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Feature Article: Religious Holidays - or God's Holydays? p.


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“The Kingdom of heaven is like to a grain Mustard seed…” Matthew 13:31
SPECIAL ISSUE December 2007 e are approaching the time of the year when the world celebrates the supposed birth of Jesus Christ. The

When Was Jesus Born? W

What is the greatest gift Man can give?


What is the greatest gift Man

can give?

There are many gifts that we can give to others. However, the greatest gift we can give is our love, our time and a part of ourselves. Notice: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:12-13, RSV) We can lay down our lives for others, literally by dying for others as Jesus Christ did. Or we can do the same by giving them of ourselves and our time, in thinking about them, caring for them and spending time with them. One of the things that older people miss the most is being able to spend time with others. When their children grow up and are gone, this element becomes lacking in their lives, in some more than others. (continued next page…)

jingles on the radio and television invade our sanity earlier every year, and the decorations now go up before Halloween! Anywhere we go, Christmas "cheer" is inescapable. For most of us, this is a season we struggle through, wishing it would rush by and be over. Yet it is also a season that requires us to be on our guard. Since we do not celebrate Christmas, we often stick out in a crowd. Such a difference piques the curiosity of some, and they may ask why we do not keep it. If we respond, "Christ was not born on December 25," can we prove it? If He was not born on that date, then when was He born? What are the facts? When this subject is broached, many Protestants and Catholics become quite emotional, often becoming firmly entrenched concerning the


What greatest gift? (From p. 1)
Virtually every single problem in the world today would be solved if people would simply have love for one another. But that will not happen until Jesus Christ returns to this earth in all power and glory to take over the reins of government and begins to teach people how to love God and how to love one another, which is the keeping of the two great commandments (Matt.22:36-40). We live in a world filled with hate, which is the direct result of the one whole currently rules this world, Satan the devil, the god of this world (2 Cor.4:4). Another great gift we can give people is the God’s truth from the Bible (John 17:17) and the truth about the One, True God of Israel, which is not the God that professing Christianity worships. Notice: "Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." " (RSV, John 8:31-32) The world today in general is not free but in bondage to Satan’s system and the world that man has built, because mankind rejected God as ruler over them in the Garden of Eden and thus accepted Satan as their god and ruler. Since then, mankind has gone its own way and has in general been cut off from God and from salvation. But once God calls someone to salvation and opens their mind to the truth of His Word and His thoughts, that person will become free and begin to start thinking like God does. Once you make a commitment to live God’s way of life, you will begin to develop the spiritual "gifts" or fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal.5:22-23). You will also start to understand many of the mysteries of life that are hidden from most human beings, such as: Who is God? Where did everything come from? Who am I? What does life mean? Why is the world so confusing and have so many incurable problems? What is the meaning of the human family? What is my destiny and where am I going? The most important gifts we can give to others in this life are not the physical ones, but rather the ones that make a long-lasting effect on the lives of others around us. The gifts we can develop and give to others, of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, are the ones that will last for eternity: "There are three things that will endure-- faith, hope, and love-- and the greatest of these is love." (1 Cor 13:13, NLT)

When Was…? December 25 date in spite of the facts. Many simply enjoy the season and feel that the actual day of Christ's birth is irrelevant. Biblical and historical scholars are equally divided over this question as well. Christmas, however, is founded on the premise that Jesus was born on December 25, and a person who is truly striving to follow the Bible will see that the celebration of Christmas is based upon falsehood. The Clues in Luke's Gospel On the surface, the accounts of Matthew and Luke reveal little about the time of Jesus' birth. No dates are given, no season of the year is named. As a well-regarded historian, Luke, however, provides a sound, orderly account of the events that removes any doubt as to the general time of

Jesus' birth. All the clues are there, and all that is required is to dig them out and put them in order to discover the truth. In a long section covering Luke 1:5 through 2:8, Luke writes of a specific series of events in chronological order. He begins by telling the story of Zacharias, a priest, and his wife Elizabeth, who were childless. While administering his priestly duties during the course of Abijah, Zacharias was visited by the angel Gabriel, who told him that his prayers had been answered and that he and Elizabeth would have a son. They were to name him John. Because Zacharias doubted that this would happen, Gabriel informed him that he would not be able to speak until the birth of his son. As soon as his service in the Temple was completed, he returned to his own house. Elizabeth soon conceived and hid herself five months, unsure of how her pregnancy would be viewed. In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, Gabriel visited Mary and informed her, "And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a son, and shall call His name Jesus" (verse 31). Soon thereafter, Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth and stayed with her until the latter's ninth month, leaving just prior to John's birth. Jesus, then, was born approximately six months after John. What information do we have up to this point?
» Zacharias, a priest, performed his duties during the course of Abijah. » After he returned home from Jerusalem, Elizabeth conceived. » Mary conceived in the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy. » John was born approximately six months before Jesus.


