December 25 Jewish-Style
December 25 Jewish-Style
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Introduction

Our family has thoroughly enjoyed celebrating the birth of Jesus “Hanukkah style.” They are days of celebration, feasting and gift giving. They are days in which we rethink covenant history. They are days of tangible connection with the Jewish roots of Jesus. They help to put us into the mindset of faithful Jews like Simeon who were “waiting for the Consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25), and of Paul who loved celebrating Jewish festivals in a New Covenant context (Acts 18:21; 20:16; 1 Cor. 16:8; etc). They are days in which we attempt to leave the glamour and glitz of modern Christmas celebration and attempt to reenter the poor stable where Jesus was born. In short, this book explains how we celebrate December 25 in ancient Jewish style.

This book is not intended to impose a new holy day upon the church. I firmly believe that the Lord’s Day is the only holy day for the New Covenant. But I also believe that Scripture authorizes what the Westminster Confession 21:5 calls solemn occasions of thanksgiving, which can be celebrated in their several times and seasons.” This book is not an attempt to enter into debate with those who oppose all Christmas celebration. Nor is it an attempt to enter into debate with those who celebrate a traditional Christmas with Christmas trees, Santa Claus and trimmings. Instead, it is being produced at the request of many who have loved the rustic way our family has celebrated the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Repeatedly we have been asked for specific suggestions on readings, gifts, decorations, activities and foods that we have used for our celebration of the “Feast of Dedication” (another name for Hanukkah - John 10:22). We hope that both the theology behind our practice as well as the readings and practical suggestions for enjoying a Jewish style Christmas will prove to be useful to many.

The Controversy over Christmas

History

Numerous controversies have arisen over Christmas. Some of the objections to Christmas are well grounded, while others have no historical merit. A minority of Reformed Protestants have historically objected to any celebration of the birth of Jesus,1 while others have objected to one or more of the following: the name “Christmas,”2 the date of December 25,3 certain Christmas activities (such as kissing under the mistletoe,4 wassailing,5 Santa Claus handing out gifts,6 etc), certain Christmas decorations (such as the Christmas tree,7 Yule log,8 Yule Ham,9 mistletoe, holly wreaths, etc), certain compromises in the history of this festival,10 and/or the alleged pagan origin of this ancient festival. While it is clear that pagan practices have crept into the celebration of Christ’s birth over the centuries, I will argue that the early church originally celebrated Hanukkah, Passover and Pentecost in Jewish style just like the apostles did,11 with no imitation of the pagan festivals whatsoever.

The earliest records we have show that the church celebrated festivals prior to 100AD.12 Though Hislop quotes Tertullian as an opponent of festivals in 230 AD,13 he takes Tertullian completely out of context. Tertullian was vigorously contrasting Christians, who “celebrate their festal days with a good conscience, instead of with the common wantonness” of the pagans.14 But clearly the Christians had “festal days.” It was not Christian feasts per se that he was opposed to, but pagan feasts, and adoption of pagan practices. He said, “we do not celebrate along with you the holidays of the Caesars in a manner forbidden alike by modesty, decency, and purity, … affording opportunities for licentiousness.”15 However, in contrast to the festal days he rejected, Tertullian defends the festivals of Passover and Pentecost as being joyous feast days.16 Again in chapter 23 he speaks of the proper celebration of Resurrection Day and Pentecost. We will later trace the early celebration of the birthday of Jesus in the church, but these quotes should be sufficient to show that Hislop has grossly misrepresented Tertullian. Many fathers who supported the festival of Christ’s birth in the first few centuries vigorously opposed pagan accretions, but they had no problem with celebrating Jewish festivals that had been Christianized.

Though there was a very early controversy over the right day on which to celebrate Passover,17 the earliest controversy that attached to the festival of Christ’s birth came in 194-205 AD. Interestingly, the controversy did not revolve around the celebration itself (which apparently was present much earlier),18 but around the correct date to celebrate His birth. Hippolytus (about 205 AD) said that Jesus was born on December 25,19 and Clement of Alexandria (writing 194 AD) gave supporting evidence when he gave the date of January 6 as the time of Christ’s baptism. Since Jesus was baptized around the time of his birthday (Luke 3:23), this too would argue for a winter date for Christ’s birth. But the controversy came because some others had been suggesting alternative dates for Christ’s birth.20 Nevertheless, there is clear testimony to the celebration of the birth of Jesus going back to at least 200 AD, and possibly much earlier (see footnote 18). It will be argued later that the confusion over January 6 and December 25 can be partly explained by the difference in the Julian and Gregorian calendars.21 But it appears that there was widespread celebration of the birth of Jesus in 200 AD just as there was widespread celebration of at least two other Jewish festivals.

