Robbing Christmas – That phrase has many layers, but since today is the first day of Hanukkah, let’s start there.
If we neglect to include the significance of Hanukkah in our celebrations, then we are robbing ourselves and our families of some of the most beautiful aspects of Christmas.
Jesus wasn’t born in late December, but it’s perfectly fitting to celebrate Him then for two very crucial reasons:
His conception/incarnation was most likely during Hanukkah in early December. God’s journey from His Throne of glory in Heaven to the womb of Mary reveals one of His most beautiful titles: Immanuel – God With Us!
The Magi followed the star until they found Him and worshipped Him 15 months after His birth; the Magi arrived during Hanukkah in late December. Is there a better mandate to celebrate Jesus at Christmas than following in the footsteps of the Magi?
Let’s take a moment to unpack some of those more personal layers now. We have all been robbed of Christmas through the years in some way. It happens even when we don’t realize it because “the wound” or robbery causing the pain doesn’t always happen near Christmas.
Often, it’s a hurt that won’t heal, the loss of someone we love, a change of location that causes us to be separated from friends or family, or maybe a betrayal. And then Christmas arrives; our hearts begin to embrace it, but there’s just something not quite right, and try as we might, there’s nothing we can do to fix what’s wrong, even when we try year after year. But it’s not the “something” that is missing, it’s the “someone” we lost that is missing. But that can be hard to recognize.
We hyper-focus on the traditions that used to make Christmas special, but things just get worse. We start blaming others for the breakdown; but in truth, we still can’t figure out what’s wrong or why. And often, deep inside, we start to blame God for the breakdown.
But of course, we can’t get mad at God – it’s Christmas – so we blame all the people who are commercializing this holiest of times. But it’s not the “something” that is wrong, is it? It’s the “someone” we lost that’s the real issue. But that can be nearly impossible to comprehend.
So how can we stop this robbery? Actually, the angel in that field in Bethlehem Ephrathah told us the answer, “I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” Do you see the promise? “Great joy”, not just for a few whose lives have gone well and who haven’t suffered terrible losses. No, the promise is “Great joy” for “all people”. And yes, that means you too. The Spirit of Christmas hasn’t changed in 2,000 years. It’s the Spirit of Joy, great joy!
If you don’t experience inexpressible joy when this season arrives, it’s because a thief has been robbing your Christmases. And you have proven over time that you can’t stop him from stealing, but there is someone who can. “Therefore Yehovah himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel [God with us].”
God became incarnate inside the womb of a teenage girl over 2,000 years ago, and He can become incarnate inside you right now – inside the hurt – inside the sadness – inside the tears and agony. He can end the robbery.
The first Hanukkah in 164 BC was a celebration of a great victory over an enemy that was bigger, stronger, and seemingly unbeatable. This enemy had robbed and killed and tormented the Israelites for years on end.
Still, even after their miraculous victory, they could have never imagined that 160 years later, on the very days of their celebration, God would leave His throne to become a tiny embryo inside a young girl, so that He could grow into a man and suffer the most horrible death in order to defeat sin and death forever for everyone. For you!
It’s Hanukkah again. Right now. Immanuel has come to fulfill every promise beginning with this one: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). He has come to give you “life” – His life. Not at a distance, but “with you”, so that He can heal the deepest wounds.
I hope that He’s already living inside you, giving you eternal life. If not, then open up and let Him in. Either way, that’s just the beginning. He promised more – He promised “fullness”. He promised the Spirit of Joy. This Christmas, let Him into the places you have been hurt the worst. Call out that name, “Immanuel”, God with you. Let Him fill the unfillable voids.
I pray that you have a very merry Christmas and an especially happy Hanukkah!
1. Hanukkah Is Jesus
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! Both are for Christians.
Hanukkah began at sundown last night, so today is the first day of Hanukkah.
It’s an 8-day feast, so it will end at nightfall next Monday, the 26th.
What is Hanukkah about?
Hanukkah means dedication or consecration [not of ourselves – it’s not personal but the dedication or consecration of the temple or altar].
For the Jews, Hanukkah is a war story about a miracle of deliverance from their enemy and the rededication of the temple and altar that followed.