The Course of Abijah To date Jesus' birth, we need a starting point. Fortunately, Luke supplies one in mentioning "the course of Abijah" (Luke 1:5). Is it possible to know if this course existed then, when it fell during the year, and how long it lasted? Indeed it is! I Chronicles 24 lists the courses, divisions or shifts of the priesthood that served in the Temple throughout the year. Verse 1 states, "These are the divisions of the sons of Aaron." Among the sons of Eleazar were sixteen heads of their father's house, while among the sons of Ithamar were eight additional heads of house, making twentyfour courses (verse 4). These courses of priests were divided by lot to be officials of the sanctuary and of the house of God (verse 5). Beginning on Nisan 1, these courses rotated throughout the year, serving in the Temple for one week apiece. The course of Abijah, the course during which Zacharias was responsible to work, was the eighth shift (verse 10). Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian—who was, by the way, of the priestly lineage of the course of Jehoiarib, the first course—supplies further information about the priestly courses. "He [David] divided them also into courses: and when he had separated the priests from them, he found of these priests twentyfour courses, sixteen of the house of Eleazar and eight of that of Ithamar; and he ordained that one course should minister to God [during] eight days, from [noon] Sabbath to [noon on the following] Sabbath. And thus were the courses distributed by lot, in the presence of David, and Zadok and Abiathar the high priest, and of all the rulers: and that course which came up first

was written down as the first, and accordingly the second, and so on to the twenty-fourth; and this partition hath remained to this day" (Antiquities of the Jews, 7:14.7). These courses were strictly followed until the Temple was destroyed in ad 70. The Talmud describes the details of the rotation of courses, beginning on Nisan 1. With only twenty-four courses, obviously each course was required to work twice a year, leaving three extra weeks. (The Hebrew year normally has fifty-one weeks. Intercalary, or leap, years have an additional four weeks.) The three holy day seasons, Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, during which all the courses were required to serve, made up these three extra weeks. Thus, each of the courses worked five weeks out of the year: two in their specific courses and three during the holy day seasons. John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for Messiah (Malachi 3:1; Luke 1:13-17). The gospel accounts make it very clear that he was born about half a year before Jesus was born. From historical details in Luke's account, it is clear that Jesus was born sometime in 4 bc. This means, counting back the nine months of gestation and the sixmonth difference in age, John must have been conceived in the first half of 5 bc. This fact forces us to choose the first shift of the course of Abijah as the time when Gabriel visited Zacharias in the Temple. Frederick R. Coulter, in his A Harmony of the Gospels (p. 9), computes it this way: In the year 5 bc, the first day of the first month, the month of Nisan, according to the Hebrew Calendar, was a Sabbath.

According to computer calculation synchronizing the Hebrew Calendar and the stylized Julian Calendar, it was April 8. Projecting forward, the assignments course by course, and week by week, were: Course 1, the first week; Course 2, the second week; all Courses for the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread, the third week; Course 3, the fourth week; Course 4, the fifth week; Course 5, the sixth week; Course 6, the seventh week; Course 7, the eighth week; Course 8, the ninth week; and all courses [sic] the tenth week, which was the week of Pentecost. Zacharias of the course of Abijah worked the ninth week in his assigned course and the tenth week in the Pentecost course, and this period ran from Iyar 27 through Sivan 12 (Hebrew calendar) or June 3 through 17 (Julian calendar). He probably returned home immediately after his shifts were completed, and Elizabeth most likely conceived in the following two-week period, June 18 through July 1, 5 BC. With this information we can calculate Elizabeth's sixth month as December, during which Mary also conceived (Luke 1:26-38). It is probable, because of the circumstances shown in Luke 1, that Mary conceived during the last two weeks of Elizabeth's sixth month. Thus, John was born in the spring of 4 BC, probably between March 18 and 31. By projecting forward another six months to Jesus' birth, the most probable time for His birth occurred between September 16 and 29. It is an interesting sidelight that Tishri 1, the Feast of Trumpets, is one of the two middle days of this time period. 3

Flocks in the Fields There is additional proof that Jesus was born in the fall of the year. The census of Quirinius that required Joseph to travel from Galilee to Bethlehem would most probably have taken place after the fall harvest when people were more able to return to their ancestral homes (Luke 2:1-5). Besides, it was customary in Judea to do their tax collecting during this period, as the bulk of a farmer's income came at this time. Another point is that Joseph and Mary had to find shelter in a barn or some other kind of animal shelter like a cave or grotto because the inns were full (verse 7). This indicates that the pilgrims from around the world had begun to arrive in Jerusalem and surrounding towns. Thus, the fall festival season had already commenced. There would have been no similar influx of pilgrims in December. Also, as the shepherds were still in the fields with their flocks (verse 8), Jesus' birth could not have occurred during the coldweather months of winter. Sheep were normally brought into centrally located pens or corrals as the weather turned colder and the rainy season began, especially at night. If this

