One question that you may have asked yourself, or maybe someone has asked you before is, “Was Jesus really born on December 25?” Most of us just assume that this is the day that Christ was born because that is what we have always been told. The truth is that Jesus was probably not born in December. The bible does not tell us the exact date in which Christ was born, but we can determine from clues his approximate birthday.
The fact that Jesus was born in a manger should give us some sort of a clue. The winter months in that part of the world are notoriously terrible. It would have been almost impossible for a young woman to sleep and give birth in a stable during this time of the year.
We are also told in Luke 2 that after the birth of Christ angels appeared to a group of shepherds who were “keeping watch over their flock by night.” Again because of the cold winter nights it was customary for shepherds to keep their sheep located in pens or coralls during these months. The nights were so cold that they would not stay out all night with their sheep in the field during the winter months. It seems highly unlikely that a group of angels would find shepherds in the field at night near the end of December.
So when was Jesus born?
Well as I have already said we are not given the exact date of His birth. We are however given a clue. According to Luke chapter one the angel Gabriel appeared to Zacharias, the priest, while he was ministering in the temple and told him that his wife Elisabeth was going to have a child. Of course this child was going to become a great man we know as “John the Baptist.” Zacharias did not believe the report from Gabriel and because of his unbelief was stricken dumb and could not talk.
According to verses 23 & 24 when Zacharias’ time of temple service was over he returned home and Elisabeth conceived a child. In verse 5 we are told that Zacharias served as a priest “of the course of Abia.” When a priest served in the temple it was not an ever day, every week job. According to I Chronicles 24 the priesthood was divided among the sons of Aaron. The temple service was divided into 24 courses and the priest would rotate through the year the temple service. The course of Abijah was the 8th shift. It was this course that Zacharias served. The course of Abia or Abijah ran from around June 3 through June 17. Therefore Elisabeth conceived sometime around the end of June or the first of July.
You may ask what this has to do with the birth of Jesus. Well looking back in Luke we learn that in the sixth month of Elisabeth’s pregnancy the angel Gabriel appeared to a young virgin named Mary and told her that she would also be giving birth to a child. Doing some simple math tells us that Elisabeth gave birth sometime in late April or early May. If she was six months further along than Mary that means that Mary must have given birth in late September.
Why then December 25?
The truth is that December 25 was celebrated by the heathen Babylonians as the birth of the sun god. In fact many of our present-day Christmas traditions find their way to Babylon. The Yule log, candles and the Christmas tree are just a couple examples. Babylonian celebrations grew in popularity through the years, and the Catholic church feeling the pressure to celebrate holidays, or lose part of their following, established a group of Christian holidays such as Easter and Christmas. For Christmas they chose the day the heathen celebrated, December 25.
What does this mean to you and me?
Considering the information above should we continue to celebrate Christmas? I am going to, and I encourage you to as well. The fact that there is a day set aside to remember the birth of our Lord is a wonderful thing. No, maybe Jesus was not born on December 25, but He was born. John 1:14 emphatically states that God wrapped Himself in flesh and dwelt among us. That is something worth celebrating!
I hope each of you will take the time to teach your children and grandchildren the true meaning of Christmas. Teach them about a God that loved them so much that He sent His only Son into this world. Teach them about how this God-man grew to a man, laid down His life for the sins of the world on a cross, and three days later arose from the grave victorious over death, hell and the grave. That is the story of Christmas the world needs to hear.
Let me finish by wishing you a Merry Christmas. I hope your holiday is filled with fun, family, friends and food.