By Henrylito D. Tacio
There are people who believe what they hear or are told are true. And if you tell them that some of those “truths” are actually lies, they will argue. They won’t believe it even if you provide them with all the facts.
Such is the case of Christmas. A lot of Filipinos still believe that Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son and The Messiah, was really born on December 25. The real truth is that He was not born on the said date.
The Holy Bible, the main source of information, didn’t specify the exact date of His birthday. What the four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – of the New Testament gave were just some hints.
Luke, the “Beloved Physician” and an authority on Christ’s birth, recounts the first Christmas in these words:
“At the time, Emperor Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Roman Empire. When this first census took place, Quirinius was the governor of Syria. Everyone, then, went to register himself, each to his own hometown. Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to the town of Bethlehem in Judea, the birthplace of King David. Joseph went there because he was a descendant of David. He went to register with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him. She was pregnant, and while they were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to have her baby. She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in clothes, and laid him in a manger – there was no room for them to stay in the inn.
“There were some shepherds in that part of the country who were spending the night in the fields, taking care of their flocks. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone over them. They were terribly afraid, but the angel said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. This very day in David’s town your Savior was born – Christ the Lord! And this is what will prove it to you: you will find a baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger.’
“Suddenly, a great army of heaven’s angel appeared with the angel, singing praises to God: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom He is pleased!’”
Luke expressly mentioned that there were shepherds tending their flocks in the fields on the night of Jesus’s birth. In those days, and even today, shepherds always drove their flocks from the fields and mountainsides and corralled them not later than the middle of October to protect them from the oncoming cold and rainy season.
If the month and date is obscure, the year is also vague. It is a common belief that Jesus was born in the year 1 A.D. Let’s see what the Bible says.
According to Matthew 2:1, Jesus was born when Herod was the king of Judea. Luke also states: He was born when Cyrenius (in Roman history, Quirinius) was the governor of Syria (read Luke 2:2), but King Herod is said to have died in 4 B.C., and Cyrenius did not become governor of Syria until ten years later. The administrations of Herod and Quirinius were separated by the whole reign of Archelaus, the son of Herod.
Apparently, from the statements of Matthew and Luke, there is a difference of ten years in the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. So, which is which?
Now, let’s talk about the Three Kings. The number of these men were not specified in the Bible, and they were not kings. In his description, Matthew used “wise men” instead of “kings” without specifying the number of the visitors.
Now, assuming they were indeed kings, as popularly believed, do you think King Herod will receive them civilly? Remember, he was very much concerned when he told the King of Jews had been born.
If you know your history well, Rome at that time was expanding its political dominion throughout the world. As such, King Herod, who ruled only a small part of the Roman Empire, would not tolerate any challenge to his throne.
On the other hand, the “wise men” would aptly apply to men of high learning such as those skilled in the medical arts and the law. But a safer assumption, based on their ability to interpret the movement of objects in the firmament, is that they were astrologers, which is how “The Living Bible” version called them.
The wise men were not present in the manger. If you read your Bible, you get to know that they started their journey as soon as they saw the star. Now, assuming the star appeared in the east on the day Jesus was born, then it would take them months or even years before they would see Jesus. Their mode of transportations at that time was camel.
Taking two years or slightly shorter to reach Bethlehem, the wise men would naturally find the baby in a house (Matthew 2:11) and not in a manger. Yes, only the shepherds were around when Jesus was born in the manger.
So, why do the Bible authors not specifically mention the exact birth of Jesus? The reason: He does NOT want us to celebrate His birthday – otherwise, the Bible wouldn’t have left us guessing on the exact date. Even the early Catholic priest Origen said: “… in the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a great banquet on His birthday. It is only sinners who make great rejoicings over the day in which they were born into this world.”
One of the great sinners in the Bible who celebrated his date of birth with “extreme rejoicing” was King Herod. Check out Matthew 14:6-10 for that.
Also, the 1944 edition of the Encyclopedia Americana has this note: “Christmas was, according to many authorities, not celebrated in the first centuries of the Christian church, as the Christian usage in general was to celebrate the death of a remarkable person rather than his birth…”
But the gospel truth is this: Jesus really came into this world. “I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly,” He said.