were not significant, it begs the question, "Why would Luke have mentioned it in such detail if not to convey a time reference?" Notice what commentator Adam Clarke writes regarding this: It was a custom among the Jews to send out their sheep to the deserts [wilderness], about the passover [sic], and bring them home at the commencement of the first rain: during the time they were out, the shepherds watched them night and day. As the passover [sic] occurred in the spring, and the first rain began early in the month of Marchesvan, which answers to part of our October and November, we find that the sheep were kept out in the open country during the whole of the summer. And as these shepherds had not yet brought home their flocks, it is a presumptive argument that October had not yet commenced, and that, consequently, our Lord was not born on the 25th of December, when no flocks were out in the fields; nor could He have been born later than September, as the flocks were still in the fields by night. On this very ground the nativity in December should be given up. The feeding of the flocks by night in the fields is a chronological fact, which casts

considerable light on this disputed point. (Clarke's Commentary, vol. V, p. 370) Why is it important that we know when Jesus was born? We certainly do not use this knowledge to celebrate His birthday—He tells us to commemorate His death, not His birth (I Corinthians 11:23-26). The true date, however, destroys the entire foundation of the Christmas holiday. It also points to the proper time of His ministry, crucifixion and resurrection, helping to disprove the Good Friday—Easter Sunday tradition also. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, it renews our faith in God's Word—that it is true, verifiable and historically accurate. In addition, we should know even these details so that we can provide common-sense reasons for our beliefs. We live in a world of compromise and confusion—especially in the realm of religion—and thus we must study and follow what is true so we will not be fooled by what is counterfeit. The Christmas season promotes a lie concerning the date of the birth of Jesus Christ. We need to do more than reject the world's explanation; we need to know, prove and follow what is true.
(John O. Reid, Forerunner)

Just Who Were the Wise Men? T
he Christmas season is popular Christmas carol says, and as always, January 6 will again be the twelfth and last day of the season. Some churches keep January 6 as Christmas Day, but it is more commonly observed as the Feast of Epiphany, commemorating the visit of the wise men—known by many as magi—to the infant Jesus at Bethlehem. This event, described in Matthew 2, gives rise to many questions, a few of which true Christians should know the answers to. For instance, who were these wise 4

almost over for another year! Almost—but not quite! Traditionally, there are twelve days of Christmas, as the

men? Were they pagan, Mesopotamian astrologers? What was the "star" that they followed? Where did they come from? A little bit of research and letting the Bible interpret itself will give us the answers. A Difficult Scripture Notice the account in Matthew 2:1-3, 7-12: Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him." When Herod the king heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. . . . Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search diligently for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also." When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.”

Of the gospel writers, Matthew alone mentions this episode. Mark and John make no comment whatsoever about Jesus' birth, while Luke, who writes the most about the events surrounding His birth, leaves this scene out. Matthew's single, brief passage has sparked a great deal of imaginative speculation over the centuries, and we will deal with some of it as we answer some of our questions. Were They Astrologers? The first "magi myth" that we should question is the tradition of "we three kings." The Bible nowhere states how many magi visited the infant Jesus. Although Matthew mentions three types of gifts they presented to the Son of God, there may have been two, three, or more of them. Some have even thought there might be as many as twelve! Regardless of how many there were, the question remains, "Who were they?" Because the wise men saw and followed a "star," many believe that they were pagan astrologers. However, throughout Scripture, God soundly condemns astrology. Notice a few quite pointed examples: » And take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, and you feel driven to worship them and serve them. (Deuteronomy 4:19) » If there is found among you, within any of your gates which the Lord your God gives you, a man or woman who has . . . gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun or moon or any of the host of heaven which I have not commanded, . . . then you shall

bring out to your gates that man or woman who has committed that wicked thing, and shall stone to death that man or woman with stones. (Deuteronomy 17:2-3, 5) » Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, and the monthly prognosticators stand up and save you from these things that shall come upon you. Behold, they shall be as stubble, the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame. (Isaiah 47:13-14) In addition, the wise men who visited Jesus knew in advance who they were going to visit and that the purpose of their visit was to worship Him (Matthew 2:2, 11). It is highly unlikely that heathen, idolatrous astrologers would go to the great effort to travel many, many miles to give honor to the son of a deity they did not worship. With this evidence, we can be quite certain that these magi were not pagan astrologers. What Was the Star? Many historians have attempted to determine the date of Jesus' birth by looking for records concerning comets, meteors, supernovae, conjunctions of planets, and the like. What was the "star" that led the wise men to Jesus Christ in Bethlehem? Was it a physical star at all? Whatever it was, the "star" (Greek aster) was definitely of miraculous origin; it was no ordinary, physical star. For instance, it had the ability to move. Matthew writes that the star "went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was" (Matthew 2:9). No star we have ever seen can do that! Even shooting stars— really meteors burning up in the atmosphere—cannot change 5

