of Israel, shepherds are typically in the open fields at the time that lambs are being born, and generally that season falls in the months of March and April, not in December. Some scholars have also noted that the fields in and around Jerusalem would have been filled with sheep who were destined for Temple sacrifice, since the Passover feast takes place around that same time each year. We can’t be completely sure, but this is about the biggest clue we’re going to get from any of the Gospel authors directly regarding the dating of Jesus’ birth.
Also, Interestingly, we find very little reflection on the birth of Jesus in the rest of the New Testament outside of the first few chapters of the Gospels, and for the first four centuries following his birth, disciples of Jesus didn’t celebrate Christmas as we know it. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we should cancel Christmas. But I do think that it’s easy to forget that Jesus was Jewish and all of the early disciples of Jesus were Jewish, and the story that shaped their lives was quite different than the Western version of the story that tends to shape ours. God had chosen the ethnic descendants of Abraham to be the nation through which all the other nations would be blessed - we see that in Genesis 12. Then in Exodus, Israel would go on to make a covenant with God at Mount Sinai, precisely because God had chosen them to be his firstborn nation, and because had taken them out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Israel enters the land God had promised to Abraham and would eventually be ruled by a righteous king, king David. And God had made it clear that it would be through the reign of a king and his kingdom in Israel that this blessing of life and fruitfulness and prosperity that was lost at the fall back in Genesis would return to humanity. David would not be that king to usher in God’s promises, but as God had said to him back in 2 Samuel 7, one of his descendants would be. This coming king would give Israel rest from her enemies, cause them to dwell in the land promised to Abraham in safety and prosperity, and when that happened, Isaiah says that all the nations would flow up to Jerusalem to hear the instruction of Israel’s God and global peace would result. This is the story that the faithful ones in Israel like Anna and Simeon from Luke chapter 2 and all the early disciples of Jesus believed. He was that promised king from David’s line who would rule in Jerusalem and through that rule all the nations would be blessed. This is just a small summary of the larger story of redemption, but most importantly, Jesus’ first coming didn’t change or redefine or reimagine that larger story.
So when we think about Christmas and the fact that December 25th arguably has nothing to do with this Jewish story, that shouldn’t stop us from spending time pouring over the scriptures and understanding what the birth of Jesus really means. Because if we want to be honest with the context and believe what the apostles and Jesus himself did, we have to let a very Jewish story shape our minds and hearts. Jesus has not yet sat on David’s throne in Jerusalem, and we await the day that the blessing of eternal life will be administered to the rest of the nations through the Jewish messiah and the Jewish people. But let there be no doubt - that day is coming, and everything that happened at Jesus’ first coming - his birth, life, death, and resurrection - is confirmation that all the promises that the God of Israel has made in the Law and the Prophets will come to pass.
Well that’s it for this one, there’s more to come where I’ll develop these ideas even more. Drop a like on this video and share it with your friends. If you’re interested in learning more, check out all the videos here on my Youtube channel. You can also check out an audio podcast that I contribute to with a couple of fellow pastors, the link is in the description below. Well, I’ll see you in the next one, may the Lord be with you this Christmas!