It was not until the Reformation that major opposition to celebrating the birth of Jesus arose among a minority. The general position of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland and of the American Puritans was to totally do away with Christmas.22 They were not content with John Calvin’s reforms of Christmas and Easter,23 but demanded entire abrogation of the festivals. Calvin,24 Turretin,25 Bullinger,26 Beza,27 and other Reformed leaders28 considered the position of the Scotch Presbyterians to be legalistic. I would not personally want to go that far, having great respect for those who oppose all participation in festivals. There are still some churches and at least three Reformed denominations in North America that totally abstain from these festivals on religious grounds. Nor is this an insignificant issue. Those who abstain from celebrations usually do so for two main reasons: fear of syncretism with pagan worship and fear of violating the regulative principle of worship. Such fear should not be scorned but should be praised since these issues of sola Scriptura29 and Soli Deo Gloria30 are at the heart of the Reformed faith.

The Regulative Principle of Worship

I too oppose syncretism in any form (Rom. 12:1; 1 Cor. 3:10-15; 2 Cor. 4:5; 6:14-18) and uphold the regulative principle of worship - that all of Scripture, and only Scripture is to regulate our worship (Deut. 4:2; Rev. 22:18, 19; Prov. 30:5, 6; Is. 8:20; Mark 7:7-13; Matt. 15:6-9; Col. 2:20-23; Matt. 28:19f.).31 Though my studies of Scripture have convinced me that celebrating the incarnation of Christ on December 25 is consistent with these principles and very appropriate, I appreciate the concern expressed by those of differing views and am constrained by Scripture to give them liberty concerning the “day” (Rom. 14:5, 6) as they should do to me once they see that I am in no way embracing the pagan celebration of Yule Day or Saturnalia on December 25. This book is defending liberty to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The great reformer, Turretin, expresses my position well when he says,

The question is not whether anniversary days may be selected on which either the nativity, or circumcision, or passion, or ascension of Christ, and similar mysteries of redemption, may be commemorated, or even on which the memory of some remarkable blessing may be celebrated. For this the orthodox think should be left to the liberty of the church. Hence some devote certain days to such festivity, not from necessity of faith, but from the counsel of prudence to excite more to piety and devotion. However, others, using their liberty, retain the Lord’s day alone, and in it, at stated times, celebrate the memory of the mysteries of Christ… …we deny that those days are in themselves more holy than others; rather all are equal. If any sanctity is attributed to them, it does not belong to the time and the day, but to the divine worship. Thus, the observance of them among those who retain it, is only of positive right and ecclesiastical appointment; not, however, necessary from a divine precept.32

Satan the Great Imitator

But we do need to deal with the fact that pagans have celebrated a festival on December 25 as well. In the minds of many, this argues strongly that we should distance ourselves from Christmas. But the question we need to consider is this: “Who imitated whom?” We know from Scripture that Satan is a skilled imitator of God (Exodus 7:11, 12, 22; 8:6, 7, 17, 18; 2 Thes. 2:9), that he knows the Scriptures (Matt. 4:6; Mark 4:15), and that he even knows present and future information about God and man that has not necessarily been revealed to men (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6; I Kings 22:19-22). Therefore it is no surprise to us that, when God instituted sacrifices (Gen. 3:21; 4:4), Satan followed suit (Gen. 4:3-5) and continued to do so before (2 Kings 23:11; Is. 65:4; 66:3, 17; Ex. 8:10; etc.) and after Christ’s coming (1 Cor. 10:20; Rev. 2:14,20). The fact that pagans offered sacrifices did not invalidate the godly giving of sacrifices. The issue was a question of who imitated whom. The same can be said of the universal phenomena of circumcision, baptisms, incense, tongues, prophecies, prayers, healings, etc. Just because false religions practiced these things did not mean that Israel had to abandon them.

Who Imitated Whom?

The start of the conspiracy theory

But more to the point of Christmas, “Which celebration of December 25 came first? Did the Christians imitate the pagans, or did the pagans imitate the Christians?” Ever since the writings of Paul Ernst Jablonski (1693-1757), it has been assumed that Christians borrowed the celebration of December 25 from the Roman Saturnalia, and that they began to do so after Constantine converted to Christianity in 312 AD. Hislop’s book, The Two Babylons, reasserts much of Jablonski’s research, and almost all modern literature against Christmas celebration relies heavily on Rev. Hislop’s book.