directions and stop over a specific place! "His star" (verse 2) was possibly—perhaps even probably—an angel. These spirit beings have a glorious appearance like a radiating star, and they can certainly move and change directions to show someone the way. Stars in the Bible often symbolize angels, for example: » [Where were you] when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:7) » His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven. . . . And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought. (Revelation 12:4, 7) What Are Magi? The Bible mentions two types of magi: Heathen Magi Jeremiah 39:3, 13 is the earliest of ancient records mentioning magi: Then all the princes of the king of Babylon came in and sat in the Middle Gate: NergalSharezer, Samgar-Nebo, Sarsechim, Rab-saris, NergalSarezer, Rabmag, with the rest of the princes of the king of Babylon. . . . So Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard sent Nebushasban, Rabsaris, NergalSharezer, Rabmag, and all the king of Babylon's chief officers. The word "Rabmag" is merely transliterated because the original translators did not understand its meaning, and even subsequent translations have left it untranslated. However, it has since been correctly deciphered as "chief magus." The best translation authorities say that "magus" (a singular

form of "magi") comes from an old Pahlavi Persian word mag or mog, meaning "priest" or "great one." Thus, a man by the name of Nergal-Sharezer was the "rabmag" or "chief magus" of the Babylonians at this time (about 586 bc) when they were conquering Jerusalem. The magi of Babylon were heathen physicians, priests, and learned men, and it is said that from them descended a line of evil, perverted priests and sorcerers (said to include Haman of the book of Esther and Barjesus or Elymas of Acts 13). It is not at all likely therefore, that the magi of Matthew 2, seeking to worship the newborn King of the Jews, could be included with the likes of these men! God-fearing Magi Daniel 2:48 gives us a quick glimpse of another kind of magi: Then the king promoted [rebah] Daniel and gave him many great gifts; and he made him ruler [shelet] over the whole province of Babylon, and chief [rab] administrator [cagan] over all the wise men [chakkiym] of Babylon. Using the Brown, Driver & Briggs Hebrew Lexicon, we can define some of the key terms: » "promoted" (rebah) — to grow long, tall, or great; to increase; to make great. » "ruler" (shelet) — to have power, to rule (over), to make ruler. » "chief" (rab) — (adj.) great; (n.) a captain, a chief. » "administrator" (cegan) — a prefect, a governor. » "wise men" (chakkiym) — (adj.) wise; (n.) a wise man The verse tells us the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar elevated God's servant Daniel to the ranks of the great in Babylon. He made Daniel a ruler, an official of great

power over his kingdom. This promotion made Daniel the chief or lord over all the other wise men (magi) of Babylon. This act of Nebuchadnezzar gave Daniel the power and the opportunity to make significant changes in the way the magi operated in Babylon. He may have held this post for the rest of his long life, and such a long tenure would ensure that many of his changes would endure. We could also speculate that, understanding the Seventy Weeks Prophecy (Daniel 9:2027), he could have passed along to the magi the need to watch for strange tidings in Judea around this time. We should also remember that a large number of Jews, Levites, and Benjamites still lived in Babylon and the surrounding areas, for only a small percentage of Judeans returned from exile to Jerusalem (Ezra 2:64-67). Some of them, following the example of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and AbedNego, may have been magi or governors. It is most probable, then, that the magi who visited the young Jesus would come under this second category of God-fearing, high-ranking rulers. Of Orient Are? Finally, where did these wise men come from? As explained in Francis W. Upham's book, The Wise Men (1869), there are two Greek expressions for "East" used in Matthew 2:1-2, 9. Firstly, in verse 1: "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem." "The East" is ton anatolon, the common Greek expression for "eastern regions," particularly those far distant. Secondly, in verses 2 and 9: 6

"Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East, and have come to worship Him." . . . When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. In both verses, "the East" is te anatole, literally, "the rising," which could mean either that the magi saw the star when it first appeared—at its rising—or that they saw it from their vantage point east of Jerusalem, the direction in which the sun rises. The latter is more natural and to be preferred. The magi, while in a place east of Jerusalem, saw the star, and it led them west. The more important expression, then, appears in verse 1. The magi were from "the East," a land or lands far away from the Judea of 4 bc. This could not mean Arabia for two reasons: 1) The New Testament explicitly identifies Arabia in Galatians 1:17, so why not here as well? 2) Though we know Arabia is

east and south of Palestine, commonly expression of the time considered Arabia to be in the south, not the east. Further, any nearby country would have been named specifically and does not qualify as "distant." In the distant east lay the Parthian Empire, little known today, but it rivaled the Roman Empire for hegemony of the world at the time. Parthia included all the conquered lands of Babylon, Persia, Bactria, and many other countries on the east side of the Euphrates River. It was to these lands that the Assyrians had exiled some of the ancient house of Israel, and many of their descendants had remained in the region. The Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature by John J. McClintock and James Strong, in its article "Magi," says that some of the ancient magi claimed Abraham as their ancestor. If this were true, it would add evidence that the magi were Israelites who were desirous to honor the One who could be their rightful King,

especially since the miraculous star made His birth so auspicious. (For more on the magi being Israelites from Parthia, please see The "Lost" Ten Tribes of Israel . . . Found! by Steven M. Collins, pp. 205278.) Altogether, this biblical and historical evidence indicates that the magi of Matthew 2 were not pagan astrologers whose observations of the heavenly bodies led them to the infant Jesus. Rather, they were probably God-fearing descendants of the exiled house of Israel who were led to Bethlehem miraculously, likely by an angel, just as they were "divinely warned" to flee back to their homeland after their visit (Matthew 2:12). Once again, we see that if we are willing to break free of the bonds of the world's traditions, the historical evidence backs up the Bible record and leads us to the truth.
(John Plunkett, Forerunner)

