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Christian Biblical Studies
(Another in our ‘Young Readers’ series)
All Bible references are to the Anglicised New International Version (NIV-UK)
Christians, awake! salute the happy morn,
Whereon the Saviour of the world was born.
birthdays are Celebrated worldwide. Marking the anniversary of one’s arrival into conscious existence seems to underline the wonder of life. At about three or four years of age we begin to register and store memories of events that impress us. We begin to ask questions, exercise reason, and develop preferences. Growing up becomes very important, and we long for the independence that adulthood promises. Time, when we are young, seems endless, but granddad, in old age, ruefully remarks that: ‘When I was a lad a week lasted a fortnight; now it’s gone in two days!’
The long-awaited birthdays of infancy do come more quickly as increasing activity fills the years between, and we may all wonder, eventually, where the time went. When this life is over and when we enter into that eternal life God has promised us, marking the passing years by birthdays may well become irrelevant. We may perhaps have different anniversaries to celebrate, and there will surely be many occasions for festivity, either of a personal nature, or involving the whole world.
A Universal Celebration
On December 25 every year, there are millions who celebrate the birthday of Jesus, and it seems that most of the world stops work to enjoy what they regard as the most important holiday of the year. Some Eastern Orthodox churches keep the festival on January 7.
But many people these days have little or no knowledge of Jesus and the significance of His Advent ― His arrival as a baby. At that time, more than 2,000 years ago, the event was heralded by angels to shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, who then spread the news of their remarkable experience to all their acquaintances (Luke 2: 8-18).
Did Jesus celebrate His birthdays with His family? Possibly, but there is no record. Though the Bible tells of an incident concerning Jesus when He was twelve years old (Luke 2: 40-52), nothing more is recorded of His life until He was about thirty, when He was baptised in the River Jordan and began His ministry (Luke 3: 23).
Did He later command His disciples to remember His birthday and call it ‘Christmas’? He did not. But He did ― before the event ― ask them to remember His death always, until He would return to establish His Kingdom on the earth (1 Corinthians 11: 23-26). Nor does the New Testament reveal that the early Christians celebrated Christmas, and history indicates that this festival began many centuries later.
Was Jesus Really Born in Mid-Winter?
There is no indication in the Bible of the actual date of Jesus’ birth, though it is possible to reason from known facts and arrive at a probable date. It was at the time of the annual Passover, held in the spring, that Jesus was Crucified. His ministry is known to have lasted three-and-a-half years, and therefore had begun in the autumn of the year that He reached the age of thirty, and His birthday would therefore be in September or October.
Other considerations support this conclusion. It is reasoned that shepherds would not be out watching their flocks in the cold and damp of winter in the Holy Land. Nor does it seem likely that Joseph would have taken Mary, so advanced in her pregnancy, on a long journey in winter. And surely, in her condition, somebody would have found her a better shelter than a stable? The mild and pleasant weeks of autumn fit the scene of that wonderful event in human history so much better.
But this does not mean that we have to move the date of our Christmas celebrations from December to September or October. It is not so much the date that is important. God surely rejoices to hear thousands of earth’s inhabitants echoing the songs of the angels that night, as they heralded the birth of the Saviour of the world.
A further interesting thought is that December 25 may be significant.
Could it have been on that day that the angel Gabriel visited the virgin Mary and declared that she was to give birth to the Son of God? That alarming but life-changing experience must have been another special occasion for rejoicing. At that time she was pledged to be married to Joseph ― they were an engaged couple, and evidently Joseph also had found favour in God’s sight. He too received an angelic visitor who assured him that Mary’s child would be born by Divine power, and he should not hesitate to marry her. For more details of these events read Matthew 1: 18 - 25 and Luke 1: 26-38. It is the most fascinating event in human history, so let us all join in singing our praises to the new-born King.
Hark! the herald-angels sing
Glory to the newborn King,
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With the angelic host proclaim,
‘Christ is born in Bethlehem.’
Hark! The herald-angels sing
Glory to the new-born King.
(Charles Wesley and others)
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