For Christians, Hanukkah is “the rest of the story” about the birth of Jesus.
Hanukkah is not a Biblical feast but an important one for Jews and Christians alike.
If you think you know what it’s about, or you have celebrated it with your family through the years – you are probably caught up in the Rabbinic Jewish tradition rather than the historical event.
When we are following rabbinic tradition, then we’re not following scripture. Rabbinic tradition will never lead you to glorify or celebrate Jesus. They are the Pharisees who killed Jesus.
Why should Hanukkah matter to Christians? When celebrated together, Hanukkah and Christmas provide an often-missed revelation of the incarnation of Jesus.
It’s a glimpse of God’s journey from His Throne of glory in Heaven to the womb of a young Jewish girl living among exiles in a village in Nazareth.
His birth will always be “good news of great joy” – that’s what the Bible tells us.
But it also tells us something miraculous happened before His birth –
His conception/incarnation [In 4 BC Hanukkah was December 14th – 21st]
The Magi Celebrated at Christmas – So Should We
And the Bible tells us something exciting happened after His birth – the arrival of the Magi, who celebrated his birth 15 months after the fact when they arrived on December 25th – during Hanukkah. [In 2 BC Hanukkah was December 22nd – 29th]
Both biblical events – His conception/incarnation and the Magi’s arrival – happened during Hanukkah. As it happens, Christmas and Hanukkah occur together this week – just like 2,000 years ago.
The shepherds would have worshipped Him at His birth in the Fall. Still, if the Magi celebrated Him 15 months later during Hanukkah (around December 25th) then that is essentially a biblical mandate to celebrate Him both times. It’s Christmas – it’s a great time to celebrate His birth!
December 25th Had Some Bad Connotations & Traditions
But the Magi’s visit on December 25th isn’t why the church has celebrated His birth on that date. Those traditions come from pagan roots. And December 25th was extremely popular in many pagan religions.
The Greeks celebrated a festival at the end of December in honor of Dionysus, the god of wine. In ancient Persia, Mithra, the Persian god of light, was said to be born out of a rock on December 25.
Mithraism became Rome’s official religion in 274 AD, and Emperor Constantine adhered to Mithraism up to the time of his possible conversion to Christianity in the fourth century AD. The first time December 25 was celebrated as commemorating the birth of Jesus was sometime in the fourth century.
The Romans also celebrated Saturnalia, held in honor of Saturn, the god of time. It was observed around the winter solstice – and declared by law to be December 25.
December 25th was established by the Roman Catholic church around 360 AD when they held a special mass to honor Christ, while the pagan world had feasts to celebrate the birth of their pagan gods.
As the church grew in power and Roman deities faded away, the church kept the day, eventually becoming known as “Christ-Mass.”
“Mass” has two meanings: Originally, it meant the victim of a sacrifice – Death.
Eventually, it meant to be sent on a mission. The mission of Jesus was His death.
So, it’s wonderfully ironic that celebrating the birth of Jesus on “Christ-mas” helps us also see His death on the cross.
While the birth of Jesus doesn’t happen at Christmas – lots of His story does take place then. We have scriptures and signs in the heavens which connect to scriptures that I believe provide significant evidence of His birth in the Fall of 3 BC.
Which places His conception/incarnation in December of 4 BC during Hanukkah – and the arrival of the Magi in December of 2 BC also during Hanukkah.
What happened in the spiritual at creation when God said, “let there be light,” happened in the flesh when He took His glory off to put on flesh –
“In the beginning was the Word…In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind…The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.” John 1
He took His glory off to put on flesh –
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1
And He didn’t just become flesh – He became a baby – and not just a baby – He became an embryo – to be formed in the womb of a teenage girl.
When He [was conceived/became incarnate], we met Emanuel – God with us!
That’s what Hanukkah is to me – and every thought of it blows me away!
Next, I’ll dig into the scriptures, check out the stars, and see why there is literally no Christmas without Hanukkah.
2. Hanukkah Is History – The Miraculous Oil Is Not
The Hanukkah Story
The Greek ruler, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, reigned over the Syrian kingdom from 175 to 164 BC. He declared that every faith, other than Hellenistic Greek worship of idols, was forbidden.
