If you asked the average Christian what Christmas was, they would no doubt associate Christmas with the birth of Christ and in some way see it as a celebration of His birth. Is it? Is Christmas about Christ? I am often asked about the holidays of Christmas and Easter by people questioning their biblical validity. So let's talk a little about Christmas.
The word "Christmas" means: "Mass of Christ," or, as it came to be shortened, "Christ-mass"; a Roman Catholic Mass, which grew out of a specific feast day established in A.D.1038. It has nothing to do with Scripture or the birth of Christ!
Some teach that the date, December 25, came from a pagan holiday of Saturnalia. This was a Roman observance of the birthday of the "Invincible Sun" on December 25. Well William J. Tighe disagrees with that idea in an article he has written in Touchstone Magazine called, "Calculating Christmas, The Story Behind December 25." In the article he says,
"Many Christians think that Christians celebrate Christ's birth on December 25th because the church fathers appropriated the date of a pagan festival. Almost no one minds, except for a few groups on the fringes of American Evangelicalism, who seem to think that this makes Christmas itself a pagan festival. But it is perhaps interesting to know that the choice of December 25th is the result of attempts among the earliest Christians to figure out the date of Jesus' birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals.
Rather, the pagan festival of the 'Birth of the Unconquered Sun' instituted by the Roman Emperor Aurelian on 25 December 274, was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians. Thus the 'pagan origins of Christmas' is a myth without historical substance."
After a lengthy argument to prove his point that Christmas didn't come from a pagan celebration he concludes the article by saying:
"Thus, December 25th as the date of the Christ's birth appears to owe nothing whatsoever to pagan influences upon the practice of the Church during or after Constantine's time. It is wholly unlikely to have been the actual date of Christ's birth, but it arose entirely from the efforts of early Latin Christians to determine the historical date of Christ's death." (http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-10-012-v#continue)
So maybe the celebration of Christmas didn't come from a pagan feast, but however it came about December 25 certainly wasn't the date of Christ's birth. I think that Scripture tells us exactly when Christ was born:
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:8-11 ESV
Notice here that Luke says, there were "Shepherds out in the field"—the Greek word here for "fields" is agrauleo, this is the only time it is used in the New Testament. Fields were small plots of land, and they were right next to the desert. In the desert there are the shepherds—they didn't want shepherds in the fields. The fields were the size of this room, and that is all they had to feed their family. The moment the harvest is gone, the shepherds move in. The sheep then turn the stubble into dirt. So, if the Shepherds were in the fields at the time of Yeshua's birth, it had to be after the time of the harvest and before planting. Harvest ends about July 1, spring planting begins the moment the first rains happen, about November 1. So Yeshua's birth could not have been between November 1 and July 1, which rules out December 25.
But we can narrow it down much more by examining a text in Revelation:
And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. Revelation 12:1-2 ESV
Notice that John says, "a great sign appeared in heaven." It is important to recognize the relationship of all this to the astronomical symbolism in the text. The word John uses for "sign" was the Greek word semeion, which means: "a sign or distinguishing mark whereby something is known, sign, token, or indication." The term was used in the ancient world to describe the constellations of the Zodiac. John's model for this vision of the Church is the constellation of Virgo, which does have a "crown" of twelve stars (Virgo, the second largest constellation and one of the earliest to be distinguished, lies on the zodiac east of Leo). All of the twelve stars are visible ones that could have been seen by observers. It seem likely that the twelve stars also represent the twelve signs of the Zodiac, from ancient times regarded as symbols of the twelve tribes of Israel; in Joseph's famous dream his father, mother, and the twelve tribes were symbolized by the sun, the moon, and twelve stars of constellations (Gen. 37:9).
In his book, The Birth of Christ Recalculated, Ernest Martin says, "In the period of Christ's birth, the Sun entered the head-position of the Woman about August 13, and exited from her feet about October 2. But John saw the scene when the sun 'clothes' or 'adorns' the Woman. This surely indicates that the position of the Sun in the vision was located somewhere mid-bodied of the Woman—between the neck and knees. The only time in the year that the Sun could be in position to 'clothe' this celestial Woman (to be mid-bodied) is when it was located about 150 and 170 degrees along the ecliptic. This clothing of the Woman by the Sun occurs for a 20 day period each year. This 20 degree spread could indicate the general time when Christ was born. In 3 B.C., the Sun would have entered this celestial region about August 27 and exited from it about September 15. If John, in the book of Revelation, is associating the birth of Christ with the period when the Sun is mid-bodied to the Woman, then Christ would have had to be born within that 20 day period. From the point of view of the Magi (who were astronomers), this would have been the only logical sign under which the Jewish Messiah might be born—especially if He were to be born of a virgin. Even today, astrologers recognize that the sign of Virgo is the one which has reference to a messianic world ruler to be born of a virgin."