Problem 1

There are two major problems with this pagan-origin-of-Christmas thesis: First, the most recent research has demonstrated that Rome started celebrating December 25 with sun-worship long after Christians had already set apart that date.33 The earliest reference that we have to “the birthday of the undefeated Sun” (Dies Natalis Solis Invicti) being on December 25 is in 354 AD.34 This is one hundred and fifty years after the first undisputed December 25 dating for the birth of Jesus! It is true that the 354 AD inscription presumes an earlier celebration. But so does the earliest reference to celebration of the birth of Jesus on December 25. It is also true that many scholars assume that the Roman Emperor Aurelian may have established December 25 when he sought to institute the cult of Sol Invictus in 274 AD. However, this is merely an assumption, and an interesting archeological inscription from the reign of Lucius Septimus Severus dates the birthday of the Sun God to December 19.35 This means that a later emperor must have changed the date to December 25 for some reason. It is that reason for the change that is most intriguing.

But for the sake of argument, let us assume that the earliest possible date for the Roman pagan celebration of December 25 is 274 AD. This is still almost three quarters of a century removed from the earliest uncontested Christian reference to the birth of Jesus being on December 25. Who is copying whom? It is extremely unlikely that Christianity (still an illegal persecuted religion) would imitate its persecutors. Since the Emperor Aurelian was desperately trying to consolidate all religions under Rome, and since Christianity was fast becoming the largest religion in Rome, William Tighe says that it “was almost certainly an attempt to create a pagan alternative to a date that was already of some significance to Roman Christians.”36 Tighe, Associate Professor of History at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, came to the conclusion that “the ‘pagan origins of Christmas’ [idea] is a myth without historical substance.”37 My own research has led me to the same conclusion.

If it is objected that two Roman temples of the sun existed in the first century, it should be immediately asked, “What is the date of their festivals to the Sun?” And the answer is, “August.” Talley and Tighe argue that even with Mithraism and other eastern cults, the festivals were not on December 25 prior to Aurelian’s initiative, and no written record can be found for this date prior to 354 AD. This is a fatal blow to the theory that Christians borrowed December 25 because of pagan syncretism. The evidence seems to favor the opposite conclusion.

Problem 2

The second major problem with this thesis is that it fails to account for Hanukkah, the Jewish festival that fell on December 25 in 5 B.C. (the year Christ was born). If Christians borrowed their celebration of December 25 from the pagans, whom did the Jews borrow their celebration from? It is impossible to credibly argue that the Maccabean freedom fighters borrowed anything from the pagans. They were willing to lay down their lives and be tortured and killed rather than to compromise on the slightest deviation from the law.38 4 Maccabees 18:5 says, “in no way whatever was he [Antiochus] able to compel the Israelites to become pagans and to abandon their ancestral customs.” The Maccabees were purists who allowed not the slightest degree of syncretism with paganism. Their cry was, “Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances” (1Macc. 2:21). It is clear that there was no borrowing of December 25 (or rather the Jewish lunar equivalent of Chislev 25) from the pagans. It is also clear that the festival of Hanukkah went back to at least the third century BC.39 This deals a second deathblow to the pagan-origin-of-December-25-thesis. It simply will not work when it is tested against the Jewish celebration of December 25.40

Satan’s great strategy

Instead, what happened is that Satan used his “Plan B.” “Plan A” is to destroy God’s people with persecution. When that cannot be accomplished, he imitates God’s plan and seeks to confuse God’s people by mixing counterfeit with real. Satan is the great conspirator. When God instituted a Sabbath in the Garden of Eden, Satan followed suit. Every major religion in the world has it’s equivalent to a Sabbath day. When God established sacrifices with Abel after the Fall, Satan followed suit and sacrifices became universal. When God established circumcision, Satan sought to obliterate this distinction by having other nations practice circumcision. When God established a temple, so did Satan. If the pagan day proves anything, it is that Satan has set up a competing day on a competing calendar. Just as a counterfeit dollar presupposes a real dollar, and Satan’s many other counterfeits presuppose the real thing, why can’t a pagan day of December 25 (especially when celebrated under so many religions and cults - i.e., not a coincidence) presuppose a “real” day of December 25?

