- Passover, when Jesus Christ was crucified as the “the Lamb of God”; followed by
- His being in the tomb on the Feast of Unleavened Bread; then
- His rising from the dead on the Feast of First Fruits.
Christianity is the largest religion in the world, approximately a third of the world's population, according to Pew Research Center (2015).
Christmas Day could possibly be considered the most celebrated religious holiday on the planet.
The date of Christmas on December 25 has been studied for centuries.
Some think that since it was in the winter, shepherds would not have been in the field with their flocks, but this argument loses credibility when one considers the moderate climate of Bethlehem in December, with an average daily temperature of around 50 degrees, similar to Florida or Texas.
Some think December 25 was chosen to erase the pagan Roman winter solstice festival of Saturnalia, but this is discounted when one realizes the winter solstice is December 21-22, with celebrations beginning as early as December 17 and lasting no later than December 23.
The Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, explained how John the Baptist's father, Zechariah, was a Levite priest, of the family of Abijah:
"In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron."
King David divided the Levite priests into 24 family groups, called "divisions" or "courses," which took turns ministering at the altar in Jerusalem for a week at a time, twice-a-year.
This rotating schedule, called sacerdotal rota system, is recorded in I Chronicles 24:
"The sons of Aaron ... served as the priests ... David separated them into divisions for their appointed order of ministering ...
The first lot fell to Jehoiarib,
the second to Jedaiah,
the third to Harim,
the fourth to Seorim,
the fifth to Malkijah,
the sixth to Mijamin,
the seventh to Hakkoz,
the eighth to Abijah..." (The list continues through the twenty-four family divisions.)
The family course of Abijah served in the annual cycle on the 8th week and the 32nd week.
Solomon initiated the courses when he dedicated the First Temple in mid-10th century BC. 2 Chronicles 8:12-14 records:
"Solomon ... in keeping with the ordinance of his father David, he appointed the divisions of the priests for their duties."
The Jewish calendar is based on lunar cycles, while the Roman calendar is based on solar cycles.
When was Abijah's course in the Roman calendar?
The Babylonian Talmud (trans. Rabbi Dr. Isadore Epstein, The Soncino Press Ltd., NY, 1990), confirmed in Arachin 11B that the priestly family of Jehoiarib was on duty when the First Temple was burned on the 9th day of the Jewish month Av, c.587 BC.
Josef Heinrich Friedlieb confirmed in his 1887 book, The Life of Jesus the Redeemer, that when the Second Temple was burned, the priestly course of Jehoiarib was again on duty.
Since it is known that the Second Temple was destroyed in early August, 70 AD, on the 9th day of Av, and that the first priestly course of Jehoiarib was on duty that week, then seven weeks later would be the course of Abijah, which would be the second week of the Jewish month of Tishri.
This week, on the Roman calendar, occurred the last week in September.
This is exact week in which took place the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur -- the 10th day of Tishri, and the Feast of Tabernacles, Sukkoth -- the 15th day of Tishri.
The Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed the order of the Levite family courses, as revealed by Israeli scholar Shemaryahu Talmon in his research published in 1958 from the Qumran Dead Sea Scrolls (Parchment No. 321-4Q321).
All this evidence seems to indicate that c.1-4 BC, at the end of the reign of King Herod in Judea, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, would have been serving in the Temple the last week of September.
His wife, Elizabeth, would have conceived soon after, being pregnant with John the Baptist, known as "The Forerunner" of Jesus.
The Byzantine Rite Church Calendar commemorates September 23 as the date of the conception of John the Baptist, as does the second-century work Protoevangelium of Saint James.
The Gospel of Luke recorded:
"When Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense ...
All the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
... Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.
When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.
... But the angel said to him: 'Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.'"
Luke's Gospel clearly states that Elizabeth was in her 6th month of pregnancy when she was visited by her younger cousin Mary.
Six months after the end of September is the end of March,
Luke, chapter 1: 26-35:
"In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
The angel went to her and said, 'Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.'
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
... But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.
You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.
The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.'
... 'How will this be,' Mary asked the angel, 'since I am a virgin?'
The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail ...'"
"At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
In a loud voice she exclaimed: 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!
But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!'”
The respected Early Church Father St. John Chrysostom (349-407), Archbishop of Constantinople, accepted that Zachariah was in the Temple the week of the Day of Atonement and Feast of Tabernacles.
Susan K Roll wrote in Toward the Origins of Christmas (1995, pp. 100-101):
"Chrysostom's third argument follows ... that Zachariah was ... priest during the Feast of Tabernacles in the year John the Baptist was conceived.
Chrysostom counts off the months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, and dates Mary’s conception from the sixth month of Elizabeth’s ... then counts off another nine months to arrive at the birthdate of Christ."
Therefore, if Zachariah ministered at the altar at end of September, and Elizabeth conceived shortly thereafter,
then Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit six months later, March 25, the date the liturgical church calendar celebrates as the Feast of the Annunciation.
Nine months after March 25 is December 25, the traditional date of the birth of Jesus.
Early Christians were predominantly Jewish.
According to historian Josephus, Jewish families did not celebrate birthdays:
"The law does not permit us to make festivals at the birth of our children."
Early believers were more interested in the dates of:
It was not until large numbers of Gentiles became Christians that interest was given to celebrating the date of Christ’s birth.
One of the earliest recorded celebrations of Christmas on December 25 was in the middle of the second century AD, in Antioch, (present-day Turkey).
In 336 AD, Roman Emperor Constantine, observed Christmas on December 25.
