Most Christians know Christmas is celebrated on the wrong date. Many know of the pagan traditions associated with Christmas. A few, very few, know what the bible has to say about the birth of Christ & thefestival Christians have forgotten.
For an in depth study of the math involved you will need to do your own study. Math & I are not friends & I am not even going to attempt to do the math. There are many places that will give you step by step instructions on this. What I am going to do is give the broad outline, some of the inherent symbolism & the application for us as Christians today.
We actually have a really, really good idea of when Christ was born thanks to Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth. Elizabeth was married to Zechariah & Zechariah, as we know from the first chapter of the gospel of Luke was a priest of the division of Abijah & Elizabeth was a daughter of Aaron. Thus both belonged to the Levite line.
Because Zechariah’s division is mentioned we can date accurately when he was called to serve in the temple, which would have been twice a year for one week. Luke also tells us that he drew the lot to go in & burn incense before the Lord, offering up the prayers of the people. At this point an angel appears, prophesises that in their old age their prayer for a son would be answered & that he would come in the spirit & the power of Elijah. Zechariah is struck dumb, goes home to his wife & she falls pregnant. This places John’s birth around Passover, which would be what Christians later termed Easter.
As we read on in Luke we are told that in Elizabeth’s 6th month her cousin Mary visits her. Mary has some rather startling news to share because she has just found herself in a very unique position & is also pregnant.
We know that according to Luke Mary fell pregnant in Elizabeth’s 6th month. Count forward 40 weeks & you are in September when the festival of Sukkot is celebrated ~ though like many of the Jewish festivals it is sort of moveable because the Jew’s calendar works on a combined solar/lunar cycle.
That is the foundation. Scholars can work it all out & practically pinpoint the very day. That is not my purpose here. While I know God values accuracy He does something both charming & kind for the mathematically challenged amongst us. He gives us symbols. He gives us shadows & types. He lays down a pattern so that we recognise the real thing when it arrives.
Now it is not my purpose to tell you whether or not you should celebrate Christmas. Rather I want to reveal the Father’s heart & add to your joy in the birth of a saviour.
Sukkot falls some time in either September or October. This year it fell in September. It is a week long festival & lasted from the 1st to the 7th of October. In the northern hemisphere this makes it a fall festival & the 3rd of 3 mandatory annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem. The first is Passover which celebrates Israel’s delivery from Slavery. The second is Shavout , which celebrates the giving of the Law. The third is Sukkot, which remembers how Israel wandered for 40 years before being allowed to enter the Promised Land.
Why should Christians bother themselves with this stuff? It is O.T. It was for the Jews. Because this is the shadow of what was to come, indeed came in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ!
Firstly this is the festival that celebrates God Tabernacling with His people. As He did as a cloud by day & a pillar of fire by night, when the Shekinah glory filled the temple, when Christ became man & dwelt among us & most wonderfully when the Holy Spirit was sent to dwell within us.
This is a 7 day festival that lasts for 8 days. Why? Because it is the only Jewish festival that is not Jew~specific. That is, it was a celebration that was extended to & included the gentile nations, invoking blessing & inclusion to them also. Sacrifices were offered for the nations of the world. Traditionally the 8th day is the day God asked his own people to tarry a little longer to enjoy a special time alone, just He & them together.
Sukkot was a time of extending hospitality, especially to the poor. Each night a chair was set for the specially invited guest for that evening who would be one of the Great Shepherds of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron ~ or when Christians celebrate this festival, John the Baptiste but most especially Christ Himself!
Sukkot is commonly known by 2 other names: Holiday of the Ingathering & The Season of Our Joy. Both have deep symbolism for the believing Christian. It is said that you have never known rejoicing until you have celebrated Sukkot in Jerusalem!
For the week of this festival it is customary to build temporary shelters & to live in them ~ though modern Jews usually only eat meals in them. As the weather in Israel is usually mild at this time of year it is perfect for camping out!
Now come forward to the birth of Jesus. We have established that He was He was probably born in September but what clues do we have that it was at Sukkot? Firstly we know that Jospeh & Mary went down to Bethlehem for the census. Bethlehem was considered an outer suburb of Jerusalem. As traveling was expensive & took people away from their work it would make sense to combine the 2 things. Joseph would have been close enough to Jerusalem to attend the religious services each day. After the birth of Jesus Mary was unclean until she offered her sacrifices on the 8th day.
One of the joys of doing word research is what turns up. What turned up was the Greek word Phatne, which is usually translated as manger & indicates a crib for fodder for animals. The Hebrew is, yep, sukkot ~ a temporary shelter for animals made of green boughs & the traditional housing for the Jewish festival. Many sukkot were attached to the outer wall of the temple.
The last point I want to raise is another obscure tradition that has been lost ~ because it tells us something terribly important about who Jesus is & what He came to do.
In the 2nd chapter of Luke he informs us that not only will Jesus be lying in a sukkot, he will be wrapped in swaddling clothes. I have always found this comment a little strange because surely all babies are wrapped in swaddling bands of some sort? That Luke mentions it means there is something for us to note. It is found in a Jewish priestly practise. When the priestly garments had become worn out in service at the temple & could no longer be worn they were torn into strips & used by Levite families to swaddle their babies to indicate they were priests dedicated to the Lord from birth…
We too have our sukkot ~ this flimsy temporary dwelling we call our body & which now is a dwelling place for God’s Holy Spirit. God physically dwells with us.
God gives us such richness to feed our spirits. When we place things in their correct biblical frame we have the most wonderful promises: As I dwelt with Israel in the wilderness, so now I dwell with you; See, I have given you one who has fulfilled all the law & redeemed you from the bondage of sin; I remembered you, though you were not my chosen people & you did not know me ~ but now you do; I have sent my son; from His birth he was a priest dedicated unto the Lord & now, you are my people, my chosen ones. Come apart & tarry with me, just the two of us together. Truly this is the season of our joy.