The Biblical Origins

The Feast of Hanukkah

What are the origins of the Christian festival then? Christmas is the modern name for the Jewish festival of Hanukkah which Christ attended in John 10:22-42 and of which He declared Himself to be the fulfillment. Hanukkah is the Hebrew word for “dedication.” Other names for this festival are the Feast of Dedication, Dedication of the Temple, Dedication of the Altar, Consecration, Feast of Lights, Chanukah, and Hanukkah. Very simply, “The 25th of December, which is, according to the Jewish Calendar, the 25th of Kislev, and the generally accepted date for the Day of Hanukkah, has become Christmas.”41

The Bible calls this feast the “Festival of Dedication” (John 10:22) because Chislev 25 was the date in which three former dedications had been made: 1) the dedication of the tabernacle under Moses, 2) the dedication of the altar under Ezra/Nehemiah, and 3) the dedication of the temple under the Maccabees. In addition to those three dedications that set apart Chislev 25, there were two additional dedication festivals of the temple which form a background to Hanukkah: 1) the dedication of the temple under Solomon was celebrated with Hanukkah-style festivities and 2) the dedication of the cleansed temple under Hezekiah was followed by an eight day celebration. So there are four Biblical precedents for Hanukkah and one inter-testamental celebration of Hanukkah with prophetic witness. We will analyze each of these dedications.

The Festival of Dedication under Moses

The first “feast of dedication” (Hanukkah) was authorized under Moses in Numbers 7-8; Leviticus 8-9 and Exodus 40 and commenced on Chislev 25.42 Though this feast was not listed by Moses as one of the mandated festivals of Leviticus 23, this was a joyful festival which celebrated the “dedication of the altar” (7:10,11, 84,88) and the dedicating of the Levites (8:5-26). There were eight days (Lev. 9:1) in which the altar was purified every day, and on the eighth day God Himself set the altar apart as holy with heavenly fire (Lev. 9:24) and judged Nadab and Abihu’s subsequent irreverence when they brought “strange fire” (Lev. 10). In addition to the eight days related directly to the purification of the altar, there were a total of twelve days43 of celebration, feasting, gift giving, filling the lamps and candlestick with oil and lighting of the candlestick and of the lamps of the temple. All of this prefigured the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. The following chart shows five parallels:

Event Prefiguration of:
Tabernacle started in March Jesus conceived in March
Tabernacle finished Chislev 25 Jesus born on Chislev 25
Eight days of purification Jesus has eight days of purification
On the eighth day there is a sacrifice and God sets the altar apart with fire On eighth day Joseph and Mary offer a sacrifice and Jesus is circumcised and dedicated to Lord as “firstborn” at temple.
Firstborn Levites dedicated Firstborn of God dedicated

Interestingly, both the text of Numbers and Jewish tradition indicate that though the tabernacle was dedicated and purified with offerings on this first festival (Numb. 7-8), the people did not offer sacrifices until Passover on Nisan 14 (Numb. 9). In the same way, Jesus was born on Chislev 25 but was sacrificed on Nisan 14. This first festival of Hanukkah was a perfect prefigurement of the Incarnation.

The Festival of Dedication under Solomon

The second festival of dedication occurred under Solomon. This massive celebration is discussed in 1Kings 8:1 - 9:9 and 2Chronicles 5-7. Though this festival was not on Chislev 2544, but rather on Tabernacles (Succoth), Chislev was considered a second Feast of Tabernacles or the “Succoth in Chislev” by the Jews. Certainly the same themes are present.45 The dedication of the temple under Solomon in other respects parallels the other Hanukkah dedications. There is an eight-day celebration (2 Chron. 7:9; 1 Kings 8:66), feasting (1 Kings 8:65-66; 2 Chron. 5:3; 7:8-9), it is called a festival of the “dedication of the altar” (2 Chron. 7:9; 1 Kings 8:63; 2 Chron. 7:5), God shows a miracle to show his favor - in this case, the glory cloud filling the temple and fire falling from heaven and consuming the sacrifice (2 Chron. 7:1-3). Solomon “dedicated the house of the LORD” (1 Kings 8:63; 2 Chron. 7:5) on day one followed by seven days of festival (1 Kings 8:65; 2 Chron. 7:8), making a total of eight days (2 Chron. 7:9) directly related to the temple.

The Festival of Dedication under Hezekiah

The third mention of a festival of dedication of the temple occurred under Hezekiah. Hezekiah’s father had defiled the temple, and when Hezekiah came to power, he immediately set to work to purify the temple, rededicate it to God, to offer sacrifices, and to give an eight day festival (2 Kings 18:1-4; 2 Chron. 29:3-36). This purification of the temple after defilement was so closely paralleled to the indignities that Antiochus Epiphanes later perpetrated against the temple and the true religion, that the Maccabees had this in mind when they later purified the temple on Chislev 25. We see the same themes of purification, dedication, antithesis of truth with error, eights days of celebration and feasting.

