It's time to do away with the manger!
Updated: Jul 7, 2018
The world is not offended by a cute little baby lying innocently in a feed trough.
The devil is not threatened by a dead man hanging helplessly on a rugged wooden cross.
But both the world and the devil are terrified of an empty tomb.
I often hear Christians lamenting the fact that Christmas has been hijacked by the world. “They’ve taken the Christ out of Christmas” they cry in dismay. “And after all, Jesus is the reason for the season” they protest, as if to justify their indignation. But they fail to understand that Christ was never in Christmas in the first place; and furthermore, Nimrod, not Jesus, is the real reason for the season.
What we are seeing in the increasing secularisation of Christmas is in fact the tree returning to its roots, or to put it another way, the beast revealing its true colours. Christmas is a pagan festival masquerading in a Christian disguise; however, as the inimitable Teddy Weisberg says, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but at the end of the day it’s still a pig!”
I would like to give you five reasons why Jesus could not possibly have been born on December 25th.
· According to the gospel of Luke, there were shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night in the fields around Bethlehem (Luke 2:8). At the end of December, Bethlehem is in the grip of frost; the night-time temperature often falls to near freezing; and the area experiences its greatest rainfall of the year. No cattle are left in the fields at night in these wintry conditions. The Talmud indicates that flocks were put out to grass in March and brought into shelter at the beginning of November, thus remaining out in the open for almost eight months.
The gospel of Luke tells us that the father of John the Baptist was Zacharias, a priest of the division of Abijah, who served at the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 1:5). According to 1 Chronicles 24:10, Abijah was the eighth course in the order of service in the house of the Lord. The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that each one of these courses served at the temple for one week, the first course serving the first week of Nisan, in the spring, and then each course in scheduled order. After six months the order would be repeated, thus each course would serve two weeks per year. The course of Abijah served the eighth week in the rotation, that is, the week before the Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost). Zacharias would have returned home to his wife Elizabeth shortly after the Feast of Shavuot, thus placing the conception of John the Baptist about the middle of June. Allowing for a full term of pregnancy, John the Baptist would have been born about the middle of March, just before Passover. Luke indicates that Jesus was conceived by the virgin Mary about six months after John, that is, about the middle of December. This in turn would place his birth nine months later in the month of SEPTEMBER!
It is extremely unlikely that Mary, in a heavily pregnant state, could have undertaken a journey of some 70 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem through a hill district averaging approximately 3,000 feet above sea level in the depth of winter.
The Roman authorities would not have conducted a census for the deeply resented foreign tax during the most inconvenient and inclement season of the year. Nothing if not pragmatic, they would have selected a time of year that would be the most conducive to a peaceful and orderly registration. For the Jews, this would be in the autumn when the harvest was finished and thousands of people were travelling up to Jerusalem to observe the crowning feast of the year - Tabernacles.
There is no evidence whatsoever that the early church celebrated Jesus’ birthday on December 25th (or any other day for that matter). December 25th was first referred to in documents as ‘Christmas Day’ in A.D. 336, and published in the Roman city calendar, edited by Filocalus, for the year 354.
God’s prophetic calendar: the feasts of Israel
The Jewish agricultural year revolved around seven major festivals, each of which held special meaning for God’s covenant people. For this reason, the Feasts of Israel are sometimes referred to as ‘God’s prophetic calendar’ because of their historical and prophetic significance.
David’s Greater Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, was the personal embodiment and ultimate fulfilment of the promises that were made and the redemption that was foreshadowed under the Old Covenant. The major events of his life were all connected in some way with the Feasts of Israel, which in their prophetic symbolism pointed to ‘the lamb of God that would take away the sins of the world’ and ‘the kingdom of which there would be no end’.
As the Lamb of God, he had to die during the Feast of Passover; he couldn’t possibly be offered up as a sacrifice for sin at any other time of the year. As the resurrected Lord, he had to send forth his word in the power of the Spirit during the Feast of Pentecost; he couldn’t possibly empower the church at any other time, if he was to fulfil the promise of the Mosaic covenant. And I submit to you that as Immanuel (God with us), he had to born during the Feast of Tabernacles, if he was to be the Word made flesh - God in human form.
Interestingly enough, the noted Biblical scholar and numerologist, E. W. Bullinger, calculated that Jesus was born on the 15th of Tisri or September 29h, 4 B.C., which ‘coincidentally’ was the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles!
The Bible describes the human body as a ‘tent’ that houses the spirit (2 Peter 1:14). In this sense, the apostle John wrote: “And the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us, and we gazed upon his glory – a glory as an Only-begotten from his Father, full of favour and truth” (J.B. Rotherham). In other words, the incarnation of Christ was the ultimate fulfilment of the prophetic symbolism contained in the Feast of Tabernacles.
Whose birthday is it, anyway?
When the Roman Emperor Aurelian came to power in 270 A.D., he strengthened the position of the sun-god, Sol Invictus, as the main divinity of the Roman pantheon. In 274 A.D., Aurelian established a massive temple of the Unconquerable Sun in Campus Agrippae as the central focal point of the entire religious system. His intention was to give all the peoples of the Empire a single god they could believe in without betraying their own gods. Aurelian set the sun-god’s birthday celebration on December 25th, the date then accepted for the winter solstice, and the concluding day of the pagan winter festival known as the ‘Saturnalia’.
When Constantine became Emperor in 323 A.D., he was primarily concerned with the unity and stability of the Empire. As a pragmatic politician, he promulgated the principle of ‘one god, one empire’ and sought to reconcile and synthesize pagan practices with Christian beliefs.
After centuries of failed persecution, the devil apparently decided ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’. Christianity was formalised as the state religion and it became politically and socially expedient to attend church. The forms and ceremonies of paganism gradually and insidiously crept into Christian worship. Some of the old heathen feasts were rebranded as Christian festivals. As one writer observed, “Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it.”
The politicized Roman church transformed the Saturnalia with its tradition of banqueting, gift-giving and partying into a celebration of the birth of the Son of God, and called it ‘Christmas’.
How should we then live?
Whether or not and in what manner you celebrate Christmas is a personal matter between you and God. It’s not up to me or any other preacher to tell you what you should or should not do in this regard. However, it is incumbent upon me as a watchman to urge you not to be seduced by the spirit of the season.
There is a war being waged between the spirit of the world and the Spirit of God; the spirit of antichrist and the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 2:12; 1 John 4:1-6). And now, more than ever, the Spirit is saying, “Come out of Babylon, be separate, do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you” (2 Cor. 6:17-18).
The splendour and majesty of Immanuel, God becoming one of us, cannot be reduced to the festivities of a single day. The truth of the incarnation cannot be relegated to a particular season of the year. ‘The mystery of godliness’ as Paul refers to it in 2 Timothy 3:16, denotes the full spectrum of Christ’s miraculous birth, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection. And this divine mystery is the focal point of our faith and the very reason for our existence.