Is Christmas really observing Christ's birth?

The Feast of the Nativity

Biblical and historical evidence suggests that Jesus was born in the autumn. Isn't there an autumn Feast that celebrates Christ's nativity?

Christmas-time has etched itself into our calendar. For some it's an intensely religious experience. To others a welcome mid-winter break. And an opportunity, for some, for a wild party! Overall, it has become an almost universal festival observed even in non-Christian religions!

Most 20th century Western Christians, however, realize that the trappings of Christmas are transferred from ancient pagan worship. It's common knowledge in our skeptical age. Whether it's the tree, or "the holly and the ivy" or the trinkets inside the pudding, or the overindulgence in food and alcohol, or even the cheery "Merry Christmas" - all are in direct descent from pre-Christian pagan ritual.

How on earth could such elements have been grafted onto the pure religion of Jesus Christ? Those who oppose the celebration of Christmas point to the medieval compromises of the Church: bring in the heathen by Christianizing their customs. Make it easy for them to convert. And multitudes did indeed profess "Christianity".

It's certainly an important reason. But is it sufficient to account for the universal distortion of this much celebrated of festivals? Could there be some hidden grain of truth around which gathered the mythical pagan practices ?

It's a recognized historical fact, confirmed by all treatises on the matter, that the early Christians did not celebrate Christmas. ["There is no evidence of celebrating the nativity before the third century" (Harper's Bible Dictionary). It entered the calendar only around the 4th century [First knonw observance in Rome: 336 A.D.]. But does this mean that there was no recognition of this momentous event? Could the "becoming flesh" of the Creator God go unnoticed, uncelebrated? Of course not!

Nativity Festival

In fact, the time of the birth of Jesus Christ was a festival observed in anticipation, possibly from the beginning of human existence!

Notice what the noted author John Brady had to say back in 1815. Having explained that the Roman calendar calculations were seriously adrift in the time of Christ, he writes: "Hence arose the inaccuracy, which has been so often and so pathetically lamented in keeping the day of our Lord's Nativity; which it is now settled, by arguments incontrovertible, did not take place on the 25th of December, but at the time the Jews kept their Feast of Tabernacles" [Clavis Calendria, v.2, pp. 340-341]..

The scholarly Dr. Bullinger confirms this: "Without the shadow of a doubt...[the Savior's] birth took place on the 15th Ethanim [or Tishri - the first day of the Festival of Tabernacles]" (Companion Bible Appdx. 179). You will find an exposition of this Festival back in Leviticus 23. It was one of the three annual harvest festivals celebrated throughout the Biblical period, and most likely instituted in the time of Adam. [Other authorities are equally adamant in specifying the Nativity occurred on the Feast of Trumpets, also in the Autumn.]

Foretold In The Stars

The birth of a future Savior was announced to man even before he was ejected from the Garden of Eden because of his sin! Notice Genesis 3:15-16: "I [God] will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman; also between your offspring and her offspring; he will bruise your our head and you will bruise his heel". A human descendant ("born of a woman") of Eve would be injured by Satan. But ultimately would be the Victor.

That offspring was Jesus the longed-for Messiah, the "desire of all nations" (Haggai 2:7). He was temporarily "bruised" in his death. But he rose triumphantly from the grave to conquer and destroy (yet future) the Devil! The birth of a Savior was in the mind and plan of God before even the foundation of the world!

Indeed the very configuration of the planets [including Earth and the Moon] was arranged with this in mind. During the week of creation, God said "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years" (Genesis 1:14).

Let's look more closely at that statement.

The "... seasons [Heb. moed]" is the very word used to describe the festivals listed in Leviticus 23, including, for example, the Festival of Tabernacles. Written into the very fabric of the heavens is the magnificent plan of God for a Deliverer to come to mankind! Truly "The heavens declare the glory of God"! As the psalmist continues: "Day after day pours forth speech, and night after night declares knowledge. There is no speech nor are there words. Yet their line [influence] goes out through all the earth. their words to the ends of the world" (Psalm 19: 1-4).

We are here told that although the heavens are silent - yet they carry an eloquent message to discerning man. Included in that message of the heavens, and transcribed into the annual round of agricultural festivals, is the plan of God for a Savior of mankind! It is God's unwritten torah [instruction] (Psa. 19:7-9)

An Unlikely Story

But as John Brady states, and as confirmed by numerous others, December 25 is perhaps the most unlikely time for the birth of Jesus!

Given the Palestinian climate which dictated agricultural practice, some authorities express the opinion that no sheep would have been out on the hills at that inclement time of year! [The Talmud indicates that sheep were not out in the wilderness in winter, but some were in fields near towns, e.g., Bethlehem, in February.] Nor would the authorities expect someone to register for a census in mid-winter [because individuals had a time period of about a year in which to register]. Nor was a young full-term woman likely to tackle a ninety-mile journey [through hill country from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea].