The Festival of Dedication under Nehemiah

The month of Chislev became very significant for the establishing of the new temple in the post-exilic period. News of the temple being in shambles reached Nehemiah in the month of Chislev (Neh. 1:1ff). This was an appropriate month to stir up mourning over the state of the temple. This Chislev-news jolted Nehemiah just as the news of the defilement of the temple on Chislev 25, 247 BC would jolt the priest Mattathias many years later. Because the people had been neglecting the temple and the priesthood in the post-exilic community, God raised up prophets who sought to bring reform and were greatly concerned for the rebuilding of the temple. Zechariah began to preach such reformation early in the month of Chislev (Zech. 7-8). Ezra too called for reform later in the month (on Chislev 20), demanding that mixed marriages be remedied. Repentance was achieved and the people began to work on the temple. The foundation stone of the temple was laid on Chislev 24 (Hag. 2:18), and the days after this were considered the turning point from cursing to blessing.46 Haggai gave a prophecy concerning temple and high priest on Chislev 24 and declared that “from this day forward” he would bless them (Hag. 2:10-23).

According to Jewish history, there are other fascinating parallels between the dedication of the temple under Nehemiah and the events under the Maccabees. A jar of sacred oil had been hidden by the priests just prior to the exile, and the earthen pit had preserved the oil for just such a time as this. According to Jewish tradition,

Suddenly the sun, which was hidden behind the clouds, burst forth in all its majesty. Its rays beat down upon the altar and lo, the residue of the oil burst into flame. Priests and people marveled at this wondrous sight, and Nehemiah decreed that henceforth a period of prayer and feasting and rejoicing should be held throughout all the generations of Israel on the anniversary of the day on which the altar and the rebuilt temple had been dedicated. And this day was the twenty-fifth day of Kislev.47

The Festival of Dedication under the Maccabees.

The fifth written celebration of a feast of dedication of the temple occurred during the Inter-Testamental era. The eight-day festival of dedication under the Maccabees is recorded for us in 2 Maccabees 10:1-8 and 1 Maccabees 4:41-49. The history preceding this event takes up the bulk of modern Jewish Hanukkah celebration, though readings from the previous ones are also included. We will include some readings of this distressing time in part 2. For now I will summarize the events and point out the connections with the previous celebrations.

When Antiochus Epiphanes sought to root out and destroy the true faith and to destroy all Scriptures, a small remnant of the Jews resisted. The resistance grew when more and more citizens understood the degree of hatred that Antiochus had toward the true faith. He killed those who refused to renounce Yahweh, destroyed their Bibles, forbad circumcision, killed men, women and even babies in the most barbaric manner, and showed himself utterly unable to compromise or show moderation. On Chislev 25, 167 BC, he sacrificed a pig upon the altar of the temple in order to defile it and devote the temple to his pagan deity. The date he picked cannot be a coincidence, and shows the hatred that Satan has for that date. The Maccabees engaged in a heroic struggle against the Greeks and Syrians, and against all odds, won the battles. Exactly three years to the day after the temple was defiled, the Jews cleansed and restored the temple on Chislev 25. All of this was prophesied by Daniel in Daniel 8:13-14. From that time forward, the ancient Feast of Dedication, which had been celebrated from time to time since Moses, was now celebrated every year without fail. It testified to the importance of uncompromising faithfulness to God, of the importance of God’s Word guiding all that we do, and of God’s miraculous provision for those who trust Him.

This festival had in common with all the previous ones the following points: 1) Each occasion had a miracle by which God authenticated the dedication of His temple. The miracles under the Maccabees were the amazing successes in battle against all odds and the preserved jar of oil that miraculously never ran out for the eight days needed until new oil could be consecrated. 2) Each festival was for eight days. 3) Each festival was concerned with a dedication of the altar and of the temple. 4) Each festival celebrated with lights (and thus is often called the “feast of lights”). 5) Each festival had feasting, rejoicing, and gatherings of God’s people. 6) Though every era acknowledged that this festival was not listed in Leviticus 23, they all insisted that it was given by the law.48 7) The teaching of the law was highlighted in each of these festivals.

