Five Interesting Facts About Christmas

Congratulations—the long wait is over. Christmas is finally here, hurray!

As a Christmas present to you, here are five interesting facts about Christmas that may come in handy in your various conversations around Christmas. 

Interesting Fact #1:  On Baby Angels and Scripture

Angels have played a key role in redemptive history, and no less during the first nativity. The Bible makes us know the angels were quite busy around the time of Jesus’ birth! We read that an angel,

  • announced to Mary that she will be the mother of the Messiah (Luke 1:26-28).
  • announced the birth of Christ to the Shepherds (Luke 2: 8-12). Following this, we are told that multitudes of angels joined the angel to praise God for His glory in the highest and the proclamation of His peace on those who please Him on earth (Luke 2:13).
  • appeared to Joseph in a dream, when he contemplated ditching Mary, after he found out he was pregnant with baby Jesus by the Holy Spirit before they had wed (Matt. 1:20).
  • warned him to flee to Egypt with the baby Jesus, and subsequently aided their return to Israel.

Most Christmas cards and nativity scenes depict angels as little chubby children with wings and a halo around their heads, hovering above a baby Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The interesting fact about angels, however, is that whenever they appeared to humans in the Bible, they took on the form of an adult male (Gen. 18:1-21, 19:1-22; Judges 13: 1-22; Acts 1:10-11). We have no record of angels as women or children, whenever their appearances were recorded in such detail. Here’s where depictions of angels in works of art, movies etc. have sometimes led us astray.  

The significance of this fact is that angels are messengers of God who do His bidding—they point to God in each instance they have featured in redemptive history. And at the climax of history at the Lord’s birth, they rejoiced to see the dawn of the salvation of mankind. The God of angel armies Himself had come down to earth to make His dwelling with us!

Interesting Fact #2: On How Many Wise Men Came to Visit the Baby Jesus

The traditional Christmas favourite, “We Three Kings” presents the idea that three Wise Men (or Magi) visited the baby Jesus as His birth. However, the Bible does not explicitly tell us they were three in number. The narrative simply says,

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 saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2).

The number three has arisen largely from the fact there were three gifts presented to the Christ child; gold, frankincense and myrrh. We are also not told their names; although some traditions include their names as Gaspar, Melchoir and Balthazar.

An interesting fact about the time the Magi visited is that Matthew tells us Jesus and His parents were living in a house by then; no longer in the Manger.

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. (Matthew 2: 10-11a).

Some have suggested it took them two years to get to Bethlehem, deduced from the fact that Herod in a jealous fit ordered all children aged two years and below to be slaughtered, based on the time the Wise Men indicated they saw the star which guided them.

The significance of Wise Men from the East visiting the Lord at His birth, is that He is the Saviour of all; for both the Jew and the Gentile. This is a major theme throughout Luke’s gospel in particular.  

Interesting Fact #3: On the Virgin Birth vs a Non-virgin Birth

Some higher critics, in an attempt to discredit the credence of the virgin birth, have argued that the root word translated “virgin’” in Isaiah 7:14 could as well be translated “woman” or “a young maiden who has not given birth”.

The interesting fact about the nativity is that a non-virgin birth does not quite cut Isaiah’s prophecy right. The root Hebrew word, “almah”, which most translations render virgin (except for RSV, for example), means “veiled” or “hidden”—which was the typical way in which unmarried women dressed up during Bible times. Culturally, a woman was expected to be celibate before marriage; and a woman found to have lost her virginity before marriage would be stoned to death. Although “young woman” is one possible way to interpret the text, the original recipients of the gospels would have naturally translated this to mean a virgin.

The context provides further support for this. The birth that is announced in Isaiah’s prophecy was to be a sign, in other words, something spectacular. There is nothing special or amazing about a married woman having a child, therefore any interpretation of “almah” as a married woman or non-virgin would quite plainly not fit the context.

Another interesting contemporary fact about this is the fact that the Fante word for a young lady, “Akatasia” would support a virgin interpretation of “almah”. Akatasia literally means, “covered up and hidden from sight”. To wit, a young unmarried woman in typical Ghanaian culture dressed up in such a way as to conceal her beauty until she unveiled this to her future husband. In short, the term for a young woman inherently carried the idea of celibacy and decency in the historical-cultural context, not only in Israel but across several cultures going well past the time the prophecy was written.

Interesting Fact #4: On Which Year Jesus Was Likely Born

On the year of Jesus’ birth, the editors of the ESV Stydy Bible write:

“According to Josephus, Quirinius was governor of Syria A.D. 6-7 and conducted a census in A.D 6 (which Luke is aware of and mentions in Acts 5:37). But this cannot be the census Luke is referencing here, since it occurred after the death of Herod the Great in 4B.C., and it is known that Jesus was born during Herod’s reign (cf Matt. 2:1; Luke 1:5). Various plausible solutions have been proposed. Some interpreters believe that because “governor” (participle of Gk “hegemonuo”) was a very general term for “ruler”, it may be that Quirinius was the administrator of the census, but not the governor proper…Though the year cannot be determined with complete certainty, there are several reasonable possibilities which correspond to Luke’s carefully researched investigation (Luke 1:3-4) and to the historical and geographical accuracy evidenced throughout Luke and Acts. The most reasonable date is late in the year of 6 B.C. or early 5.”

Interesting Fact #5: On Whether December 25 Was Christ’s Actual Birthday

Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December; however, we have no proof from Scripture that this is the actual birthday of Jesus. Working backward from the angel’s announcement to Zechariah re the birth of John the Baptist (the time of Zechariah’s high priestly assignment), we can deduce a date of conception in December, and his delivery sometime around September instead.

David divided the priestly service into what is known as courses (or divisions); each course serving twice a year for a week at a time (from Sabbath to Sabbath) (1Chron. 9:22; 1Chron. 24; 2 Chron. 23:8; 35:4), except at the three major festivals when all the priestly divisions served together (2Chron. 5:11). Luke tells us Zechariah belonged to the eighth course, that of Abijah (Luke 1:5, 8). The first course served from the first day of the month of Nisan (March 29th), the beginning of the Jewish calendar.

The course of Abijah in 4-6 B.C. is worked out to have been around sometime in May. Following the angel’s visit and Zechariah’s dumbness, he would have likely been discharged from his duty for the week, according to Levitical laws (Leviticus 21:16–23). John the Baptist would have been conceived shortly after and is likely to have been born somewhere around March, placing Jesus’ birth six months later, likely in September.

This fits well with the fact that Shepherds were out in the fields when Jesus was born, although it is argued that winter in Palestine is mild and Shepherds could be about their duties even in mid-winter time.

An interesting fact about Christmas is that, it is a commemoration of our Lord’s birth, and what it means—He shall save His people from their sins—and the date on which this is done is really secondary.

On that note, we at TGN wish you a very happy Christmas and pray that the joy of knowing that our sins are forgiven will fill your hearts with peace this season and beyond!

Bibliography:

  1. ESV Study Bible; Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois, 2001; ESV Text Edition: 2011; page 1947, Notes on Luke 2:2.

Further reading:

  1. “Was Mary a Virgin?”, Mitch Teemly; https://mitchteemley.com/2018/12/23/was-mary-a-virgin-2/

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