Summary: Last time we learned that the many and varied traditions that we associate with Christmas in America today are from a variety of nations and faith systems and ethnicities. Today we are going to look at some of the traditions that make up the Christmas hol
As Christmas draws nearer and homes and businesses become more decorated with the symbols of the holiday, I believe it is good for us to pause and reflect on why we do what we do this time of year. Is it simply for traditions’ sake, or is there a more significant meaning?
J.I. Packer wrote, “All Christians are at once beneficiaries and victims of tradition—beneficiaries, who receive nurturing truth and wisdom from God’s faithfulness in past generations; victims, who now take for granted things that need to be questioned, thus treating as divine absolutes patterns of belief and behavior that should be seen as human, provisional, and relative. We are all beneficiaries of good, wise, and sound tradition and victims of poor, unwise, and unsound traditions.”
Last time we learned that the many and varied traditions that we associate with Christmas in America today are from a variety of nations and faith systems and ethnicities, and that some of them have their roots in pagan religions dating back a couple of thousand years. We also learned that the desire of Christians to see pagans as well as their practices redeemed has long been a very real part of the Christian faith and mission. We saw how that was the primary reasoning behind the move to designate December 25th as the birthday of Jesus when no one knew when it really was for sure.
Today we are going to look at some of the traditions that make up the Christmas holiday here in America as well as in most of the First-World industrialized nations. Let’s begin with the Nativity.
The Nativity is the truest and purest representation of what Christmas is to be about – the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. We get our description of the event from Luke 2:1-20, and from Matthew 1:18-2:12.
Most scholars believe that Jesus was born between 6 and 4 BC based on Luke’s timetable and what we know from extra-biblical historical sources. We read in Luke 2:1-2, “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.”
We know that Herod died in 4 BC and that, according to Matthew 2:16-23, Herod ordered the death of all male children in Bethlehem up to age two, that Joseph – who had been warned in a dream to take “the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt (2:13)” – now was told in a dream by an angel that those who sought to kill the Child were dead so it was time to return to the land of Israel. So, the birth of Jesus had to be before 4 BC and during the “first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.”
Extra-biblical history tells us that Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was a close advisor and intimate political ally of three of the Caesar’s: Augustus, Tiberius and Caius. Augustus was the ruling Caesar at the time Luke is writing about in our passage for today.
Quirinius, which is translated as Cyrenius in the King James Version, was first the military commander in Syria, and then was made the political leader of Syria. The census referred to in today’s passage in Luke was ordered by Augustus to be conducted in 8 BC, but was not completed until 6 BC. Every fourteen years, by edict of Caesar Augustus, there was a census to be taken of all of the people within the provinces of Roman rule. The second census in Palestine occurred in 6 AD, while Quirinius was the political or civil governor, and is referred to once again by Luke, this time in Acts 5:37.
A great deal is actually known about this man, but suffice it to say that his greatest claim to fame – unbeknownst to him – was that his name will forever be associated with the birth of the Savior.
So, Quirinius is one of the governors (the military one) in Syria, which also had jurisdiction over the region of Judea, and the first census is conducted during that time. Why do you think Luke included such specific information for Theophilus, the man to whom Luke addresses both his gospel and the Book of Acts? Look back at Luke 1:1-4, and you will find that Luke’s goal was to ensure the Theophilus would be able to know “the exact truth” about the things he had been taught about Jesus Christ.
This census being taken when it was, while Augustus Caesar was on the throne and Quirinius was military governor of Syria, was pinpointable to an exact historical event for the people of that day. In our day we do not have the same exact reference point, but we can know the date within a couple of years.