The Birthday of Jesus

{This article was prepared as part of a series of sermons from the book of Luke.}

The date of Jesus’ birth has long occupied the minds of Christians. We know almost nothing about the actual date of his birth, yet, the grandest holiday of the year suggests that we know more than we really do. It speaks well of people who want to honor the Savior’s birthday. We celebrate birthdays of people we love, so it makes sense that we should likewise honor Jesus. But sometimes our zeal is misguided (Romans 10:2).

The most reliable source for information about the birthday of Jesus would be Scripture, yet, it is silent on the subject. Here is what we know from the inspired word.

Jesus was God (John 1:1) and in some miraculous way, took on the form of mankind and was born in human form (Philippians 2:5 ff; Matthew 1:18 ff; Luke 2:6, 7).

We can place the year fairly accurately at about 4 B.C. We know this from Luke’s account when he notes that Joseph and the expectant Mary were traveling to Bethlehem because of a census ordered by Augustus which also took place during the reign of Quirinius in Syria. Historically, the first registration took place in 4 B.C. during the overlap between Augustus and Quirinius.

The time of the year is more difficult. Some argue that Shepherds would not have the flocks in the field in cold weather (Luke 2:8). However, the climate of Bethlehem and its environs is not particularly cold. The average low temperature does not drop below freezing. The average low is coldest in January and February and 41 degrees. High reach the mid-50’s. We cannot exclude a December date for his birth but cannot require it either.

What evidence is there that the first Christians, those under apostolic direction, celebrated his birthday as a special religious event? There is none. From the day the church began in Acts 2 until the end of time in Revelation, there is not one piece of evidence that points to a special celebration of the day of Jesus birth. The fact of his birth is special. God became man to save man from his sins. But a special celebration is unknown.

Christmas was not a designated holiday until the fourth century when the Roman Catholic Church so adopted it. Previously, church father Clement of Alexandria wrote that most placed the date at either April 20 or 21 or on May 20. The spring date was held by scholars before the Catholic church declared it December 25, which, it happens, corresponded with a Roman pagan holiday.

The old Law of Moses was filled with holy days throughout the year. Yet, all of those celebrations stopped under the law of Christ. Those ordinances were nailed to the tree (Colossians 2:14). In Christ, he has adopted and proclaimed a single, weekly feast for Christians. The Lord’s supper or Communion was given by Christ on the night before his death. It was a special meal to remember the Lord and his death for us.

Is there any harm in setting forth another celebration, one not mentioned in Scripture or the earliest history of the church? To add such to our worship is to add to what we have been taught, and that is condemned (2 John 9, Revelation 22:18, 19). It also confuses many who believe the teaching that Jesus was born on December 25. It is simply foreign to Scripture; any such celebration must acknowledge that it is without warrant.

To God be the glory that he sent Jesus into the world to save us from our sins. Let us rejoice daily in his life, example, death, burial and resurrection!

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