Well I am enjoying singing Christmas Carols at the moment at various events in the lead up to the big day. I got to thinking though, that whilst Carols are enjoyable, they give a pretty cursory overview of the Christmas story….So let’s go a little deeper on some elements of the ‘Nativity Scene’.
1. WHEN WAS JESUS ACTUALLY BORN?
1.1 The Year
Throughout history, calendars have been dated according to important historical events. Our calendar is dated in relation to the birth of Jesus. “B.C.” = ‘Before Christ’. “A.D.” = “Anno Domini’ = ‘in the year of our Lord’.
How did they come up with this date? Is this 2003 years after the birth of Jesus? In 46 BC, Julius Caesar came up with the “Julian Calendar”, with 12 months and 365 days. It was based on the founding of the city of Rome.
In 1582 AD, it was revised by Pope Gregory, because it had fallen behind by 10 days. He declared October 5th to be October 15th and arranged for Leap Years. He based the new calendar on the date of the birth of Christ.
Our current calendar is called the “Gregorian Calendar”. It’s pretty accurate, but it’s off by 26 seconds each year. HOWEVER, it will take 3,323 years to build up a single day. SO … in the year 3,905 A.D., an extra day will have to be added to the calendar! Our calendar is based on the birth of Jesus. HOWEVER, if you look in your Bible, the birth of Jesus is dated at 4 or 5 B.C. Pope Gregory was in error by 4-5 years.
How do we know this? We look to history. Jesus was born when Herod was King. He reigned for 37 years. Josephus (a Jewish historian) says that there was a lunar eclipse shortly before Herod’s death. History tells us that Herod died 7 days before the eclipse. The eclipse is dated in March of 4 B.C.
Mary & Joseph’s flight into Egypt occurred BEFORE the death of Herod. The Bible tells us that Herod died while they were in Egypt – Matthew 2:14-15, 19-20. Mary had to wait 40 days after the birth of Jesus before she could present Jesus before the Lord – Luke 2:22, Leviticus 12:2-8. SO, they couldn’t have travelled to Egypt until after 40 days after the birth of Jesus.
Luke 2:2 (New King James Version)
2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.
“first” – Quirinius was Governor of Syria TWICE. The FIRST time was around 4 B.C. This puts the birth of Jesus around that time … 4-5 B.C.
1.2 The Date
Why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25th. In 180 A.D., Clement of Alexandria wrote that the birth of Jesus was thought to be on April 21 … or April 22 … or May 20 … depending on who you asked. Most believed that it was around the Passover time. This is when the shepherds would be out in their fields … not in the winter (December). The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrated Christmas on January 6th for centuries. Since the FIRST Adam was “born” on the 6th day of creation … and Jesus is the SECOND Adam … they celebrated the birth of Jesus on January 6th. The Armenian Church still celebrates Christmas on January 6th..
So why December 25?
In the 4th Century, the Western Church set the date as December 25th. There was a pagan holiday on that date, and so to diminish and obscure the importance of the pagan holiday, they decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus on that date. NOTE: If God would have wanted us to know the exact date … if it was that important … He would have told us. The IMPORTANT thing is … to celebrate the birth of Jesus … no matter what date you choose.
It is interesting to remember the Jesus never told us to celebrate his birth just his death and resurrection. Now he didn’t tell us NOT to, so Christmas is certainly not against your Christian faith, although there are certain streams within the Christian faith that teach this.
2. WHAT ABOUT THE INN?
2.1 WHAT WAS AN INN IN BIBLE TIMES?
See Luke 2:7
7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
The Inn in those days was called a “Caravansary”. There were various types of Caravansaries. Some were a camp of tents. Some were stone buildings, built like a fort. They provided unfurnished, bare rooms. The guests were expected to provide their own bedding, cooking utensils, food, etc. There were stables for the animals.
People usually stayed in homes, which were opened up to travellers, friends, and guests. During the time of the taxation, it was crowded around Bethlehem, and many homes were filled and there was no room. Mary & Joseph were in a desperate situation, with Mary about to give birth.
The Caravansaries were usually a rough place … like a truck stop. It was the least desirable place to stay. Sometimes they were frequented by prostitutes … little privacy. It wasn’t the best place to have a baby … with people gawking and curiously looking in during this special time. I’m glad it was full!