Should I tell my child that Santa Claus is not real?
Q. How do I truthfully explain to my ten-month old daughter that Santa Claus isn't real and why she shouldn't celebrate Christmas? (Submitted by: M. J.) A. When our children were young my wife and I had to deal with the same problem you are experiencing. We found that children learn more by example than by words. Years ago, while walking in the shopping malls before Christmas, our family would invariably see several "Santas" along the way. Since my wife and I didn't celebrate Christmas, we would simply walk past any Santas we saw without making any comments. One year a lady asked our five year old what Santa brought him for Christmas. He simply replied, "We don't keep Christmas."

Your daughter won't understand explanations for not keeping Christmas, such as its obvious pagan background, nor reasons why Santa is not real, for several years. My advice is for now don't try to explain this subject with your child. That way, she won't think anything wrong about children who believe in Santa. Eventually your daughter may feel like she's missing out on the presents, but again, just don't bring it up. Besides, relatives will likely bring gifts. You might want to discuss the situation with them, and ask that they bring only one gift each, and let your daughter know who it's truly from. ()


Brief History of Christmas in Christianity The names given to the Christmas feast by different
European peoples throw a certain amount of light on its history. Let us take five of them - Christmas, Weihnacht, Noël, Calendas, and Yule - and see what they suggest. I. The English Christmas and its Dutch equivalent Kerstmisse, plainly point to the ecclesiastical side of the festival; the German Weihnacht (sacred night) is vaguer, and might well be either pagan or Christian; in point of fact it seems to be Christian, since it does not appear till the year 1000, when the Faith was well established in Germany. Christmas and Weihnacht, then, may stand for the distinctively Christian festival, the history of which we may now briefly study. When and where did the keeping of Christmas begin? Many details of its early history remain in uncertainty, but it is fairly clear that the earliest celebration of the Birth of Christ on December 25 took place at Rome about the middle of the fourth century [ca. 350 A.D.], and that the observance of the day spread from the western to the eastern Church, which had before been wont to keep January 6 as a joint commemoration of the Nativity and the Baptism of the Redeemer. Whether the Nativity had previously been celebrated at Rome on January 6 is a matter of controversy; the affirmative view was maintained by Usener in his monograph on Christmas, the negative by Monsignor Duchesne. A very minute, cautious, and balanced study of both arguments is to be found in Professor Kirsopp Lake's article on Christmas in Hastings's Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics; and a short article was contributed by the same writer to The Guardian, December 29, 1911. Professor Lake, on the whole, inclines to Usener's view. The early history of the festival is also treated by Father Cyril Martindale in "The Catholic Encyclopedia" (article "Christmas"). The first mention of a Nativity feast on December 25 is found in a Roman document known as the Philocalian Calendar, dating from the year 354, but embodying an older document evidently belonging to the year 336. It is uncertain to which date the Nativity reference belongs; but further back than 336 at all events the festival cannot be traced. From Rome, Christmas spread throughout the West, with the conversion of the barbarians. Whether it came to England through the Celtic Church is uncertain, but St.

Augustine [of Canterbury] certainly brought it with him, and Christmas Day, 598, witnessed a great event, the baptism of more than ten thousand English converts. In 567 the Council of Tours had declared the Twelve Days, from Christmas to Epiphany, a festal tide; the laws of Ethelred (991-1016) ordained it to be a time of peace concord among Christian men, when all strife must cease. In Germany Christmas was established by the Synod of Mainz in 813; in Norway by King Hakon the Good about the middle of the tenth century. In the East, as has been seen, the Birth of the Redeemer was at first celebrated not on December 25, but on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany or manifestation of Christ's glory. The Epiphany can be traced as far back as the second century, among the Basilidian heretics, from whom it may have spread to the Catholic Church. It was with them certainly a feast of the Baptism, and possibly also of the Nativity, of Christ. The origins of the Epiphany festival are very obscure, nor can we say with certainty what was its meaning at first. It may be that it took the place of a heathen rite celebrating the birth of the World or Aeon from the Virgin on January 6. At all events one its objects was to commemorate the Baptism, the appearance the Holy Dove, and the Voice from heaven, "Thou art my son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17, Mark 1:11) (or, as other manuscripts [?] read, "This day have I begotten thee"). The eastern father, Epiphanius (fourth century), gives a strange account of a heathen, or perhaps in reality a Gnostic, rite held at Alexandria on the night of January 56. In the temple of Kore - the Maiden - he tells us, worshippers spent the night in singing and flute-playing, and at cockcrow brought up from a subterranean sanctuary a wooden image seated naked on a litter. It had the sign of the cross upon in gold in five places - the forehead, the hands, and the knees. This image was carried seven times round the central hall of the temple with flute-playing, drumming, and hymns, and then taken back to the underground chamber. In explanation of these strange actions it was said: "To-day, at this hour, hath Kore (the Maiden) borne the Aeon." Can there be a connection between this festival and the Eleusinian mysteries?In the latter there was a nocturnal celebration with many lights burning, and the cry went forth, "Holy Brimo (the Maiden) hath borne a sacred child, Brimos." The details given by Miss Harrison in her " Prolegomena" of the worship of the child Dionysius are of extraordinary interest, and a minute comparison of this cult with that of the Christ Child might lead to remarkable results. In some circles of early Christianity the Baptism appears to have been looked upon as the true Birth of Christ, the moment when, filled by the Spirit, He became Son of God; and the carnal Birth was regarded as of comparatively little significance. Hence the Baptism festival may have arisen first, and the celebration of the Birth at Bethlehem may have been later attached to the same day, partly perhaps because a passage in St. Luke's Gospel was