In 350 AD, Pope Julius celebrated Christmas on December 25, as did Pope Liberius in 354 AD.
An ancient list of Roman bishops, compiled in 354 AD, contained a calendar entry for the year 336 AD:
"25 Dec.: natus Christus in Betleem Judeae."
Christmas Day, December 25th went on to become one of the most important dates in Western Civilization.
In 496, Clovis, King of the Francs, was baptized with 3,000 of his soldiers on Christmas Day at Rheims, France by Saint Remigius.
The name Clovis evolved into Louis, which was the name of 22 French kings.
In 526, during the reign of Christian Emperor Justinian, the scholarly monk Dionysius Exigus thought it inappropriate that dates were still being recorded in relation to the reign of anti-Christian tyrant Emperor Diolcetian - “anno Diocletiani."
Dionysius Exigus began making notations marking down dates in relation to the birth of Jesus - “anno Domini,” which in Latin means “in the year of the Lord's reign.”
Gradually, this method of recording all dates in relation to Christ’s birth became the most accepted dating system in the world.
Clarence E. Manion, dean of Notre Dame's College of Law, whose 1951 book Keys to Peace sold millions of copies, wrote:
"The long march of measured time suddenly stopped. It then did an about-face and started to march in another direction and to a different drum straight through the ensuing centuries of Christ and Christendom ...
... B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini, the year of our Lord) mark each one of the only reliable milestones along the path of world history ...
The end of the first time-chain, and the beginning of the second, came together on the night that Christ was born in Bethlehem ...
... The first CHRISTMAS DAY thus stands as the Great Divide for the timing and recording of all people, things and events that have lived or taken place upon this earth."
President Trump stated December 2017:
"Whatever our beliefs, we know that the birth of Jesus Christ and the story of this incredible life forever changed the course of human history."
On CHRISTMAS DAY, 597 A.D., 10,000 Anglo-Saxons were baptized in England on the banks of the Swale sea inlet between the isle of Sheppey and Kent by St. Augustine of Canterbury and his companion missionaries.
St. Augustine had also baptized King Ethelbert of Kent.
On CHRISTMAS DAY, 800 A.D., Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in St. John Lateran Church, Rome, Italy.
His grandfather, Charles Martel, had stopped the Muslim invasion of France in 732 AD.
Forty-six years after Charlemagne was crowned, 11,000 Muslims invaded Rome and desecrated the graves of St. Peter and St. Paul in 846 AD, after which Pope Leo IV built the wall around the Vatican.
After his death, his son, Otto III, was crowned King of Germany in Aachen on CHRISTMAS DAY in 983 A.D.
His pious son, St. Emeric, whose name in Italian is Amerigo, was the namesake of Amerigo Vespucci, the explorer mapmaker for whom the continent of America was named.
On CHRISTMAS DAY, 1046 A.D., Henry III of Germany and his wife, Agnes, were crowned Holy Roman Emperor and Empress by Pope Clement II.
On CHRISTMAS DAY, 1066 A.D., William the Conqueror was crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey, London.
This same year a Muslim became "offended" at a Jewish administrator in Granada, Spain, and stirred up a riot which killed nearly all of the 4,000 Jews in the city.
King Bolesaw II the Generous, who built numerous churches and monasteries across Poland, was crowned on CHRISTMAS DAY in 1076 A.D.
The Norman conqueror Roger II, after driving out Muslim occupiers, was crowned King of Sicily on CHRISTMAS DAY in 1130 A.D.
President John Quincy Adams stated in Newburyport, July 4, 1837:
"In the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior ...
It forms a leading event in the progress of the Gospel dispensation."
On CHRISTMAS, DECEMBER 24, 1946, President Truman stated:
"The message of Bethlehem best sums up our hopes tonight.
If we as a nation, and the other nations of the world, will accept it, the star of faith will guide us into the place of peace as it did the shepherds on that day of Christ's birth long ago."
President Ronald Reagan stated in 1983:
"CHRISTMAS is a time ... to open our hearts to ... millions forbidden the freedom to worship a God who so loved the world that He gave us the birth of the Christ Child so that we might learn to love.
The message of Jesus is one of hope and joy.
I know there are those who recognize CHRISTMAS DAY as the birthday of a wise teacher ... then there are others of us who believe that he was the Son of God, that he was divine."
President Donald Trump stated in his 2017 Christmas message:
"We're thrilled to think of the people across the nation and all across the continent whose spirits are lifted by the miracle of Christmas.
For Christians, this is a Holy season - the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
On December 5, 2019, President Trump stated:
"Christians give thanks that the Son of God came into the world to save humanity."
The Gospel reveals how God is just and how God is love.
God is just (Daniel 9:14) which means He has to judge every sin with impartiality.
"Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" (Genesis 18:25)
"The ... awesome God, showing no partiality and accepting no bribe." (Deuteronomy 10:17)
For God to not judge a sin would be for Him to deny His just nature, and "God cannot deny himself." (Timothy 2:13)
God is a just God, but He is also a loving God in that He Himself provided the Lamb to take the judgment for our sins.
Genesis 22:8: "And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering."
The Gospel of John 3:16-18, states:
"For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes on him should not perish but have everlasting life.
For God sent not the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved."
I John 4:10:
"This is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins."
Clarence E. Manion of the University of Notre Dame stated:
"The first CHRISTMAS DAY ... is ... the one place on the long, long trail of time where the magnetic needle of history stands vertical and points up."