He declared the Hebrew Bible, the Sabbath, the worship of Yehovah – the God of Israel, and circumcision all illegal. The penalty was severe. If the Jewish people were caught possessing their biblical text or observing any of these traditions, they would be killed.
But God raised up a remnant that remained devoted to Him. This remnant was the Maccabee family – Mattathias (a Jewish priest) and his five sons—along with a group of Jewish fighters who shared the family’s devotion to Yehovah.
Antiochus plundered the Jewish Temple, set up an idol, and mocked the nation of Israel by offering a pig’s sacrifice on the altar to Zeus, thereby desecrating the Temple. The Jewish Temple became a pagan temple.
Though the Maccabees were vastly outnumbered and overpowered, they cried out to God and, against all odds, defeated the mighty Syrian army in many battles. Finally, after the war for Jerusalem was won, they rose up and cleansed the desecrated Temple.
The Maccabees liberated the Temple, cleared the Temple of idols, tore down the defiled altar, and on the third anniversary of its defilement, dedicated and consecrated a new one (Hanukkah means dedication), and relit the Temple’s Menorah.
And this is where the fiction began. As “the story and traditions” go, they lit the Temple’s menorah, and they only had enough oil to burn for a single day, but God miraculously multiplied the oil, which was enough to keep the menorah lit for eight days.
So, let’s separate truth from fiction. The battle, victory, and cleansing of the temple were all factual history and are described in 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees, written shortly after the events took place. Both books describe the events in detail, but neither says a word about the miracle of the oil.
It’s not mentioned in a single source that pre-dates the Destruction of the Temple. The oil story is just that, a story invented after the Temple was destroyed.
What the Maccabees did write was why the Festival was created. They had failed to observe Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) while they were fighting the Greeks, so as soon as they liberated the Temple, they referred back to the rule in Numbers 9, which says if someone fails to take part in the Passover sacrifice in the first month, they can observe a Second Passover in the Second Month.
So, they declared a Second Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) as they cleansed the Tabernacle – and made it a law that their descendants would celebrate this victory and freedom with an 8-day celebration each year – a second Feast of Tabernacles for the restored Temple.
The rabbis of the Talmud identified only two holidays on which a Jew is required, if necessary, to sell his own clothing to observe them properly – Passover and Hanukkah.
Every year since 164 BC, the Jews celebrated the cleansing of the temple by the Maccabees with this festival called Hanukkah, “The Festival of Lamps or Lights.”
But there was never any mention of any “miraculous oil”. The first time this miracle is ever mentioned is in the Babylonian Talmud (Sabbath 21b) between 200 and 500 AD, hundreds of years after the events. The reason for the fiction seems pretty straightforward.
After the Romans destroyed the temple and the altar in 70 AD, it appears that the rabbis invented the oil miracle to give new significance to this Hanukkah Festival, which was all about the victory over the Greeks and the dedication of the Temple altar back in 165 BC.
How could this “miraculous oil” fiction become the festival’s primary focus? Lighting the Menorah was a huge part of rededicating the Temple – so the focus was already on the menorah because it was a second Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles).
I Am The Light Of The World
During Sukkot, gigantic candelabras stood within the court of the women in the Temple. Four young men bearing 10-gallon pitchers of oil would climb ladders to fill the four golden bowls on each candelabra. And then the oil in those bowls was ignited.
The Temple was on a hill above the rest of the city, so the glow was a sight for the entire city to see. The light reminded the people of how God’s Shekinah glory had once filled His Temple.
That glory had descended upon Mount Sinai at the giving of the law. It had filled the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and filled Solomon’s Temple at its dedication. Still, God removed His glory from Solomon’s Temple due to Israel’s relentless sin – and it never returned.
The eventual result was the destruction of the glory-less Temple by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Even when Herod constructed the Second Temple, the glory never returned or rested on the temple again. Jesus would call it “My Father’s House”, but the Shekinah glory would only return when the Holy Spirit rested on Jesus as He came and went.
When Jesus arrived at Sukkot 2,000 years ago, on the 8th day of the Feast, He declared to all there, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
As Jesus left the Temple for the Mount of Olives, retracing the steps of the departure of the glory in Ezekiel’s day, it was no longer His Father’s house. His words were telling, “Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yehovah.’”