supposed to imply that Jesus was baptized on His thirtieth birthday. As however the orthodox belief became more sharply defined, increasing stress was laid on the Incarnation of God in Christ in the Virgin's womb, and it may have been felt that the celebration of the Birth and the Baptism on the same day encouraged heretical views. Hence very likely the introduction of Christmas on December 25 as a festival of the Birth alone. In the East the concelebration of the two events continued for some time after Rome had instituted the separate feast of Christmas. Gradually, however, the Roman use spread at Constantinople it was introduced about 380 by the great theologian, Gregory Nazianzen; at Antioch it appeared in 388, at Alexandria in 4.32. The Church of Jerusalem long stood out, refusing to adopt the new feast till the seventh century, it would seem. One important Church, the Armenian, knows nothing of December 25, and still celebrates the Nativity with the Epiphany on January 6. Epiphany in the eastern Orthodox Church has lost its connection with the Nativity and is now chiefly a celebration of the Baptism of Christ, while in the West, as every one knows, it is primarily a celebration of the Adoration by the Magi, an event commemorated by the Greeks on Christmas Day. Epiphany is, however, as we shall see, a greater festival in the Greek Church than Christmas. Such in bare outline is the story of the spread of Christmas as an independent festival. Its establishment fitly followed the triumph of the Catholic [Trinitarian] doctrine of the perfect Godhead of Christ at the Council of Nicea in 325. II. The French Noë is a name concerning whose origin there has been considerable dispute; there can, however, be little doubt that it is the same word as the Provencal Nadau or Nadal,the Italian Natale, and the Welsh Nadolig, all obviously derived from the Latin natalis, and meaning "birthday." One naturally takes this as referring to the Birth of Christ, but it may at any rate remind us of another birthday celebrated on the same date by the Romans of the Empire, that of the unconquered Sun, who on December 25, the winter solstice according to the Julian calendar, began to rise to new vigor after his autumnal decline. Why, we may ask, did the Church choose December 25 for the celebration of her Founder's Birth ? No one now imagines that the date is supported by a reliable tradition; it is only one of various guesses of early Christian writers. As a learned eighteenth-century Jesuit [A. Lupi] - has pointed out, there is not a single month in the year to which the Nativity has not been assigned by some writer or other. The real reason for the choice of the day most probably was, that upon it fell the pagan festival just mentioned. The Dies Natalis Invicti was probably first celebrated in Rome by order of the Emperor Aurelian (270-5), an ardent worshipper of the Syrian sun-god Baal. With the Sol

Invictus was identified the figure of Mithra, that strange eastern god whose cult resembled in so many ways the worship of Jesus, and who was at one time a serious rival of the Christ in the minds of thoughtful men. Mithraism resembled Christianity in its monotheistic tendencies, its sacraments, its comparatively high morality, its doctrine of an Intercessor and Redeemer, and its vivid belief in a future life and judgment to come. Moreover Sunday was its holy-day dedicated to the Sun. It was the sun-god, poetically and philosophically conceived, whom the Emperor Julian made the center of his ill-fated revival of paganism, and there is extant a fine Prayer of his to "King Sun." What more natural than that the Church should choose this day to celebrate the rising of her Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings (Mal. 4:2), that she should strive thus to draw away to His worship some adorers of the god whose symbol and representative was the earthly sun ! There is no direct evidence of deliberate substitution, but at all events ecclesiastical writers soon after the foundation of Christmas made good use of the idea that the birthday of the Savior had replaced the birthday of the sun. This is the explanation adopted by most scholars (cf. Chambers Encyclopedia, "M.S.," i., 241-2). Duchesne suggests as an explanation of the choice of December 25 the fact that a tradition fixed the Passion of Christ on March 25. The same date, he thinks, would have been assigned to His Conception in order to make the years of His life complete, and the Birth would come naturally nine months after the Conception. He, however, "would not venture to say, in regard to the 25th of December, that the coincidence of the Sol novus [new Sun] exercised no direct or indirect influence on the ecclesiastical decision arrived at in regard to the matter." Professor Lake also, in his article in Hastings's "Encyclopedia," seeks to account for the selection of December 25 without any deliberate competition with the Natalis Invicti [Birth of the Unconquerable]. He points out that the Birth of Christ was fixed at the vernal equinox by certain early chronologists, on the strength of an elaborate and fantastic calculation based on Scriptural data, and connecting the Incarnation with the Creation, and that when the Incarnation came to be viewed as beginning at the Conception instead of the Birth, the latter would naturally be placed nine months later. Little is known of the manner in which the Natalis Invicti was kept; it was not a folk-festival, and was probably observed by the [high-] classes rather than the masses. Its direct influence on Christmas customs has probably been little or nothing. It fell, however, just before a Roman festival that had immense popularity, is of great importance for our subject, and is recalled by another name for Christmas that must now be considered.


