If you're going to do Different, be sure your reasons are sound.
Part 2 of my 3-part Christmas series takes a holiday from usual themes to talk about why celebrating the season is a good and healthy thing to do. The topic is important because I know many folks who think we should do away with Christmas. Theirs is a "different" based on bad information and limited thinking. And that's not a good foundation for making
a radical change.
THE MODERN CASE AGAINST CHRISTMAS is built largely on assumptions about historical realities that aren’t necessarily true. The charge that Christmas is a “pagan holiday” derives from the idea that things like Christmas trees and yule logs have pagan roots (more about that next week) and the date of Christmas being contrived from Roman holidays (more about that this week—read on).
Data for Dating
There are many respectable calculations for the date Christ was actually born, and most arrive at a time other than December 25. Even in a recent discussion with a bishop in my church—which honors December 25 as the day to celebrate Christ’s birth—this savvy leader noted that Jesus was probably born in late spring or early summer.
In line with that thinking, my favorite theory for the timing of Jesus’ birth suggests June as a date for His nativity and December 25 as the date the magi discovered the child in Bethlehem. Rick Larson’s outstanding DVD presentation, The Star of Bethlehem, details this view and is more than worth the one-hour watch.
Larson compares the biblical accounts of signs in the sky with a modern astronomical software analysis of what was actually appearing in the heavens in the last few years B. C.
To give away a few of Larson’s secrets: In June of 3 B. C. an extremely close conjunction of Jupiter (the king planet) and Venus (the Morning Star, also a name ascribed to Christ in Old Testament prophecy) created, to the un-aided eye, likely the brightest “star” that had ever appeared in the sky. He suggests it signaled the birth of Jesus, and taking note of the sign, the magi begin their journey to find the Christ child.
And six months later?
The magi arrive, and the king planet once again plays a role. The star the men from the East have been following goes into planetary retro-grade motion and stops in the sky, right above Bethlehem as seen from Jerusalem (the magi's vantage point by then).
And the date of the stop?
There’s way more in the DVD than just these two astounding facts, so I do recommend you watch it. But I’d like to make a conjecture about how to interpret the date of December 25.
Mary likely did not deliver the Christ child on that date, but it could very well have been the date when His birth became public knowledge. Scripture says Herod “was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3, KJV, emphasis added). The entire region suddenly became aware of the birth. Prominent foreign guests and the king’s announcement would have made sure everyone knew a significant event had occurred.
Listening to What History Repeats
Another reasonable conjecture is that this is exactly the sort of thing the early church would have remembered and passed along in its “oral tradition.” We largely ignore such things these days because we’re surrounded—inundated!—by written communication. But “back then,” people considered it normal to respect and believe what was taught to them verbally.
Much has been made of connections between the date of Christmas and the timing of Roman pagan festivals. Celebrations of the winter solstice, Saturnalia, and the like happened around December 25, so it's assumed that early Christians somehow compromised by deciding to celebrate Christmas at the same time.
But as Torahism author Rob Solberg points out in an excellent video blog on the subject, the connection between the celebrations is superficial, at best. Much more plausible is that the date itself was actually significant to Christians at the time. They honored the day when Christ's birth was announced to the world.
Finally, Christmas has been celebrated by godly-minded Christians for nearly 20 centuries, so it’s more than a bit arrogant to think we've suddenly figured out how wrong countless other dedicated believers have been all these years.
Better to do as they said (oral tradition) and do as they’ve done: Celebrate the Savior’s birth!
What was the Star of Bethlehem?
This DVD featuring Rick Larson has the best answer I've ever seen. You'll be mind-blown by the research and insights in this video. Add it to your Christmas-watching list!
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