By Mark W Swarbrick
I was listening to a talk show the other day and the guest on the show was an atheist. The discussion centered on Christmas. The atheist, with a condescending demeanor, was proclaiming that Jesus was not the reason for the season, for in fact, he said, Jesus was not really born on December 25th. He argued that December 25th was originally a pagan holiday of the winter solstice. Furthermore, he said, shepherds would not have been in the fields in the winter (as the Bible describes) and thus Jesus could not have been born in December. He further claimed that December 25th was really the pagan holiday of Natalis Solis Invict, and that the Church just co-opted that Roman holiday to be a celebration of Christ’s birth.
Most Christians are not overly alarmed by such rhetoric. We know that the heart of Christianity isn’t about legalism or dogmatism concerning dates and seasons, but it is about the reality of Christ living and reigning in our hearts. We understand that Christ is honored on any and every day that we choose to dedicate to Him.
However, because of this confident assurance that we have, we often don’t bother with countering such pointless atheistic claims. Nevertheless, I decided I would dig into the matter. I spent several days researching and what I have found is that the atheist was totally and completely wrong! Furthermore, I found that a date of December 25th for Christ’s birth is actually very likely. Here is what I found:
A Pagan Holiday?
The cult of Natalis Solis Invict did not begin to celebrate December 25th until AD 274. Yet we have record of Christians recognizing December 25th as Christ’s birth centuries prior. For example, Saint Telesphorus (AD 136–147), Theophilus (AD115-1810), Hippolytus (AD 170-240) all wrote of an observance of December 25th as Christ’s birthday.
Furthermore, it was the Emperor Julian the Apostate who instituted the holiday of Natalis Solis Invict on December 25th. Why that date? Julian had turned his back on Christianity. History records that in his growing hatred for Christ, Julian deliberately ordered a pagan holiday on the date of Christ’s birth. The war on Christmas started way back then! So the fact is this: The Church did not co-opt a pagan holiday; it was a pagan emperor who tried to hijack Christmas.
Shepherds in the Field?
“In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night.” (NASB) Luke 2:8
The argument that Shepherds would not be in the field in Israel in December is easily dismissed by anyone that’s been to Israel. It is January 5th as I write this and I can guarantee you there are still shepherds in the fields around Jerusalem right now. Israel is in the lower latitudes and the winters are moderate. In fact, I just checked on the web for the current temperature (this December) in Jerusalem. It is 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection of photos includes some photos of shepherds with their flocks in the Bethlehem area on Christmas day. (Information about the collection is available at LifeintheHolyLand.com.)
Want to see a picture of modern day shepherds in the field near Jerusalem on Christmas? Go here: http://ferrelljenkins.wordpress.com/…/was-jesus-born-in-wi…/
The Historical Record Points to December
Scripture tells us that Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem because of the government order requiring them to return to their home town to register in the census. This “Christmas census” would be the census and oath of allegiance ordered in preparation of Augustus’ silver jubilee in February. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, this registration took place in Israel twelve to fifteen months prior to the death of Herod, most likely some time between November and February.
The Biblical Record Points to December 25th
The Bible tells us when Jesus was conceived, and from there we can calculate his birth in late December. Here are the details: Luke Chapter 1 tells us that Zacharias served in the “course of Abias” (Lk 1:5). From historical records it has been determined that the course of Abias started September 22nd. Zacharias and Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist immediately after his service at the temple, around the end of September. Luke 1:26 tells us that Mary conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit when Elizabeth was six months pregnant.
Now just do the math. John the Baptist was conceived late September; Jesus was conceived six months later, which would be late March. Add nine months and you arrive at late December for Jesus’ birth. In regard to the events of Christ’s birth, the Bible records that Mary “treasured these things in her heart.” No doubt early Christians asked Mary about many of these details, including the question of when was Jesus born. Since early Christian writings agree on a date of December 25th, and since this time frame fits the Biblical record, there is really no reason to doubt that Jesus really was born on Christmas – December 25th.
Incidentally, the reason we celebrate the New Year on January 1st is because that is eight days after Christmas, the day that Jesus would have been presented at the temple and dedicated to God in the rite of circumcision. When the Roman calendar was discarded in 525 AD, the January 1st New Year date was selected by Abbot Dennis the Short in order to line up with Christ’s presentation at the temple in accordance with Genesis 17:9-12; 21:2-4 and Leviticus 12:3. Happy Holidays, is actually short for Happy Holy Days. The atheist at the checkout wishing you Happy Holidays would be mortified to know that they are actually announcing the two holy days of Jesus!
Jesus is, and always has been, the reason for the season; and He is the same yesterday today and forever! Hallelujah!