When Was the Silent Night? Sukkot, the Feast of Joy!

Professor Julia Blum teaches at eteacherbiblical.com out of Tel Aviv, Israel. Her profound knowledge of the Bible and Jewish history will greatly bless you this Christmas:

When was the Silent Night? In Luke 2, an angel appeared to the shepherds in the fields and said to them, “I bring you good news … great joy for all the people[1]. When did that happen? When was this great joy declared? The Gospel writers either did not know the time of Jesus’ birth or didn’t consider it important, therefore the time of year that Jesus was born is a matter of debate and guesses. Of course the traditional date of celebrating Jesus’ birth is December 25, however most historians agree that Christmas was not observed until about 300 years after Christ’s death, and the origins of Christmas cannot be traced back to either the teachings or the practices of the first believers. Certainly, the Bible nowhere indicates that Jesus was born in winter.  So, if Jesus wasn’t born on December 25, when was He born?

Based on the New Testament accounts (first of all, on calculations regarding the conception and birth of John the Baptist), late summer or early fall seem to be the most likely time of Jesus’ birth. Many Messianic believers celebrate Jesus’ birth during Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles). Let’s look at their arguments.

The first argument is very simple and has to do with the weather. Anyone who has been to Israel at the end of December would definitely agree that December 25 couldn’t be the date for Christ’s birth. Here are two primary reasons: First, we know that the shepherds were in the fields watching their flocks at the time of Jesus’ birth.[2]  That would not happen in December, since December in Judea is very cold and wet, so the weather would not permit shepherds to stay in the fields at night.  The end of December is in the middle of the rainy season in Israel, which lasts from Sukkot through Passover. Of course there is no way of knowing whether that particular December was wet, however, in December the nights are always very cold, sometimes below zero even if the days are nice and sunny, so the shepherds, along with their flocks, would at least be in some shelter at night. On the other hand, early fall – the time of Sukkot – fits perfectly with Luke’s account.

Second, many scholars think that December would not have been an appropriate time for a Roman census either: such censuses were not taken in winter, when temperatures sometimes dropped below freezing and roads were in a very poor condition. And here again, early fall would be a great time for traveling to Bethlehem. There is even a theory that Joseph and Mary planned their trip to Bethlehem to coincide with the Sukkot pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Traveling with a pilgrimage caravan from Galilee could have provided them safety on the journey. The busy time of pilgrimage might also explain the “no room at the inn” situation in Bethlehem.

The third and most significant argument is based on the timing of John the Baptist’s birth. John’s father, a priest named Zechariah, belonged to the “priestly division of Abijah”.[3]  He was taking his turn to serve in the Temple when the angel Gabriel appeared to him and announced that Elizabeth, Zechariah’s wife, would conceive a son. After Zechariah returned home, his wife conceived, just as the angel had said.  In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Gabriel visited Mary to announce the miraculous conception of Jesus.[4]

The 24 courses of the temple priesthood are found in 1 Chronicles 24.  Calculations are made showing that the Abijah division served in June. After Zechariah completed his service and traveled home, Elizabeth conceived.[5] Assuming John’s conception took place near the end of June, adding nine months brings us to the end of March as the most likely time for John’s birth. If we add another six months, we arrive to the end of September – Sukkot time – as the likely time of Jesus’ birth.

However, all these arguments, as important and convincing as they might be, fade into insignificance if we think of the essence: why Jesus came to this earth and when it could – and had to – be done? I personally think that the most crucial aspects here are theological reasons – once we know and recognize God’s handwriting in history (His story), we can ascertain when, why and how Jesus had to be born. Here are some of the thoughts.

First of all, we already know that Sukkot is a biblical Feast of joy, zman simchateynu,  “the season of our joy”. Would it not be a proper time to declare “great joy for all people”?

Second, when John says that the “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us”,[6] we can see this as an allusion to Him coming into this world during the Feast of Tabernacles.

A third possible reason for Jesus being born on Sukkot concerns bringing the nations of the world to the recognition and worship of the God of Israel – a theme common to Sukkot and to the mission and ministry of Jesus.  It was God’s original design that the festival of Sukkot would bring the nations of the world to the true God, and this theme of Sukkot is expressed in many prophecies. Thus, in the prophecy of Zechariah we read that at the end of days, all the nations will come to celebrate the festival of Sukkot: And it shall come to pass that everyone that is left of all the nations who came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to observe the festival of Sukkot.[7]  Anyone who has had the privilege of participating in, or even just watching the Jerusalem March that takes place every Sukkot, would know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the mission of Sukkot and the mission of Jesus – to reach the nations of the world and to bring them to God of Israel – are intertwined.

Fourth, King Solomon inaugurated the First Temple on the festival of Sukkot: And all the men of Israel assembled themselves to King Solomon at the festival in the month of Eitanim, which is the seventh month….[8]  Evidently, the timing of this event was not coincidental, but rather the result of Solomon’s thorough   planning. How much more then, would it be a proper time to inaugurate the One who is indeed greater than Solomon and greater than Temple.

Finally, let us remember that Sukkot is a time of renewed fellowship with God.  Moses came back with the second set of the tablets on Yom Kippur – so on Yom Kippur the people of Israel already knew they were forgiven. However, it was not until Sukkot that the presence of God filled  sukkot -the tabernacles. That is why Sukkot is the most joyful of all the holidays: the broken are healed; we are no longer orphans; God came again to tabernacle with us! Immanu El – God is with us! Would it not have been the most appropriate time for Immanuel to come to this Earth?

 

PS  Dear friends, my Rosh Hashanah gift is still available, so if you haven’t done it yet, you can now go to this link and download a free copy of my book “Abraham had two sons”.

https://juliablumbooks.sendlane.com/view/julia-blum

 

[1] Lk. 2:10

[2] Lk. 2:7-8

[3] Lk. 1:5

[4] Lk. 1:26-36

[5] Lk. 1:23-24

[6] John 1:14

[7] Zech. 14:16

[8] I Kings 8:1-6

Reprinted by permission of Dr. Eli Lyzorkin-Eyezenberg, eteacherbiblical.com.

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