We obviously celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25, but is that really when He was born? Well, I’m not sure. But there are a few ideas out there.
We know that Jesus was conceived six months after John the Baptist (Luke 1:24-27, 36). So, if we can figure out when John was born, we can figure out when Jesus was born.
John the Baptist’s father was a man named Zacharias. Zacharias was from the tribe of Levi, which meant that he was to serve in the temple each year. The Jews kept a record of temple service, and people much smarter than me have figured out when Zacharias would have been serving in the temple during that year. From what we can deduce from the biblical accounts, John the Baptist would’ve been born in the spring — around Passover. This, in itself, is pretty cool because during a Passover meal, the Jews always leave a cup for Elijah in case he returns. Who did Jesus say John the Baptist was? (Matthew 11:7-15)
Anyhoo, if John was born at Passover and Jesus was born six months after that, it puts His birth in the fall — during the festival of Sukkot. Here’s why I think that’s cool:
Sukkot is a holiday that was commanded by God in Leviticus 23:33-44. It is one of the most joyful of all Jewish holidays — God commands them to rejoice before Him for seven days. It also comes during the harvest — the time when you thank God for His provision. (What better provision than a Messiah to save us from our sins?) Also, according to this site, during Sukkot is when the Jews finish their cycle of Torah readings and begin again. This time is considered to be the “fulfillment of the Torah” — quite symbolic, since that is what Christ came to do.
During Sukkot, Jews build Sukkahs, which are temporary shelters that they live in. It is to remind them of the time they lived in shelters during their wandering in the wilderness once they left Egypt. To the Jew, the Exodus is the most pivotal event of their faith — and if you study Jesus’ life, He does much to compare Himself to Moses, the leader of the Exodus. It seems only right that Jesus would come at a time they remember the Exodus from Egypt. (And don’t forget that Jesus dies during Passover, another very symbolic holiday about the Exodus.)
There are also arguments for Jesus being born around December 25, although I’m more likely to believe that the early Christians replaced a pagan holiday by celebrating the birth of Jesus instead.
Either way — I don’t think it’s a huge deal when we celebrate Jesus’ birth. I do think it’s really cool to understand some of the significant things about Christ’s timing when we study Jewish culture and holidays.
But the most important thing is taking time to really be joyful and thankful for the God who came to earth as a baby to redeem all of creation. He kept the promise He made so long ago. And that is something to celebrate.
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