The key to narrowing the date down is the Moon. John said it was located "under her feet." Since the feet of Virgo, the Virgin, represent the last 7 degrees of the constellation (in the time of Christ this would have been between about 180 and 187 degrees along the ecliptic), the Moon has to be positioned somewhere under that 7-degree arc. But the Moon also has to be in that exact location when the Sun is mid-bodied to Virgo. In the year 3 B.C., these two factors came to precise agreement for less than two hours, as observed from Palestine, on September 11. This is the only day in the whole year that this could have taken place. Now I'm not an astronomer, but if Martin is right, then it seems quite clear that Christ was born on September 11, in the year 3 B.C.
Now that we know the date of Christ's birth let me say that the apostles and early Church never celebrated Christ's birthday at any time. There is no command or instruction to celebrate it in the Bible. As a matter of fact, the celebrating of birthdays is a pagan, not a Christian custom.
So how much of Christmas has to do with Christ? None of it! None of it is biblical, none of it is commanded by the Lord, none of it was apostolic, and none of it was ever observed by the early church! Yet to many Christians, Christmas is a religious holiday!
And they work hard to try to keep Christ in Christmas, but why? There is a Christian song that say's, "He's the reason for the season, He's the purpose of it all," He's the purpose for all what? The gifts, lights, trees, Santa, cookies, parties, materialism at it's finest, what does any of that have to do with Christ?
I'm not saying it's wrong for Christians to celebrate Christmas, I enjoy the holiday and all that goes along with it, but let's just enjoy it for what it is, a holiday of no religious significance, like the Fourth of July or Valentines Day. We can't "Keep Christ in Christmas" because Christmas has nothing to do with Christ.
Having said all that, now let me say that biblically there is something special about December 25. Ernest Martin in his book, The Birth of Christ Recalculated, says, "Jupiter, recognized by Jews and Gentiles alike as the 'Planet of the Messiah,' was located in Virgo's womb and standing still, directly over Bethlehem, on December 25, 2 B.C., when the Child was a little over a year old."
In his book, The Star Of Bethlehem, Frederick A. Larson states, "With software, which incorporates Kepler's equations, we can create a computer model of the universe. In minutes we can produce thousands of the sky maps, which was a great labor before computers. We can animate the universe in real time at any speed we choose, make months pass in moments or wind back the clock. We can view the sky precisely as it moved over Jerusalem 2000 years ago." Matthew tells us this:
Now after Yeshua was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." Matthew 2:1-2 ESV
Commenting on this verse, Larson says, "It can't be proven from the text, but it is quite possible that some of the Magi were of Jewish descent, perhaps a Jewish remnant from Daniel's day. This would help explain why a Jewish philosopher, Philo, would admire them, why they were watching the sky for things Jewish, why they wanted to worship a Jewish king, and why they were taken so seriously by Herod and Jewish chief priests. If they were not Jews, then they must have been most impressive magi indeed, as Jews of the time were deeply disdainful of pagans and their beliefs."
Larson says that the star that they saw was the planet Jupiter. In ancient times, planets like Jupiter were considered "wandering stars." Larson says, "A magus watching Jupiter that September saw two objects moving so close that they appeared to touch. This close approach of celestial bodies is sometimes called a 'conjunction.' Our Middle Eastern viewer saw Jupiter coming into a close conjunction with the star, Regulus."
After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. Matthew 2:9 NASB
Notice that the star, "went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was." So this star that they were following stops over Bethlehem. This account is not of the birth of Yeshua, this is over a year after His birth.
Larson says, "An astronomer tracking the movement of planets through the star field watches not so much on the scale of minutes, but on the longer scale of days, weeks, and months. On this scale of time, Jupiter did stop. On December 25 of 2 B.C. as it entered retrograde, Jupiter reached full stop in its travel through the fixed stars. Magi viewing from Jerusalem would have seen it stopped in the sky above the little town of Bethlehem." So according to Larson, the astrological charts show that it was December 25 when Jupiter stopped in the sky, and when the wise men presented Yeshua with their gifts. He also made the comment, "Nobody believes that Jesus was born on December 25."