That very time of year, however, did have great significance for the majority - pagan - society of that era. Again, the heavens had a part! For towards the end of December the sun reached its lowest point, and visibly began once again to climb daily higher in the sky. The cycle of nature was being renewed!

The dark side of this is that the "birth" of the sun was set (by Emperor Aurelian) as December 25! [Though this date was already observed much earlier as a heathen festival]. It was a celebration of the mystery religions that flowed from ancient Babylon, the fountain of error. Sadly, carnal men imported these ungodly practices into the Church of God.

God With Us

Follow this. Since Jesus was most likely born at the Feast of Tabernacles - which was always in September/October, when would he have first become flesh? John tells us "The Word became flesh" (John 1:14). Human gestation - the time from conception to birth - is about forty weeks. Jesus gave up his status as a part of the divine Family to become flesh Immanuel, God with us. He took on human life, perhaps, first as a male sperm cell, at that moment prior to conception becoming human flesh. Nine months later, on the first day of the Festival of Tabernacles (late September/October) Jesus was most likely born in the city of David, Bethlehem.

John completed his sentence: "...the Word became flesh [perhaps at the latter part of December] ... and dwelt [Gk "tabernacled"] among us" (John 1:14). Two separate events - conception, and birth.

Clearly, it would be impossible to be specific about the time of conception. Who could prove it! How could the specific day be pinned down for observance! For example, over the past ten years the conception of Jesus (working on the assumption of forty weeks gestation leading to the first day of Tabernacles) fell on the same day only twice. It varied from December 17 to January 11 on our present calendar. And never once on December 25!

But what better time of year for the Sun of Righteousness (Malachi 4:2) to first become flesh - conceived as a fertilized ovum in the womb of His mother Mary!

It is also significant that nine months later as the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), Jesus visibly entered our world - as a baby - in the very Festival, the Festival of Tabernacles, which portrays the reign of Messiah over a world at total peace!

Observed Today!

But the birth of a child is obvious to all - and a time for celebration. Especially, the birth of the Son of God is certainly a time for the greatest rejoicing, in company with all the heavenly angels.

The pagan Saturnalia feast, now called Christmas, serves to befoul the beautiful plan of God, and to obscure the most momentous event in history - the Word of God becoming flesh (in His human conception) at that time of year. And nine months later, at the Festival of Tabernacles, his birth as the Savior of mankind (Luke 2:8-14).

The Church of God has long observed this festival. Indeed it was observed annually by the apostolic church. Notes John Brady: "The first Christians ... on the day of the Feast of Tabernacles ornamented their churches ... as a memorial that Christ was actually born at that time" [Clavis Calendria, v.2, p.341]. In fact, this is how ancient Israel observed this Festival some fifteen hundred years before the time of Jesus (Leviticus 23:40)! This body of research is today studiously avoided by most ministers!

Modern Saturnalia

The apostle Peter may have had Saturnalia - the pagan feast at the same time as our Christmas - in mind when he wrote: "Let the time that is past suffice for doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you do not now join them in the same wild profligacy, and they abuse you" (I Peter 4:3-4).

What an excellent portrait of modern Christmas celebrations! And of the abuse meted especially to Christians who refuse to "join in"!

Peace On Earth

God has given the perfect time to recall the birth of His Son - at the Festival which He long ago appointed for His people. But like ancient King Jeroboam (I Kings 12:32) professing Christians have shifted the observance to an unhallowed time of year!

The Festival of Tabernacles, however, celebrates what Christians daily pray for - the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God on earth. A time of "peace on earth among men in whom he is well pleased". It was the beautiful song of the heavenly angelic host who announced the birth of the Savior (Luke 2:14) on that quiet early autumn night in ancient Judaea!

Let's not "learn the way of the heathen..." (Jeremiah 10:2) by keeping "the days of falsehood" (Jer. 10:14). Let's keep the Feast (of Tabernacles) in celebration of that momentous event the nativity of our Savior, the Prince of Peace.

When Is the Feast?

Tabernacles always begins on the 15th day of the seventh month called Tishri - of the Hebrew calendar. The date on our modern calendar varies from year to year. In 1997, the festival will be observed October 16th to 23rd.

The Hebrew calendar has been preserved by the Jews since first committed to writing the 4th century AD.

Tabernacles in the UK: The Festival will this year be held in a resort town. Readers are invited to request our brochure introducing the Festival. A warm welcome is extended to those who wish to celebrate with us either part of the time or for the entire eight days. Write to our Lincoln address for further information.

To comment on this article or request more information, please contact James McBride by e-mail at the comment form below.

For PDF or mailed copy, see CGOM. Excerpt from New Horizons Volume 1 Issue 5, September/October 1997. Edited by James McBride of the Churches of God, United Kingdom.

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