When Was Jesus Born?

Every festive season I’m asked the same question “was Jesus really born on the 25th December?” There seems to be much debate on this subject, even among devout Christians. Some are convinced that the day has it’s origin in paganism celebrating sol invictus the “unconquering sun”, which was associated with the winter solstice.

There is no historical substance to Christmas originating from pagan or heathen festivals. The idea of pagan roots goes back to two scholars from the 17th and 18th centuries, Paul Ernst Jablonski, a German Protestant, and Dom Jen Hardouin a Benedict monk, who tried to show that Catholicism adopted pagan festivals to influence the masses. A simple Google search will open a Pandora’s box of paradoxical questions and answers. The choice of the 25th December is the result of early Christians quest to figure out the date of Jesus’ birth based on calendrical calculations that had nothing to do with pagan festivals, although some pagan elements over time crept into the observance.

It may seem strange that the evidence indicates, in fact, that the attribution of the date was a by-product of attempts to determine when Jesus died and rose again, back dating from His death at the age of 33. Astute scholars determined the time of His birth. The historical record, as espoused by St John Chrysostom, a renowned ascetic, and a native of Antioch in the 4th century, that Jesus was conceived on the 25th March, exactly nine months before His birth on the 25th December. Concerning this testimony Chrysostom said “it is clear that He was born during the first census (of Caesar Augustus). He said, “It is possible to know exactly by reading the original codices publicly stored in Rome to learn the time of the census”. The Biblical record is that Jesus was born in Bethlehem during this census. Chrysostom went on to say that through Divine providence Caesar Augustus initiated the first census of the Ecumene and thus fulfilled the prophecies of Jewish sages, made more than five hundred years before.

The pregnancy of Elizabeth, wife of a Levite priest Zacharias and Mary’s visit also gives impetus to the timing of Jesus conception. The account in the Gospel of Luke shines some light on the calculation and time of Jesus’ birth.

William J. Tighe, Professor of History says, “That December 25 as the date of Christ’s birth appears to owe nothing whatsoever to pagan influence”. Another interesting record is that of Thomas J. Talley’s “The origin of the Liturgical Year”. The Biblical narrative recorded in the Gospel of Luke is most enlightening. A Levite priest, Zechariahs, a descendent of the First High Priest Aaron, was on duty and it was his turn to burn incense in the temple in Jerusalem as his priestly duty. While in the Holy Place, a messenger approached informing him that his wife, Elizabeth, would conceive despite her barrenness. After completion of his priestly duties he returned home. Against all odds Elizabeth conceived and when she was six months pregnant Mary, her cousin, visited her and told of a messenger that also appeared to her with the news that, she, Mary would also conceive. With this time frame one is able to calculate when Jesus would be born.

Pivotal to this date of the nativity one is able to trace when Zechariahs performed his priestly duties. (Believed to be September/October). So when Mary visited Elizabeth to announce her good news it was late March. Elizabeth was six months pregnant. Nine month later would be late December when Mary delivered Jesus.

I hope this narrative banishes the clap trap of the myth that Christians embraced a pagan festival day and replaced it with Christmas.

Do we owe our Christian custom to a pagan holiday? A resounding no! While it is true that pagan’s worshipped the sun over the period of the 17—23 December, the fact that Christ was born on the 25 December, if the record as stated earlier is to be endorsed, then its understandable why some folk think that Christmas was introduced to replace the worship of the sun. The fact that someone is born in January does not mean that their birth in some way is a celebration to the goddess Janus of which the Gregorian calendar, registers as the first month of the year.

Christmas is the last surviving publicly acceptable beacon of light in a darkening world, when one can still hear on non-religious or secular media platforms the striking message of the Gospel story. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that the forces of darkness are trying to snuff out the light of the Christmas story. Despite the avalanche on on-line articles claiming Christmas to be pagan an actual look into the ancient sources reveals this to be an urban myth. The Roman Christian historian Sextus Julius Africanus dated Jesus conception the 25th March. The Bible is silent as to the date of Jesus birthday, however a meticulous attempt to calculate the time frame will reveal the truth that Jesus (Yeshua, His Hebrew name) was born during this period.

Despite what critics and sceptics may deduct in terms of Christ’s exact date of birth, truth be told He pre-existed in His pre-incarnate state and entered our world wrapped in human flesh to redeem and reconcile mankind to God the Father, Creator of the universe. Our eternal future destiny is not based on chance but on choice.

The exact date of His birth is of little consequence. His birth, death and resurrection testifies of a Divine plan to save humanity from eternal destruction.

That’s the profound message of Christmas. The choice to believe is yours.

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