2.2 WHAT ABOUT THE INN-KEEPER?
Our Christmas plays always picture an evil Inn-keeper … BUT … there is no mention of one here. It is just assumed. Sometimes there was an Inn-keeper, and sometimes there wasn’t – see Luke 10:33-35.
They could sell food, firewood, and necessities to the travellers. They were often corrupt, and there would often be a dispute when they left about the charge for their stay.
Some people believe that Rahab the Harlot was an Inn-keeper – Hebrews 11:31, James 2:25
31 By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.
2.3 WHERE WAS JESUS BORN?
Jesus was born in a stable, not in a manger. He was in a manger when the shepherds came to worship Him – Luke 2:16. A “manger” is a feeding trough.
Stables were in the Inns … and often in caves. Mary & Joseph may have gone to a shepherd’s cave. The shepherds were off in the fields with their sheep, and the cave stables would have been empty, clean, and available – Luke 2:8.
3. WHO WERE THE WISE MEN?
3.1 What Is A “Wise Man”?
The Wise Men were called “Magi”. They were probably Persian or Chaldean. They were a priestly class who interpreted dreams, soothsayers, astronomers, fortune-tellers & astrologers.
They were non-Jewish unbelievers in Jehovah God.
Daniel, when taken into captivity into Babylon, was trained as a “Wise Man” – Daniel 1:17-20. ONLY … his wisdom came from God. Daniel’s teaching and influence may have had an impact on these Magi 600 years later. There is some speculation that maybe remnants of the Jewish captives from the Babylonian era may have carried down the message of the promised Messiah to the wise men.
3.2 How Many Were There?
We don’t know for sure as it doesn’t say. We do know there was more than one as the bible refers to Wise “MEN”. Tradition says there were 3 but there could very well have been seven.
3.3 Were They Kings?
We sing the song, “We three Kings from Orient are.” Wise Men weren’t Kings … but they brought expensive gifts … to give to the “King of the Jews”.
3.4 Where Did They Come?
They probably arrived when Jesus was about 12 months old. Matthew 2:8,11. Jesus is called a “young child”, and they lived in a “house”.
4. WHAT ABOUT THE SLAUGHTER OF THE INNOCENTS.
The wise men continue on their way to Bethlehem, where they find Jesus. However, after they present their gifts to Jesus, they are warned in a dream not to return to Herod because he only intends to kill this newborn king. When Herod finds out that the wise men have left his territory without reporting back to him, he becomes furious and dispatches his soldiers to kill all male children in the vicinity of Bethlehem who are 2 years old and younger — a choice informed by the time told him by the wise men, which suggests that Jesus is approaching 2 years old when the wise men appear. Although Jesus escapes Herod’s henchman unharmed (Joseph had been warned in a dream to flee to Egypt) many youngsters do not. Herod’s murderous act is often referred to as “The Slaughter of the Innocents.”
Have you noticed this is never part of the Christmas Story? Yet it is just as much part of the Christmas story as the “Three Wise Men”.
5. WHAT ABOUT SINGING ANGELS
Well according to the carol, Hark the Herald Angels Sing…..the angels announcing the birth of Jesus were singing…Actually this is not the case. The bible records the angels speaking and proclaiming but not singing. In fact there is not record in the bible of any angel singing at any time.
6. WAS MARY AND ELIZABETH (mother of John the Baptist) FIRST COUSINS?
There is a common perception that Mary and Elizabeth were first cousins….but like this explanation from the Apologetics Press Website says….it’s not a certainty.
First, the King James translation of the term syngenis as “cousin” (Luke 1:36) is unwarranted and somewhat misleading to those who normally interpret the word to mean “first cousin.” The Greek term syngenis simply means “relative” (NKJV, NASB, NIV) or “kinswoman” (ASV, RSV). It is “a general term, meaning ‘of the same family’” (Vincent, 1997). Thus, Mary and Elizabeth may have been first cousins, or they may have been fourth cousins. All we know for sure is that they were kin.
You may want to read some of my other Christmas Blogs
- What if God was like Scrooge? How would Christmas and Salvation be different?
- The True Meaning of the 12 Days of Christmas
- What if the Christmas Story Happened Today: How Would it be Reported in the Media?
I want to acknowledge that some of this material was sourced from a Baptist Preacher in America called Clarence Stowers.
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