At His crucifixion, the temple was left desolate and unprotected once again. The glory would fall on the disciples and others at that same Pentecost, but the glory did not return to the temple. The eventual result was the Roman destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.
Later in John 10:22, we see Jesus attending Hanukkah, “It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication.”
The only miraculous oil or light in the Temple was Jesus. Hanukkah was always about something very different – His glory entering a desecrated temple and bringing light into darkness. Specifically, it was a shadow and type of God leaving heaven’s glory and entering a young girl’s dark womb to bring light into our sin-filled darkness. Isaiah 60:1 sums it up well, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of Yehovah has risen upon you.”
3. They Waited 540 Years to Return
While the birth of Jesus doesn’t happen at Christmas – lots of His story does take place then. There are many opinions as to when Jesus was born. We have scriptures and signs in the heavens which connect to scriptures that I believe provide significant evidence to the Fall of 3 BC – which places his conception/incarnation in December of 4 BC – and the magi’s arrival in December of 2 BC.
How can we know when these things happened? We’ll dig into the scriptures, check out the stars, and see why there is literally no Christmas without Hanukkah.
Let’s start with the stars. When we meet the Magi from Babylon, they are traveling to visit Christ, and they use prophetic scriptures, so we can assume Daniel had greatly influenced them, and less by the other Magi and astrologers of Babylon and were probably even from the tribe of Judah.
The prophecies of Daniel included encounters with Gabriel and detailed visions of the life and death of the Messiah. They would have learned from Daniel the precise time the Messiah was to arrive and that He would be cut off or crucified. Other prophecies would have led them to study the stars for more details. “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” (Numbers 24:17).
There is even a tradition throughout the Middle East that Daniel provided funds for the Magi and for gifts for them to carry to the Messiah upon his birth.
What star did the Magi likely see to recognize Jesus was to be born and when?
Let’s look at the “when” and eliminate any years when Jesus was unlikely to be born.
There was an interesting two-planet conjunction of Jupiter with Saturn in 7 BC and a three-planet conjunction of Jupiter with Saturn with Mars in early 6 BC. Still, the planets were too far away from one another both years to be considered a “single star.”
As for 5 BC and 4 BC, nothing of astronomical importance would have caused anyone to journey to Jerusalem. While nothing was happening in the skies in 4 BC, a lot was happening on earth.
Let’s meet Zachariah
Luke 1 reveals several significant insights about when Jesus was conceived and born. “There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zachariah, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth….
So it was that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.”
Here’s why this verse is a huge clue to the “when” Jesus was born: 1,000 earlier, King David divided the descendants of the sons of Eleazar and Ithamar, the two sons of Aaron, into 24 divisions (or courses) and set up a schedule for the priests (Kohanim) to service the Temple in an orderly manner throughout the year. Each division came to Jerusalem and served as priests during the three major feasts Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.
The rest of the year, the divisions took turns serving for one week, from Sabbath to Sabbath, once every six months, always in the same order. The rotation began at the conclusion of Passover in March or April, depending on leap years.
The division of Abijah was the “eighth” division, so their first week of service in 4 BC was from May 19 to May 26, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Zachariah in the Temple and foretold the conception and birth of a son to be called John (whom we know as the Baptist).
Because of his unbelief, he was struck dumb, which immediately disqualified him from his priestly duties (Leviticus 21). So, he would have left for home. Sometime between May 26 and June 1, Elizabeth would have conceived John. It was the Summer of 4 BC.
Luke 1 continues, “When his time of service was ended, he went to his home. After those days, his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months, she remained in seclusion.”
I told you priests serve twice a year, so there is another possibility for John’s conception: Zechariah’s second service term in the second half of the year (December).
However, this is very unlikely for several reasons. It would have placed the birth of John near the Fall Feasts and Jesus’ birth six months later, around Passover.
Jesus could not have been born during one of the three Pilgrim Feasts: Passover/Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, or Tabernacles. These were times when all Jewish men in Israel were required by the Law to be in Jerusalem.
So, the Romans would not have selected any of the three primary festival seasons for a census to increase compliance by the Jews. Evidence places the Roman census from August to October – in the dryer season – and we know Joseph was taking his family to Bethlehem for the census when Jesus was born. Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem, not to Jerusalem, at the time of His birth!
