Next Sunday is Christmas. Over the last several weeks I have been discussing various aspects of Christmas and Christianity. I have discussed the dangers of materialism especially during the holiday season and I have discussed the fact that rather than blasting a person for thinking of Jesus during the holiday season, we ought to use it as an opportunity to evangelize. Millions of people every year turn their hearts to Christ during this time of the year. And it is highly likely that someone you know has done this very thing. Don’t pass up that chance to teach them more accurately about God, faith, and why Jesus came to this world (the subject matter of next Sunday’s sermon). With that said, I feel like I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t address the facts of the history of Christmas. Many have confused the Jesus was almost certainly not born on Christmas day. How can we know this? God never recorded for us the day in which His precious son came into this world. Luke, who is a precise historian didn’t even feel compelled to give us this date. He simply recorded the year (Luke 2:1-3). In fact, the date of December 25 was not universally practiced as the birth of Christ until 435 A.D. when Sextus III appointed that date. According to the Manual of Liturgical History that date was chosen to “facilitate the acceptance of the faith by the pagan masses, the Church of Rome found it convenient to institute the 25th of December as the feast of the birth of Christ to divert them from the pagan feast, celebrated on the same day in honor of the Invincible Sun Mithras, the conqueror of darkness.” It had nothing to do with biblical evidences. In other words, the 25th of December was chosen to be more palatable to the page masses. Christianity didn’t have any feasts of festivals like the Jews and pagans. So, the 25th was chosen to give the masses a Christ “mass” in other to give them something to celebrate. As far as the scriptures are concerned, they actually point away from a winter birth. To order a census (Luke 2:1-3) in the winter would have been widely unpopular, and against what was historically done by Rome. Furthermore, even to this day shepherds do not have the sheep in the fields in the winter months; the grass does not grow, and it is just too cold in the evenings. And according to Luke 2:8 there were shepherds in the fields.
Jesus was not visited by three Asian kings upon his birth. The bible never tells us how many people came. It tells us that they brought three gifts. It could have been 15 men bringing three different types of gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It could also been just two, as two makes a plurality of persons. We also know that they weren’t Asian kings. They were magos. The term magos is of Babylonian origin, not far eastern origin. In the Septuagint, this is the same term used to describe Daniel in Dan. 2. Furthermore, Babylon contained the largest population of Jews during Jesus’ time AND “men of the east” was a biblical phrase used to describe men of Babylon (see Eze. 25:4). It makes biblical sense that these were Jewish wise men that studied the stars from Babylon and not kings from the far east. Let us also not forget that they likely didn’t visit the night he was born. The star was a sign that he was born, not about to be born. If there was a new star then it would make sense that their journey began when Jesus was born, not months before. Upon speaking with these wise men, Herod concluded that all males two years and younger should be put to death (Matt. 2:16). Why two years and younger? It may very well had taken the wise men that long to notice, make travel arrangements, and arrive in Bethlehem. What I can know is that it is highly unlikely they appeared upon the night of his birth, but rather several months (maybe even up to a year) after he was born before they arrived.
The “Star of Bethlehem” was not there either. For starters, the bible never uses the term. It is called his star (Matt. 2:2) or the star (Matt. 2:7,9). This star is typically depicted as a low lying star hovering over the manger. What is interesting is that it was not noticed by Herod and his wise men. It took men who studied the starts to notice it. This leads me to believe that it was not an easily noticed star. Rather it was something else entirely. While it certainly did lead the wise men in some way to Jesus, it wasn’t at the manger.
So what happened on December 25th 4 BC? I have no idea. The bible does not reveal the historical records of every event in the history of man. It records the information vital to the salvation of mankind. Evidentially December 25th 4BC was not an important enough date to record. But, from what the bible reveals, Joseph and Mary were not there. Jesus was not in a manger. The shepherds wouldn’t have been there, neither where the Babylonian wise men and finally the star wasn’t there. -WTK
Grinnell church of Christ
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The History of Christmas
Volume 7 Issue 49