Well, I'm no astronomer, I don't even play one on TV, but if what Ernest Martin and Frederick A. Larson are saying is true, this is kind of cool. Notice what actually happened on December 25:When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:10-11 ESV
Remember Herod ordered the slaughter of the infants "from two years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the Magi," indicating that the child was no longer a newborn. So when the Magi showed up to worship Yeshua, it was December 25, 2BC. And notice that the Magi were there to worship Yeshua and give Him gifts. They didn't give gifts to each other. So biblically what happened on December 25 was not the birth of Christ, but it was the day the wise men worshiped Yeshua as sovereign king of the world.
Here is my problem with Christmas and its association with the birth of Christ. The birth of Yeshua the Christ was a miraculous event of great significance to mankind, but I'm afraid that associating it with Christmas and the myths like Santa Clause, and the gross materialism associated with it make His birth seem insignificant. The birth of Yeshua is too important to confuse it with Christmas. Let's look at the biblical account of Christ's birth and see its magnificance:Now the birth of Yeshua the Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:18 ESV
Mary had been "betrothed"—solemnly promised in marriage—to Joseph. Betrothal among the Jews was not like our present day engagement. It was far more serious and binding. The bridegroom and bride pledged their "troth" meaning" "faithfulness, loyalty" to each other in the presence of witnesses. According to the Old Covenant regulations, unfaithfulness in a betrothed woman was punishable with death:"If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbor's wife. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. Deuteronomy 22:23-24 ESV
A betrothed couple was considered as legally married, even though they did not live together or have any physical relationships. This period normally lasted twelve months and served as a period of protection to establish each partners fidelity.
Our text says, "before they came together"—in other words it was during the betrothal period, before they began living together, and before there were any sexual relations, that "she was found with child from the Holy Spirit." Mary discovered her pregnancy while she was still a virgin, they had not yet married in the full sense of the term. Mary knew immediately the cause of her condition, because the angel, Gabriel, had told her that this would happen.And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Yeshua . He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. Luke 1:28-35 ESV
Think about that, ladies, you're engaged at around 13, but you have never had sexual relations with a man, and you find out you're pregnant with God's Son. How would you respond? It would have been difficult for Mary to protect her reputation. What would she tell people? "I've never been unfaithful, the child I'm pregnant with is God's Son." How many people do you think would believe that one? Would you believe it? This was no natural pregnancy, it was miraculous, it was the divinely conceived birth of God in human flesh.
Let me say here that I think that non-Catholics can find it very difficult to form an unbiased estimate of the character of Mary, because we are so put off by the way that Catholics worship Mary. And because we are repulsed at the dogmas that they proclaim, such as the dogma of the immaculate conception, the dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary, because we find no hint of these things in the Word of God.
And so we are inclined to go to the other extreme and consider Mary to be just an ordinary person. The doctrinal errors of the Roman Catholic Church are no reason for failing to see the type of person that Mary undoubtedly was. We should at least realize that she was an unusual person. The angel had come to Daniel and had said, "Oh Daniel, greatly beloved" but he said something more significant than that to Mary. He said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!"
Mary, it seems, was a person whose heart and mind was filled with the Scripture. Later in this chapter Mary will break out into the Magnificat in the presence of Elisabeth. And as you read the Magnificat you see that she has taken phrases from the Tanakh and put them together in this magnificent tribute of praise to God. And so it is obvious that Mary was a student of Scripture.