Luke 1 again: “In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy (It’s now Winter), God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David…the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.
You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call Him Jesus [Yeshua]. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of his father David, and He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; His kingdom will never end.”
So, we know Elizabeth was in her sixth month when Gabriel visited Mary, meaning the encounter between Gabriel, Mary, and the Holy Spirit (the conception/incarnation of Jesus) would have occurred in December of 4 BC, probably during the Festival of Lights – Hanukkah.
John the Baptist would be born six months before Jesus’ birth. This would place John’s birth nine months later, in 3 BC, during Passover in the Spring (near March 10, 3 BC).
And if you have ever celebrated Passover, you know there is a special place set for Elijah, who was promised to come and prepare the way for the Messiah. So, at Passover seders, the door is open to look for him and invite him. Jesus told us that Elijah had already come and that it was his cousin, John the Baptist. And Christian history places John’s birth at Passover.
This means Jesus was born six months later, in September, during the Fall Feasts. But that’s just where one scripture leads us. There’s more, and there are stars.
The Seed Zera Arrives
After two uneventful years in the night skies, suddenly, in 3 BC and 2 BC, the whole heavens burst forth with signs and wonders.
The King planet Gad and the King star Regulus had three conjunctions.
In August of 3 BC, Mary was eight months pregnant, and if she had looked up that August night, she would have seen what the Magi observed.
In August of 3 BC, when Gad the King planet (also called Jupiter by that time) became visible above the eastern horizon as a morning star, it was seen by the Magi ‘in the rising.’
The bright new star appeared in the head of Comah (The baby in the Virgin’s lap).
Nine days later, on August 12 of 3 BC, Gad came into conjunction with Meni (also called Venus by that time) as the morning star in the constellation of Ariel The Lion (the sign of Judah). The Virgin and Lion constellations are next to each other.
The bright star was so impressive to watch each night that Caesar Augustus assumed it was an ode to him and put an image of the star on a coin beside his own image.
To the Magi, who were likely descendants of the Magi trained by Daniel in Babylon hundreds of years before, the Lion was the sign of Judah; Meni was motherhood; Gad was the King Planet, and Regulus symbolized royalty.
As these came together to form the brightest star anyone had ever seen, it was a clear and nightly repeated message that a grand king was about to be born in Israel. Since the Magi were likely among the Israelites who stayed and made a life in Babylon even after Cyrus set them free to return, they had hung on Daniel’s prophecies and now must travel to pay homage to their new king.
While Jesus would be born one month later, the brightest star ever would lead the Magi for fifteen months until they arrived in Bethlehem.
“…the star they had seen in the East went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.” Matthew 2:9
As the Magi arrived in Israel in December of 2 BC, it was the Feast of Hanukkah, and the brightest star ever appeared to stop and sit over the village of Bethlehem.
This is a genuine phenomenon. Planets are often called wandering stars because of their elliptical movement, but sometimes seem to be standing when compared to the backdrop of the stars (it’s called retrogression).
Gad began its normal retrogression, over Bethlehem, on December 25th, just before dawn.
It was the third day of Hanukkah (when gifts were exchanged). So, the Magi would have given their gifts to Jesus on that day.
The planet stopped while in the middle of the constellation of Bethulah the Virgin – middle meaning the abdomen, where a woman carries a child during pregnancy. And as the fifteen-month journey of the Magi came to a stunning end, they knelt before their new King and delivered their precious gifts right on time.
Herod probably had no idea that these Magi were Jews or that they were probably from the tribe of Judah and so were likely related to Jesus. When they got to Bethlehem, they worshiped Jesus. They saw more than just a king. They recognized the Messiah they had heard about from the time of Daniel.
Both the conception/incarnation of Jesus in 4 BC and the visit of the Magi in 2 BC occurred during the celebration of Hanukkah on the Jewish calendar.
5. A SIGN in Heaven
We are also given a bonus confirmation of this activity in Revelation 12:
“A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun,
with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth…She gave birth to a Son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to His throne.”