III. The Provencal Calendas or Calenos, the Polish Kolenda, the Russian Kolydda, the Czech Koteda and the Lithuanian Kalledos, not to speak of the Welsh Nos Calen for New Year's eve, and the Gaelic Calluinn for New Year's Eve, are all derived from the Latin Kalendae, and suggest the connection of Christmas with the Roman New Year's Day, the Kalends or the first day of January, a time celebrated with many festive customs. What these were, and how they have affected Christmas we shall see in some detail; suffice it to say here that the festival, which lasted for at least three days, was one of riotous life, of banqueting and games and license. It was preceded, moreover, by the Saturnalia (December 17 to 23) which had many like features, and must have formed practically one festive season with it. The word Saturnalia has become so familiar in modern usage as to suggest sufficiently the character of the festival for which it stands. Into the midst of this season of revelry and license the Church introduced her celebration of the beginning of man's redemption from the bondage of sin. Who can wonder that Christmas contains incongruous elements, for old things, loved by the people, cannot easily be uprooted. IV. One more name yet remains to be considered, Yule (Danish Jul), the ordinary word for Christmas in the Scandinavian languages, and not extinct among

ourselves. Its derivation has been widely discussed, but so far no satisfactory explanation of it has been found. Professor Skeat in the last edition of his Etymological Dictionary (1910) has to admit that origin is unknown. Whatever its source may be, it is clearly name of a Germanic season - probably a two-month tide covering the second half of November, the whole of December, and the first half of January. It may well suggest to us the element added to Christmas by the barbarian peoples who began to learn Christianity about the time when the festival was founded. Modern research has tended to disprove the idea that the old Germans held a Yule feast at the winter solstice, and it is probable, as we shall see, that the specifically Teutonic Christmas customs come from a New Year and beginning-of-winter festival kept about the middle of November. These customs transferred to Christmas are to a great extent religious or magical rites intended to secure prosperity during the coming year, and there is also the familiar Christmas feasting, apparently derived in part from the sacrificial banquets that marked the beginning of winter.
Excerpted from: Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Christian and Pagan, by Clement A. Miles, London: T. Fisher Unwin, 2nd Ed. 1913, pp. 20-25

Feature Article:

Does it matter to God? ...

Religious Holidays - or God's Holydays?
In the Bible, God has designated His Holydays, how come we don't observe them?


indu, Muslim, Jew, Christian - all of us have

religious holy days that set us apart from each other. Indeed, the God we worship is identified by the pageantry of these days, which usually mark events associated with the Founder - the Christian Christmas and Easter for example, and the Muslim `Id-Mawlid marking the birth and death of Muhammad - or with other significant aspects of the faith. But does it matter which days we observe? Jesus Christ claimed that he was the sole route to God the "way, the truth and the life". He claimed that there's no other way for mankind to receive salvation. Which days did he observe? Do they have relevance today? Do should - Christians today observe them?

The clear evidence is that our modern Christian worship Days bear little resemblance to the worship God prescribed from the beginning. Nor were they observed in the Church Jesus Christ founded and began to build back around 31 A.D.! Nowhere in the Scriptures do you find God's people observing Christmas or Easter or Sunday of any of the so-called Saint's Days. Surprisingly, many are rooted in pre-Christian observances by the nations which had rejected God's one and only revealed religion. Heathen days are utterly condemned by God: "Learn not the way of the nations", He said, "...for the customs of the peoples are false", wrote Jeremiah (10:1-3). He goes on to describe one of these abominable customs - and it sounds remarkably like Christmas! Read the whole chapter.


But the New Testament Church did observe specific Holy Days. And they were the Festivals God had ordained centuries before. The manner of their observance has been modified, but God's revealed Holy Days remain. What are they? God's Holy Days

• •

Atonement: Acts 27:9 autumn Festivals are reflected in the book of Revelation (e.g., Rev. 8)

Only after the passage of a couple of centuries following the death of Jesus Christ was the church saddled with festivals imported from the pagan religion around them. Prophesied Observance