"And Mary said to the angel, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"—the virgin birth was prophesied in the Old Covenant, God had told His people what He was going to do, it would be a supernatural act; something that had never happened before and would never happen again. Several passages in the Tanakh speak of this virgin birth:I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." Genesis 3:15 ESV
The word "offspring" here is zera, which means: "a seed." Only one time in the history of the world did a woman ever have a seed, which normally is ascribed to the man:How long will you waver, O faithless daughter? For the LORD has created a new thing on the earth: a woman encircles a man." Jeremiah 31:22 ESV
In other words, a woman on her own shall develop a man:Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14 ESV
The truth of the virgin birth is very important. For Yeshua to be God, He must be born of God. Joseph, a man, and Mary, a woman, cannot produce God. God cannot be born into this world by natural human processes. There's no way He could be God apart from being conceived by God. Matthew put it this way:All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us). Matthew 1:22-23 ESV
This has got to be the greatest miracle, the most fantastic truth recorded in the pages of Scripture, God became a man. The Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie, stare, wiggle, and make noises. Needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the incarnation, God becoming a man:But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:20 ESV
Though Joseph had decided on the action he needed to take, he found it almost impossible to carry it out. While he was mulling these things over an angel appears to him in a dream and imparts to him the information that had already been given to Mary, namely, that it is by the power of the Holy Spirit, and not the natural way, that Mary has conceived. Joseph must have been relieved, Mary had not been unfaithful after all! The faith of both of them must have been very strong to believe this incredible message of a virgin birth of God's Son.And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. Luke 1:35 ESV
The Greek words that are translated here, "come upon" and "overshadow" are words that are used in the Greek translation of the Tanakh in contexts that suggest the coming of a whirlwind. And overshadowing, suggest the hovering of the Shekinah glory of God over the tabernacle. This pregnancy of Mary was a miraculous work of God.
Eventually Joseph became aware of Mary's condition. His reaction is described in verse 19:And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. Matthew 1:19 ESV
Just imagine how Joseph felt! Men, how do you think you would respond if the girl you loved and were engaged to marry told you she was pregnant and you had never had a sexual relationship with her? Joseph's natural response was that Mary had been unfaithful to him. I'm sure he was deeply hurt, how could she do this to him?
Because he was a righteous man, Joseph, therefore, could not marry Mary who was now thought to be unfaithful. And because such a marriage would have been a tacit admission of his own guilt, and also because he was unwilling to expose her to the disgrace of public divorce, Joseph, therefore, chose a quieter way, permitted by the law itself. The full rigor of the law might have led to Mary's stoning, though that was rarely carried out in the first century. Still a public divorce was possible, but Joseph was unwilling to expose Mary to such shame. Men, would you be so kind in a situation like his?She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Yeshua , for he will save his people from their sins." Matthew 1:21 ESV
Let me say here that Mary never called here son by the Greek name Iesous (Yeah-soos) or the English name Jesus. Our Savior's name when He walked this earth was Yeshua. Matthew 1:1-16, makes it clear that He came from Hebrew decent through the tribe of Judah. In other words, He was Jewish. He was born to and raised by Jewish parents who raised Him under Jewish culture. He spoke Hebrew. The name Yeshua is literally a transliteration of the Messiah's name. Transliteration is the conversion of a text from one script to another. When one says, "Yeshua," he is speaking Hebrew. This is the name that all the apostles would have known Him by and what His mother would have called Him.
Here's what most Christians don't know. Prior to the Hebrew name "Yeshua" being transliterated to the Greek name "Iesous" (yeah-soose') this word did not exist in Greek. In the 17th century the "J" replaced the "I" to make our familiar "Jesus. So prior to the 17th century no one ever heard the name "Jesus." So our Savior has only been called, "Jesus" for the past 400 years or so. If you could go back in time to the 16th century and meet with a group of Christians, they would have no idea who Jesus was.
The name Yeshua literally means: "Yahweh's Salvation, or Salvation from Yahweh." Mary was to call her son "Salvation from Yahweh." The angel's words make it plain that this son will be the promised Messiah, the fulfillment of God's promises to David centuries before (2 Sam. 7:16). Every time Mary spoke Yeshua's name she would be reminded that He was Yahweh's Salvation.
He was called Yeshua because, "he will save his people from their sins"—Yeshua was born so that He might die for the sins of His elect. The Bible says Yeshua came into the world to save us from sin. That's the reason for His birth. And that is way too important of a message to allow it to get lost in the worldly celebration of Christmas.
Charles H. Spurgeon, the great English preacher, used to say, "Look, Christmas is here, we might as well learn to live with it and take the opportunity to exult Christ."
I think that is good advice, we'll never be able to change the traditions of Christmas, but let's use every chance we get to exult Christ through the preaching of the Gospel. We can ask people what the meaning of Christmas is. To which they will no doubt respond, It is a celebration of the birth of Christ. To which we can respond, Why was He born? And we can tell them He was born to die, and now were sharing the Gospel.