Since the Son will rule all the nations with an iron scepter, we know it’s Jesus, and the mother is then Mary. This event with the sun, moon, and crown never happened on earth, but it did in the heavens.
Since we know that verse is speaking of the birth of Jesus – If we can find a time when the sun, moon, planets, and critical stars are in the positions mentioned in that verse, then it should tell up when He was born.
There are twelve signs of the Zodiac, so as the earth revolves around the sun, each sign is “clothed with the sun” for one-twelfth of the year or one month.
The Virgin constellation is the only “sign of a woman” that is located within the normal paths of the Sun and Moon along the ecliptic as they cross the heavens.
We know the great sign in heaven was speaking about Jesus being born to Mary. We can determine the month because He would have to be born when Bethulah the Virgin was clothed with the sun, and that happens only once every year – around September.
Specifically, in the year 3 BC, the position of the Sun, as described in Revelation 12
could only have occurred from August 27 through September 15.
Meanwhile, the Moon crosses the Virgin constellation every day and is under her feet each evening.
In 3 B.C., the Sun and Moon were in the proper positions only once, September 11th, beginning at 6:15 pm and lasting until 7:45 pm. As the New Moon appeared, it signaled the beginning of a new lunar month on Tishri 1.
So, according to the Revelation 12 signs, Jesus was born between sunset and moonset on September 11th, 3 B.C. On Rosh Hashanah (the Feast of Trumpets).
Interestingly, “the enthronement Psalms,” in which Yahweh reigns (47, 93, 96-99), were a part of the liturgy of the ancient synagogues on September 11th.
Adam and Eve were created on Rosh Hashanah. It makes sense that Jesus, the second Adam, who was the Creator, would also be born.
It was the day God re-created the world: “By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry”. Genesis 8:13
On a side note – some people have argued that Jesus was born two weeks later, during the Feast of Tabernacles, while others have proposed Passover. Both the Feast of Tabernacles and Passover occur in the middle of lunar months when the moon is full; therefore, there can be no new moon, as required by Revelation 12.
Jesus was 30 years old at the time of His baptism. Luke tied this event to the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar (which was in 27-28 AD). This would then place the birth of Christ in 3 BC.
As a bonus point from history: The Caesars – 3 BC and 2 BC was a period for celebrating the glory of Rome. 2 BC was the 750th year of the founding of Rome.
Caesar Augustus celebrated his 25th year as Emperor in 2 BC, counted from the time he was proclaimed “Augustus” in 27 BC.
On February 5th of 2 BC Augustus was awarded his most prestigious title: Pater Patriae (Father of the Country). This award confirms the chronology of Jesus’ birth because a decree went out from Augustus that the entire Roman people were required to register their oath of allegiance to him in the year prior to the award, which was 3 BC.
What about Historians?
Many modern theologians insist that the birth of Jesus occurred between 7 BC and 4 BC. But early Christians who wrote in the late 100’s or early 200’s all supported a 3 BC to 2 BC birthdate.
Why is there no Year 0?
With a numbering system literally called BC (“Before Christ”) and AD (Anno Domini – “The Year of Our Lord”), we naturally think Jesus would have a birth date of the Year Zero, with years that followed numbered from his birth.
But there is no Year Zero in either the Julian or Gregorian Calendars. The sequence of years before Christ ends at 1 BC, and the AD series picks up the next year with AD 1.
When Dionysius Exiguus developed the Christian calendar, a 6th-century monk, the years were renumbered, starting with the birth of Jesus as Year 1, which caused a mathematical error of three years.
6. The Manger
“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
We know they end up in the right place, but How did the shepherds find Jesus with only three vague clues: A Newborn Baby – Swaddling Cloths – and a Manger
A typical home at that time, had a dug-out area below the house where they kept the animals. To find a specific place, you would need some directions.
How did the shepherds find Jesus with such odd vague directions?
The Hebrew was, “You will find the Babe wrapped in “swaddling cloths,” lying in The Manger.” English translators chose to make it “A Manger.”
The shepherds of Bethlehem were in charge of raising sheep for the temple sacrifices.
Every lamb born there made its way to Jerusalem to be sacrificed.
