On one of my yahoo groups, someone posted a video about the "True Origins of Christmas" (DUN dun duuuuun) It sparked much debate on the forum. There is so much debate over when Jesus was born, and whether Christmas is even appropriate. So here’s my two cents, even though it's several months away yet.
Timing should be easy, right? After all, there are *hints* in Scripture. But still folks quibble. According to Alfred Edersheim's book The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
(1883), the timing Zacharias’ service in the temple can be calculated through Josephus’ commentaries, giving us a rough estimation of the timing of John the Baptist’s birth and thereby, Jesus’. Book II Chap 3
and Appendix 7
goes in-depth into the historical record to try and place the date.
A more thorough treatment, Phillip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, Vol.II: Ante-Nicene Christianity AD 100-325
says, “Of the Christmas festival there is no clear trace before the fourth century; partly because the feast of the Epiphany in a measure held the place of it; partly because of birth of Christ, the date of which, at any rate, was uncertain, was less prominent in the Christian mind than his death and resurrection. It was of Western (Roman) origin, and found its way to the East after the middle of the fourth century for Chrysostom, in a Homily, which was probably preached Dec. 25, 386, speaks of the celebration of the separate day of the Nativity as having been recently introduced in Antioch.”
In HotCC Vol III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity AD 311-600
, he elaborates on the celebration
for the post-Nicene Churches (East and West) and its growth. He gives an “up-to-date” chronology of Jesus birth and life here
in an attempt to narrow down the date.
Of course, contemporary historians have uncovered new technologies to bring more light on the issue, and according to some astronomical predictive computer models, by working backwards, an anomalous combination of stars/planets apparently occurred in the heavens some 2000 years ago that gives a much more definitive date for the Magi sighting/birth. A model and explanation can be viewed here.
Also, the timing might be roughly estimated based on the biblical account. According to Luke, Gabriel visited Mary in the sixth month of the year, and told her that Elizabeth was in her sixth month. Counting back, that would be to the month of Tishri, the New Year—Rosh Hashanah, which takes place in September-October, making the Annunciation in Nissan; roughly March-April. Counting forward nine months brings us to Tevet; December-January. Sounds about right, right? BUT!! There are TWO months that are considered the “first month” on Jewish Calendars. Nissan, which is our “sixth month” of the “Rosh Hashanah is the time of the Zacharias visitation,” is also known as “The First Month of Kings” on the Hebrew calendar. Interesting title, no? Anyway, Tishri (Sept.-Oct) is six months from Nissan; nine months later we have Tamuz, which is June-July. According to the computer model above, the month the Star would have rested over Bethlehem would probably have been in Tamuz.
Having said all of that, the early Christians didn’t have much to say about Jesus’ birth. The important days to them were the ones that had an Old Covenant counterpart/fulfillment, and His birth just had no such thing. So they recognized Pascha/Easter and Pentecost. The Jewish believers continued to keep the feasts, but with the knowledge and understanding that they were looking back on the fulfillment and celebrating new life through His death and resurrection. Behold, He had made all things new!
As stated above, there was no word on Christmas till the fourth century, and while its origins and eventual symbols and traditions can be debated and the timing of Jesus’ birth is somewhat of a question as well, the idea isn’t a bad one, in my opinion. Sure, excess, and greed, and extravagance are evil, but to acknowledge the advent of our Savior with generous and grateful hearts should not be condemned.
If we are to keep ANY feast, it should be by the same example of our early brethren: in simplicity and good cheer, taking care not to make anyone stumble.