It is God who determines how we worship Him. He is the sovereign Lord of all creation, and graciously benefits mankind for obedience to Him. Right from man's beginning He required a specific form of worship, evidenced by His rejection of Cain's unauthorized offering (Genesis 4:1-3). Godly men and women throughout history have carefully worshipped as God required, thus identifying Him. All other forms are false! However, when the nation of Israel divided after the death of King Solomon into the House of Israel and the House of Judah, the northern House of Israel deliberately chose to change the time of God's annual autumn Festival - and cut themselves off from God. Later, the House of Judah began worshipping the sun (Ezekiel 8:16- 17), placing sun worship at the heart of government. The result was a Godappointed invasion by a foreign power and a seventy year exile for the entire nation. Certainly a warning for our own nation! But did the coming of Jesus Christ change all that? Did he abandon the Holy Days which in fact he himself had appointed? Did he change Sabbath for Sunday? In fact, Jesus of Nazareth was careful to observe all the Holy Days revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures. The New Testament records His attendance at the seventh-day weekly Sabbath, Passover, Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, Tabernacles and the Last Great Day [Eighth Day -editor] omitting reports of only two of the days: Trumpets and Atonement. All these days are listed in Leviticus 23. The Apostles, Too A study of the New Testament writings also shows that the disciples of Jesus and the entire New Testament church continued to observe these same days. To confirm this, read
• •

The Scriptures also make clear that when Jesus Christ returns He will command the observance of these same Holy Days for all people! The prophet Zechariah describes the terrible consequences for a nation which refuses to keep the Festival of Tabernacles (Zech. 14), while Ezekiel (ch. 40ff) and Isaiah (66:23) promote the same concept. But what about now? Clearly, since the Apostles continued on with the observance of the seven annual Holy Days and the weekly Sabbath they have left a pattern for Christian worship that no-one aspiring to be a follower of Jesus Christ can ignore. These days mark out the true followers of the God of the Bible! They are the only form of authentic divine worship described in the Scriptures of the Old or the New Testament. All else, however well-intentioned, is vain, empty, frivolous. No matter how diligently you may observe Christmas or Easter or Hallowe'en or any of the unbiblical festivals and saints' days - Jesus Christ simply wouldn't recognize your actions as following his example! Why are not all Christians careful to observe the weekly and annual holy days described in the Scriptures - and enjoined on all the people of God? The joyous observance of these Festival Days is not a "means of salvation" but a reflection of the only form of worship God has ever appointed for His people and for all mankind, (not just for the Jewish nation). Were the Holy Days "done away"? Some Bible readers latch on to Paul's Statement in Galatians 4:9-10 as evidence that he taught the Holy Days were "done away". What did he mean? In the first place. why would Paul downgrade God's law which he says is "holy and just and good" (Romans 7.12) to being "weak and beggarly"? Elsewhere he wrote:"Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid; yea, we establish the law" (Romans 3:31). 11

Unleavened Bread (includes the Passover): Acts 12:3, 20:6, I Cor 5:8 Pentecost: Acts 2. 20:16, I Cor 16:8

And didn't Jesus himself tell us that "he that does [God's Commands] and teaches them shall be called great" (Matthew 5: 19)? Next - what were these "elements"? The answer is clear when we identify Paul's readers. They had, before conversion to Christ, "not known God" (v.8) and had been slaves let dumb idols. Clearly, these folk were not in the habit of obeying the laws of God! The elements, or rudiments, of their religious practices had been something that had severely restricted them - they were "in bondage".

Not then obeying God's Law. which is liberating, helpful. a joy to keep (Deut. 4:6-8). As the New Bible Commentary observes on v.10: "Pagan astrological mythology was being applied to the Christian [i.e., Biblical] holy days". The Gospel of grace freed men from self-serving, pagan religious practices. Paul ardently observed the holy days revealed in the Scriptures! ()

Does Jeremiah Describe a Christmas Tree in Jeremiah 10:2-5?
Although these scriptures picture the carved idols of Jeremiah's time, they are also an accurate description of the Christmas tree we are familiar with today. The practice Jeremiah wrote about was a custom (verse 3) and was associated with "the signs of heaven" (verse 2)—just as Christmas today is a custom and is associated with the winter solstice. People today do not normally associate Christmas with the winter solstice, but that does not change its pagan origin. Even though these scriptures no doubt had an application to the customs practiced some 2500 years ago, we must keep in mind that the book of Jeremiah is primarily prophecy. Just as with other prophecies, this was written for our time, to our people, and referring to the common customs of the modern world! For instance, Jeremiah also accurately describes such things as hot-cross buns for Easter (Jeremiah 7:18), and Ezekiel sees a vision of worship very much like sunrise services (Ezekiel 8:16)! We should especially note that cutting down and setting up a tree is termed "the way of the Gentiles [heathen, KJV]." We are commanded not to learn or follow that way (verse 2). This whole passage clearly tells us that using a tree in this manner is idolatry. The basic commandment against idolatry, of course, is found in Exodus 20:4-6. If we try to honor God through any sort of idol or icon, we are guilty of breaking this commandment.()

I will stand my watch And set myself on the rampart, And watch to see what He will say to me, And what I will answer when I am reproved. Then the LORD answered me and said: “Write the vision And make it plain on tablets, That he may run who reads it.” Habakkuk 2:1-2

"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches."
Matthew 13:31-32

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