According to the laws governing sacrifice, the sheep that were used for the offerings had to be:
- a one-year-old male sheep that had been outside for 365 days (one-year)
- the male sheep were offered as burnt offerings…the females as peace offerings.
Since these sheep needed to remain outside, the shepherds were also outside.
“That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep.”
The hills of Bethlehem were home to the thousands of lambs sacrificed in the Temple.
So, where in Bethlehem? Just northeast of the shepherd’s fields is the ruins of ancient Bethlehem Ephrathah, near a place called Migdal Eder – near the tomb of Rachel. Genesis 35 and 48 tell us that Rachel was buried at “Ephrathah, which is Bethlehem.”
Micah 4:8 “And you, O Tower of the Flock (in Hebrew, Migdal Eder [mig-dale e-dar]), the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, unto you shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem.” Meaning a king would be born at Migdal Eder to a girl from the line of David.
As a boy from Bethlehem Ephrathah, King David would have tended sheep in these very hills – sheep destined for the daily offerings or the feasts. These fields were the ancestral lands of his family.
The Talmud tells us that when David was king, he set apart these lands specifically for raising the Passover lambs. These shepherds knew exactly where in Bethlehem the Messiah would be born.
David’s history reaches back to the Book of Ruth, which tells the story of Boaz from Bethlehem Ephrathah, who became the Kinsman Redeemer of Ruth of Moab. Their son was Jesse, the father of David.
At the base of the Migdal Eder watchtower was a special birthing room called The Manger, for birthing these very special sacrificial lambs. The Angels’ declaration to the Bethlehem Shepherds could only mean “The Manger” at the base of the Tower of the Flock.
The shepherds were trained as children on what was required for each sheep to be worthy of sacrifice. The sheep were brought to the watchtower from the fields during lambing season. Being themselves under special rabbinical care, these priests would strictly maintain a ceremonially clean birthing place.
They would wrap the newborn lambs in Swaddling Cloths to prevent them from thrashing about and harming themselves. It was their job to ensure the animals weren’t damaged or blemished. After the lambs had calmed down, they could be inspected to ensure they were without spots or blemishes.
Being “wrapped in swaddling clothes” would only be a significant clue if the angels were referring to a Passover Lamb.
Newborn babies had been wrapped in “swaddling cloths” long before the time of Jesus; it was common, so it was not a good clue unless it was “the cloths” used by the Shepherd Priests.
These shepherds weren’t random. The angels notified them because it was their calling to certify Passover lambs at birth.
Let’s look at scripture with a more precise translation: “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Miriam, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in the manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” Luke 2:4-7
Notice it says, “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born.” Not “as they arrived,” as if it was an emergency stop. Joseph and Miriam were both of the line of David. They returned to Bethlehem Ephrathah because they had family there. Boaz owned a threshing floor in Bethlehem Ephrathah, which was handed down to succeeding generations within the lineage of David by right of inheritance. They were already at the Tower of the Flock in Bethlehem Ephrathah. They may have already been staying at Boaz’s homestead.
Another phrase we hear in the story also causes some problems. The phrase translated as “No Room for them in the inn” causes confusion.
“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in the manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Was there really No Room? Is there any good reason a pregnant Jewish woman couldn’t stay in their family home during a High Feast Day? According to the Torah, when a woman had an issue of blood for any reason, like pregnancy, she was ritually unclean for that time and seven days after.
“Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean….Anyone who touches anything she sits on will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening…A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days….”
So, it would have been all right for them to arrive and stay at the family house until Rosh Hashanah. But then it was time to go. They would have defiled all of the people in the household by giving birth in the house. (Leviticus 15:19-23).
So “no room” actually means something very different. The Jews are very family oriented – they all live together. That story, translated that way, would be offensive anywhere. Would her family, who loved her, send her to give birth in a filthy stable of animals?
Prophecies about the Messiah told them He “would be revealed from Migdal Eder.” Perhaps it was their plan all along – it was literally a birthing room. It was on their family property and would have allowed them to give birth privately without making anyone unclean.
Even today, this field has more shepherd towers and caves remains than anywhere else in Israel. Interestingly, a stone manger was found in one of the caves in this Tower of the Flock site back in the 1930’s. A Jewish archeologist removed it and brought it to the US for fear that it would be destroyed.