However, as the early church became more organized and developed into what became the Catholic Church, church leaders looked for ways to turn people toward Christian ways and away from pagan ways. However, this had both positive and negative consequences. The positive was that it gave a positive slant to a pagan holiday and allowed traditions to become more Christianized. However, the negative is that this was an attempt to force people to accept Christianity by changing their traditions rather than reaching the hearts of people to change their internal focus which would then affect their outward actions. So what resulted was a blend of Christianity and pagan customs into the
The first claim that Christ’s birthday was on December 25th seems to have occurred in 221 AD. Yet, there was still no real celebration. The first recorded celebration of December 25th as Christ’s birthday was in the Calendar of Filocalus in 354 AD. Furius Dionysius Filocalus was the leading scribe or calligrapher during this period – just after the reign of Constantine. Another date celebrated by some was January 6th called Epiphany, meaning the manifestation of God to man. Eastern orthodox Christians said this was proven at his baptism and western Christians said this was proven at the visit of the Magi. The time between December 25th and January 6th became known as the 12 days of Christmas.
Although church officials knew that Jesus was not born in winter, why did they choose December 25th as the day to celebrate Christ’s birth? Well, most cultures had a pagan celebration of the winter solstice. The early celebrations, like Saturnalia, also had human sacrifice, licentious rites, drunkenness, and all sorts of abbreviate behavior. Therefore, it is not far reaching to understand why the church officials wanted to turn this type of celebration around. However, as usual, many of the pagan rituals became part of the Christian celebration, although they usually became tamer and over time lost their original intent and meaning.
sometime later but even at this stage even though there was no cohabitation they were considered legally married and a formal divorce was necessary to break the marriage covenant. Gabriel told Mary that she would bear a son with the help of the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:35) and her son would be the Messiah, should call him Jesus, and he would be equal in state to God, will one day sit on the throne of David (Lk 1:30-33), and will save his people from their sins (Mt 1:21). Jesus being equal with God is a fulfillment of many Old Testament scriptures (2Sa 7:8-16; 1Ki 2:24-25; Ps 2:1-12; Ps 89:14, 19-29, 35-37; Ps 110:1-7; Ps 132:11-12; Is 9:6-7; Is 11:1-5, 10; Jr 23:5-6). Isaiah had prophesied that the Messiah would be born to a virgin (Mt 1:23; Is 7:14). In Isaiah, the word “almah” which is the more precise and accurate Hebrew word for virgin and Matthew uses the Greek word “parthenos” which is always interpreted “virgin.” Although this did fulfill prophecy and people were expectant of a coming true Messiah, having a child without a man would seem physically impossible and so God appeared to Joseph in a dream to let him know of Mary’s truthfulness (Mt 1:18-25). Because Christ had no human father, he became the word of God to mankind and was equal to God (Jn 1:1). Joseph therefore claimed the pregnancy as his own, initiated cohabitation, but did not have intercourse with Mary until after Jesus’ birth (Mt 1:24-25).
Rick Larson in his DVD Star of Bethlehem gives compelling evidence to the date of Christ’s conception. At the time of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, in September of 3 BC, the planet Jupiter (known as the king planet) made a very close conjunction with the star Regulus (known as the king star), and over the next couple of months Jupiter actually made three conjunctions with Regulus. Not only that, but this occurred in the constellation of Leo which is the constellation representing a lion, both a symbol of Judah and of royalty as well as of the coming conquering Messiah; it would fulfill the prophecy of Isaac to Judah (Gn 49:9) as these three conjunctions would be occurring around the feet of Leo within this constellation. In addition, the constellation Virgo at the time of Rosh Hashanah in 3 BC would occur during the daytime, i.e., clothed in the sun, as described in Revelation, with the new moon at her feet (Rv 12:1-5). Rosh Hashanah was also known as the Feast of Trumpets (Lv 23:24-25) which was a memorial feast of the blowing of trumpets to ask God to remember His covenant with Israel. Therefore, the conception of the Messiah would indeed represent God remembering His people after the 400 years of prophetic silence.
Therefore, if conception was in September of 3 BC, then Christ’s birth would occur around 9 months later: June 2 BC. There are two other events that also help us to see that this is likely the date of Christ’s birth. Again, the stars tell the story. After the triple conjunction of Jupiter with Regulus, Jupiter continued its journey for a rendezvous with Venus, the Mother planet. With the naked eye, they would appear as one star – one very bright star. This would have occurred in June 2 BC. This was also around the time of Shavuot which has been the festival around different paradigm shifts. It was this time that God made the covenant with Israel at Mt. Sinai (Ex 19) and the time the Holy Spirit was given to the first Christians (Ac 2) – both paradigm shifts of how God intervened with His relationship to mankind. Christ’s birth would certainly fit into this category as well.
Next time we will look further at how the star played a role in Christ’s birth and the place of Christ’s birth.
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