Even though Christmas Day is here and gone, folks, we're still, nevertheless, in the middle of the Yule season.
Even though Christmas Day is here and gone, folks, we're still, nevertheless, in the middle of the Yule season. As a result, this column is not being published late. I merely pushed it back a couple of weeks in order to print the two Christmas columns for the kids in a more timely fashion.
Christmas is a wonderful time of the year. It began as a religious holiday celebration and it still is. Today, however, many try turning it primarily into a secular holiday. Why? Beats me. No one has ever given me a satisfactory answer that would justify those actions. To me, Christmas is a religious holiday first. It always has been. Only then is it secular.
Almost everyone knows why Christians celebrate Christmas. Tradition holds that it's the birthday of the Christ Child. We're taught He was born while shepherds watched their flocks at night. But tradition is not always correct and many historians agree. There's never been any doubt He was born. Rather, they indicate, He may not have been born on this day. Shepherds, they say, would never have been out watching their sheep in December.
The reason shepherds watched their sheep at night, especially their new born lambs, was to protect them from predators. But lambs, you see, are normally born in the spring, and not at the beginning of winter. More likely, Jesus was born in the spring, those historians claim, when shepherds did watch over their sheep at night. Interestingly, no one really knows the exact date.
We're also taught that Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem. We recognize Dec. 25 as His birthday because the early church chose it to bring non-believers into the fold. It was during this time, the winter solstice, when they celebrated their harvest, and the combination of the two tributes eventually turned into the Christmas celebration.
The Orthodox celebrate the holy feast of Christmas after the new year on Jan. 6. To many main line Christians this is the feast of the Epiphany and, as such, officially ends the Christmas season. I've also read that some countries in Asia have celebrated it on Dec. 6, which is traditionally the feast day of St. Nicholas. And just about everyone knows who St. Nicholas was … the bishop of Myra in Turkey who gave gifts of money to needy folks during trying times.
The gospel of St. Matthew places the birth of Jesus during the reign of King Herod the Great who dies in 4 BC. And since Herod ordered the massacre of 2-year-olds, that means Jesus would have had to been born at the latest in the year 6 BC. However, the Gospel of St. Luke ties it in with a census taken in 6 AD when "Quirinius was governor of Syria." Most modern historians consider Luke's account is mistaken, since he also seems to link the birth with the reign of Herod the Great, who had already died a decade earlier.
Nevertheless, those who place the day of His birth in the spring put it closer to that of the Easter celebration. This is just my guess, but perhaps that's why it's celebrated in the winter, to keep it farther apart from Easter.
Although Luke tells us it was during the census when Quirinius was governor of Syria, there is no record of any census of this nature ever have been taken during those years. The Roman historian Josephus wrote a few sentences about the crucifixion, but never covered the birth. What we do have of the four Gospel writers are that of Luke and Matthew, both some 80 years later. In chapter 2, verse 7 of the New Testament – the only Gentile in an all Jewish cast of new testament gospel scribes – Luke writes, "And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them at the inn."
The noted theologian Emil Schürer, however, in his epic study of 1886, "Geschichte des judischen Volks im Zeitalter Jesu Christi" (A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ), heavily criticized the traditional view of the birth of Jesus. He issued five points, he claimed, that showed the Luke account could not be historically correct.
First, Schürer wrote that nothing is known in history of a general census by Augustus. Secondly, in a Roman census Joseph would not have had to travel to Bethlehem and Mary would not have had to travel at all. Third, no Roman census would have been made in Judea during the reign of Herod. Fourth, The Jewish historian for the Romans, Josephus, records no such census, and it would have been a notable innovation, and fifth, Quirinius was not governor of Syria until long after the reign of Herod.
Most modern scholars explain this disparity as an error on the part of Luke. They conclude he was more concerned with creating a symbolic narrative than he was a historical account. They add he was either unaware of, or indifferent to, any chronological difficulty.
In 1977 an American scholar named Raymond E. Brown wrote, "The Birth of the Messiah." In it he presented a study of the infancy narratives of Jesus. Despite the highly structured efforts by scholars to defend Luke's account, Brown concluded this information as being doubtful on almost every score.
Other scholars such as W. D. Davies and E. P. Sanders assign this to simple error. They claim that on many points, especially about Jesus' early life, the evangelists were ignorant; They simply did not know and – guided by rumor, hope or supposition – did the best they could. After all, the Gospels of both Matthew and Luke were written 80 years after the birth of Jesus. John's was written about 90 AD. Only Mark's was the earliest, written about 70 AD and he says nothing about the birth of Jesus. Some suggest that Luke's narrative was a creation designed to connect Jesus with the house of David.
As for me, from all I've ever read I'd have to agree with some of what is said, but not all. I tend to agree they have the wrong date, but since we don't really know the right date, why bother with change? The spirit of Christmas shouldn't be dependent on one particular day. If it is, then those affected by a wrong date have never really caught onto the Christmas spirit, and that's too bad. I feel sorry for them because once you've experienced it, you'll want to revisit it each year, time after time, regardless of how old you are or what season, month, date or day it is.
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