Question: Hey Pastor, I have a question!? I was talking with some friends about Christmas.? They said that Jesus really wasn?t born on December 25th.? If that is true, then why do we Christians celebrate Jesus? birthday on that day?
Answer: Thanks for your timely, ?season-specific? question.? Your question has some interesting points for us to consider.
Before we get to the date of Jesus? birth, let us first consider the year of His birth.? According to the Holy Scriptures, we are told:? ?When the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as Children? (Gal. 4:4-5).? With that, we have the best Biblical evidence as to the actual point in time when Jesus was
born.? As an irony (and I?d venture to guess part of God?s plan!) the event (Jesus? birth) that has divided our calculation of time into years (B.C. and A.D.) is, itself, almost ?undateable!?
All of us have always celebrated Jesus? birth on December 25th.? From our youngest years, we?ve all assumed that Jesus was born on December
25, 1 A.D.? Yet, it isn?t that simple at all.? In fact, we know that this date is most certainly wrong!? From extra-Biblical evidence we know that Herod the Great died in the spring of 4 B.C., and the king was very much alive during the visit of the Magi (Matthew Ch. 2).? Therefore, Jesus would have to have been born before this time.? Thus, His birth is usually set during the winter of 5-4 B.C.
So how did we get to the point of dating Jesus? birth to be B.C., that is Before Christ, Before Himself?!?? In the sixth century a Roman monk-mathematician-astronomer, Dionysius the Little, set about to reform the calendar to pivot around the birth of Christ.? In other words, this marked all of time around the event of the birth of the Messiah into the world.? This was a most commendable project, however, unfortunately, Dionysius the Little made a Big error!? He dated the Nativity of our Lord as occurring in the year 753 from the founding of Rome.? However Herod the Great had died only 749 years after Rome?s founding.? The result of Dionysius? erroneous computation, which remains the current dating method to this very day, is that Jesus most certainly was born earlier than 1 A.D.
While Jesus may have been born as early as 7 B.C., this early of a date for His birth would make Him a little too old for the ?about 30 years? of age when He began His public ministry in 28-29 A.D. (Luke 3:23).? Unfortunately, it is impossible to work back to any exact date for Jesus? birth from other information about His adult life recorded in the Scriptures.
So much for the year of Jesus? birth.? What about the actual day?? The early Christian Church in the East celebrated Jesus? birth on January 6th while the church in the West celebrated it on December 25th.? Both practices, however, began in the 300?s A.D., much too late to warrant attaching any credibility to those dates.
Most likely it was a matter of substitution.? The Romans at the time celebrated a pagan festival called Saturnalia on December 25th.? As Christianity began to take hold in the formerly pagan Roman Empire, the Christians sought to replace pagan holidays and festivals such as Saturnalia (in honor of Sol Invictus, the Unconquerable Sun) with events with Christian meaning.
A common title for Jesus was ?the Sun of Righteousness? (that is, He who brought light into the world).? Therefore, to replace the pagan festival of the Unconquerable Sun with the celebration of Jesus? birth, the ?Sun of Righteousness,? made perfect sense to the Christians.
We certainly wish that such an event of this much importance could be clearly identified.? Yet the people of those times had a less critical and precise view of time than we do with our highly accurate clocks and calendars.? We must remember that Jesus? birth occurred in a period when there was no standard system of keeping time.? Events were dated rather generally.? For example an historical event, when someone bothered
to record it, might be recorded like this:? ?in the reign of King _____ [such and such] occurred.?? Very often, numbers were rounded off and even the methods of counting years were different.? When you think about it, it?s really a wonder that we are able to come as close to dating Jesus? birth as we have!? The final paradox is that something as imprecisely datable as is the birth of Jesus now serves as the technical ?anchor date? for the calendar used almost everywhere by Christians and pagans alike in the world to this day!
Of course, the most important thing is that we celebrate our Lord?s birth into the world, when, ?in the fullness of time? He came to fulfill the Father?s plan for our redemption and salvation!? Merry Christmas! (Christ?s Mass – but THAT?S another story??? )