I had intended go up on the rooftop and watch the total lunar eclipse the other night. As we were repeatedly reminded running up to the event, this was the first time in more than 400 years that a total lunar eclipse occurred on the winter solstice. I even got the binoculars out.
But alas, the allure of the pillow ultimately trumped the promise of watching a bright white moon gradually turn dark amber. No worries, there will be another conjunction of this type in 2094. I will be only 135 and my bionic eyes will have built in telescopic functionality.
Most people are aware that Jesus almost certainly wasn’t born in December. We celebrate Christmas on the 25th due the medieval Roman Catholic Church’s tendency to co-opt pagan holidays into the religious calendar. This practice certainly made assimilating illiterate populations into catholicism easier. The hoi polloi didn’t put up as much resistance to adopting the new state religion if they weren’t being asked to give up their favorite festivals. They only had to be willing to call them by new names.
This tendency to merely overlay, rather then replace, the local religious culture has been a double-edged sword for Roman Catholicism through the ages. On one hand, it enabled the religion to spread very rapidly, particularly when sponsored by coercive military or economic power. But because the underlying pagan framework tended to remain intact, real cultural transformation rarely took place.
First in Europe, then in the colonized lands such as Africa and South America, local pagan cultures simply adopted new names and iconography for their local gods.
Thus a nation with a poverty-producing pagan religion tends to remain poor, even after wholesale conversion to catholicism. Take Haiti for example. The CIA World Factbook informs us that 80% of population of the former French colony self-identifies as Roman Catholic. It also adds this note: “roughly half of the population practices voodoo.”
After several hundred years of catholic dominance Haiti is culturally (and economically) indistinguishable from Guinea-Bissau–a former French colony in West Africa which consistently ranks as one of the poorest nations on earth.
By the way, did you see the news item this week concerning Haiti? More than 45 people have been lynched or macheted to death in the past couple of months due to fear that the cholera epidemic there was the work of voodoo magic. Last week a superstitious mob destroyed a cholera treatment clinic set up to help treat an outbreak of the disease in one community. (This is occurring in the 21st Century on America’s doorstep.)
All this stands in sharp contrast to the brand of Christian faith I will broadly call Evangelical Pentecostalism. This fairly recent arrival on the world stage is showing remarkable power to transform cultures–and for the better. From Uganda to Guatemala poverty-perpetuating cycles are being broken and living standards are rising as huge swaths of the populace embrace Evangelical Pentecostalism.
Why the difference? Unlike Roman Catholicism, Evangelical Pentecostalism will not/cannot make peace with the pagan underpinnings that perpetuate poverty and ignorance. This brand of faith demands a choice: As Joshua told a wavering people: “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
But I digress. I was writing about Christmas.
I have no problem with celebrating Christmas in December. It’s as good a time as any to mark one of the three pivotal events in the redemption of the human race. Those events are: 1) The birth of the Redeemer; 2) His death and resurrection, 3) His sending of the Holy Spirit to indwell and empower all willing hearts.
As it happens, these three events were pre-figured by three of the five major festivals in the Jewish calendar. Which brings us back to the question of the time of year of Jesus’ birth. I am fairly confident I know the date of Christ’s birth and if you’ll bear with me, I’ll explain why.
Among the major festivals of the Old Covenant system were:
1. Passover (or the Feast of Unleavened Bread) commemorating the deliverance from Egypt. (March/April)
2. Pentecost (occurring 50 days afters Passover) commemorating the giving of the Law on Sinai.
3. Trumpets & Tabernacles (Rosh Hoshanna + the Feast of Booths) roughly two weeks apart; the former marking the beginning of the new year and the latter commemorating Israel’s wandering years in temporary wilderness dwellings. (Sept./Oct.)
I have heard many Bible teachers suggest that the Jewish Feasts of Trumpets is the only one that remains unfulfilled in the life and word of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The Passover clearly prefigures the sacrificial death of Christ. It is even more obvious the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost represents a fulfillment of that day’s feast. In the original event, God came down temporarily and revealed His law on tablets of stone. In the fulfillment, His Spirit came down to stay and write God’s law upon willing human hearts.
But what of the Feast of Trumpets? Most preachers and teachers assert that this feast awaits fulfillment in the second coming of Christ. I’m not so sure. I think there is strong evidence to suggest Christ’s birth fulfilled this feast.
The fact that Joseph and Mary were forced to wander from their home to Bethlehem is suggestive of the Feast of Tabernacles. Then they could find no permanent dwelling meant for humans in which to lodge–camping in a stable (tabernacle) instead. But wait, there’s more!
The book of Revelation contains a lot of bizarre imagery. But some of the most evocative is found in Chapter 12. It opens with the words, “And a great sign appeared in heaven . . .”
This wording is pointing us to the stars. Please note the word “sign.” Genesis 1:14 describes the stars and heavenly bodies being placed there for “for signs and for seasons and for days and years . . .” This is not astrology. One of the God-ordained roles of astronomical phenomena is to signify major events in God’s unfolding plan of redemption.
Revelation 12 describes: “a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth.”
This imagery is universally understood to symbolizing the birth of Jesus, with most theologians affirming that the “woman” represents Israel–the “seed carrier” that delivered Messiah into the earth. What many people don’t realize is that Rev. 12 is describing a very real “sign” in the sky.
As any astronomer worth his or her telescope can tell you, the woman with a crown of 12 stars is the constellation Virgo (the Virgin.) Find Virgo on a dark moonless night and you’ll find 12 stars forming a rough circle right above the constellation’s “head.”
Expert sky watchers throughout the millennia have noted that the morning sun tends to rise within different constellations at different times of the year and in different years. For example, this morning the sun rose in the constellation Sagittarius.
Rev. 12 is describing a very specific set of astronomical proximities. They are:
1. “A woman” with a 12-star crown = Virgo
2. “Clothed with the sun” = the rising sun positioned in the middle of Virgo
3. “moon under her feet” = moon positioned beneath Virgo
I have an astronomy software program that depicts the positions of the stars and planets and any time past or future. Using it, I reconstructed the “sign” in the heavens described by Rev. 12. It would have looked like this . . .
I had to spin the software program back in time to get this precise arrangement of sun, moon and stars. To be precise, I had to spin it back to September of 3 B.C. To be more specific, the image above reflects the sunrise on the Feast of Trumpets in 3. B.C. (Sept. 21, new moon) as seen from Babylon in modern day Iraq.
Is it possible that this is the sign in the heavens seen by the Magi in the East that signaled to them the King of the Jews had been born?
You will notice that the planet Mercury is positioned right at the stomach of of the virgin woman. In Babylonian mythology, the planet Mercury was associated with Nebu (the son of God.) To Babylonian eyes, it would appear that the Virgin was pregnant with the son of God. Note that Rev. 12 says the woman was “with child” and “about to give birth.”
Indeed over the following week, Mercury would have dropped lower and lower until it passed below the woman’s legs. She would very much appear to be giving birth to Mercury.
Based upon the evidence above and many of the details of the Christmas story as described in Matthew and Luke, I’m convinced Jesus was born on September 21, 3 B.C. on, and in fulfillment of the Feast of Trumpets. And that the newborn savior of the world resided with his parents in the Bethlehem stable for at least two weeks, in fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles.