Well, the tree is up, it’s decorated, and perhaps a few brightly-wrapped gifts are scattered beneath it. Friends have dropped by and you may have served an eggnog or two. Impatient 5-year-olds don’t think they can possibly contain their excitement for another two weeks, while awaiting the arrival of the jolly fellow.
Yet, despite all the fun and games, we still find time to celebrate, to a greater or perhaps lesser extent, the birth of Christ. That’s what the seasons all about. However, as you might realize, there is considerable debate and skepticism surrounding the actual date of this event.
In the year 386, John Chrysostom (347-407), archbishop of Constantinople and a saint in the Catholic Church, declared Dec. 25, on the Julian calendar, to be the date of Christ’s birth. He calculated this date by simply adding nine months to the church’s estimated date of Mary’s conception (the Annunciation), which was determined, in part, by Mary’s announcement that she was pregnant during the sixth month of her sister’s pregnancy, which resulted in the birth of John the Baptist, Christ’s cousin.
I don’t know about you, but placing the date of Christ’s conception from rather sketchy scriptures of his aunt’s pregnancy seems a bit of a stretch to me.
At any rate, despite these calculations and traditions, many Biblical scholars argue that it’s unlikely Christ was born during December because shepherds wouldn’t have been outside “tending their flocks” that time of the year. Israeli winters can be pretty cold.
Early in the 1700s, Isaac Newton argued that the date of Christmas was selected not from the mysteries of conception, but to correspond with the Roman winter celebration of Saturn, God of agriculture, and the ancient Babylon holiday for the son of Isis (goddess of nature). Both honored the triumph of life over death and were characterized by orgiastic partying, gluttonous eating and drinking and the exchange of gifts. It would appear Christmas, as we know it today, had its origins in paganism as much as in scripture.
Then, of course, there’s the matter of the virgin birth. Many historians and philosophers question this phenomenon because, at the time of Christ, virgin births were a dime a dozen. The Jews were anxiously awaiting their prophesied messiah who would lead them against their Roman oppressors and, that being the case, every pregnant Jewish lady who came down the pike claimed to be a virgin.
Be that as it may, Christ’s actual birth is more important than the specific date or how Mary conceived. He was probably born in a manger, or perhaps a cave that served as a manger, and probably in the presence of domestic farm animals. We can be certain his birth was celebrated by three relatively rich, wise gentlemen – likely astronomers – who bowed before him and gave gifts.
We can also be quite certain that, roughly 33 years later, a handful of Roman soldiers killed him.
So it would be and thus it was written.