Questions concerning the day of Jesus’ birth date back to the third century, when Hyppolytus of Rome (ca. 170-236) claimed that Jesus was born on Dec. 25. The earliest mention of some sort of observance on that date is in the Philoclion Calendar, representing Roman practice, of the year 336. Later, John Chrysostom favored the same date of birth. Cyril of Jerusalem (348-386) had access to the original Roman birth census, which also documented that Jesus was born on the 25th of December. The date eventually became the officially recognized date for Christmas in part because it coincided with the pagan festivals celebrating Saturnalia and the winter solstice. The church thereby offered people a Christian alternative to the pagan festivities and eventually reinterpreted many of their symbols and actions in ways acceptable to Christian faith and practice.
While Dec. 25 has become more and more acceptable as the birth date of Jesus, most believe that the birth occurred in another season, such as in the fall. They claim that the Judean winters were too cold for shepherds to be watching their flocks by night. However, history proves otherwise. There is historical evidence that unblemished lambs for the Temple sacrifices were kept in the fields near Bethlehem during the winter months. With that said, it is impossible to prove whether or not Jesus was born on Dec. 25. And, ultimately, it does not matter.
In truth, we simply don’t know the exact date of Christ’s birth. In fact, we’re not even sure of the year in which He was born. Scholars believe it was somewhere between 6 B.C. and 2 B.C. One thing is clear: if God felt it was important for us to know the exact date, He would have told us in His Word. The Gospel of Luke gives very specific details about the event, down to what the baby was wearing – “swaddling clothes” — and where he slept — “in a manger” (Luke 2:12). These details are important because they attest to His nature and character, meek and lowly. But the exact date of His birth has no significance whatsoever, which may be why God chose not to mention it.
What is of the utmost importance is that He was born, He came into the world to atone for our sins, He was resurrected to eternal life, and He is alive today. This ought to be the basis for our celebration, as we are told in the Old Testament in such passages as Zechariah 2:10 (KJV), “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion: for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the Lord.” Further, the angel that announced the birth to the shepherds brought “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” (Luke 2:10, KJV). Surely, here is the cause for celebration every day, not just once a year.
Ed Jones pastors Fellowship at the Ranch Church at Robson Ranch. This nondenominational church meets at the Robson Clubhouse on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m. For information, visit Fellowship’s website www.fellowshipattheranchchurch.com.