Other commonalities with the festival in the time of the Maccabees are gift-giving (see Moses and Nehemiah), finding a preserved jar of sacred oil that lasts (see Nehemiah), cleansing from defilement of an evil man (see Hezekiah), the use of branches from a tree (see Hezekiah and Nehemiah), a time of great danger (see Hezekiah and Nehemiah), and a time of great apostasy (see Hezekiah).

The Festival of Dedication Celebrated by Jesus

Some authors have sought to demonstrate that the structure of the Gospel of John follows the precise order of the Jewish synagogue lectionary and constitutes a commentary on that lectionary.49 Others have questioned whether it actually constitutes a commentary on the lectionary.50 Nevertheless, most would agree with F.F. Bruce when he says that John “shows himself intimately acquainted with the Old Testament passages which the Palestinian Jewish lectionary prescribed for reading in synagogue at the festivals and other periods of the year.”51 References to these lectionary portions of Scripture can be seen for even the non-Levitical feasts such as Purim (John 5) and Hanukkah (John 10).

We have already seen52 that the original Feast of Dedication beautifully foreshadowed the coming of the Messiah from the time of Moses. But when Jesus attended the Feast of Dedication in 30 AD (see John 10:22), He gave further commentary, which flows beautifully from the Jewish lectionary readings that occurred on that feast day. When Jesus celebrated Hanukkah, he said that he was the one whom the Father had consecrated (v. 36). The verb used (ἡγίασεν) is also used in the Greek translation of Numbers 7:1, the first verse that was read on Hanukkah from the Torah passage. The Hebrew meshiach, or anointed, which occurs in Numbers 7:1,10,84 and 88, is a term that has Messianic overtones. As A. Guilding points out,

“Thus in New Testament times Hanukkah would doubtless be associated in Jewish minds with two contrasting sets of ideas: the blasphemy of false worship, the Man of Sin, and the Temple defiled; the true worship of a regathered Israel (an idea found already in 2 Maccabees 2:18), the return of the Shekinah, and the Temple restored.”53

Other connections to the Lectionary readings jump out: John 10:1-21 is tightly related to the Good Shepherd readings done in the lectionary. John 10:22-39 reflects themes in the dedication section of readings. Other themes have been pointed out from the readings in Zechariah 4, 1 Kings 7:40-50; Gen. 46:28-47:31; Ezekiel 34,37 and Leviticus 24:1-25:13.

The Messianic expectations surrounding Hanukkah were strong. Unfortunately, it was a political Messianism that dominated. Many of the revolutionary Zealots and Sicari among the Jews identified with the Maccabean freedom fighters, and had turned Hanukkah into a patriot celebration. There is evidence that some of the disciples were among these patriot fighters.54 Certainly it was common to name children after the Maccabees. Names like Simon, Judas, Matthew, were names worn with pride by those who wanted independence. To any Jew reading the Gospel of John it would have been obvious that the apostle John was deliberately confronting false Messianic claims surrounding the feast of Hanukkah and reestablishing the Mosaic meaning of the feast. John said,

Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe.”

Christ had told them how he perfectly fulfilled the meaning of Hanukkah, but they were only interested in a political leader who would help them fight against Rome. For them, Hanukkah had come to mean political independence. For them Messiah was a loaded term carrying ideas of national independence. For Jesus, the hopes and dreams of the Jewish people were going to come true, but He had to realign their ideas with the Bible. As Wright says,

“Jesus’ redefined notion of Messiahship thus corresponded to his whole kingdom-praxis…. It offered itself as the central answer to other key kingdom-questions. And it pointed on to a fulfillment of Israel’s destiny which no one had imagined or suspected. He came, as the representative of the people of YHWH, to bring about an end of exile, the renewal of the covenant, the forgiveness of sins. To accomplish this, an obvious first-century option for a would-be Messiah would run: go to Jerusalem, fight the battle against the forces of evil, and get yourself enthroned as the rightful king. Jesus, in fact, adopted precisely this strategy. But, as he hinted to James and John, he had in mind a different battle, a different throne.”55

In summary, Jesus not only celebrated the festival of Hanukkah, He also pointed people beyond the Maccabees to the distant meaning of the feast found in Moses. He declared Himself to be the fulfillment of what Moses looked for. John, by framing his Gospel around the Jewish festivals, also endorsed Hanukkah as a Messianic feast day. There is no indication that either John or Jesus thought that it was inappropriate to have a permanent celebration of this ancient feast on a yearly basis. They appeal to all the Biblical themes in the liturgy.

The 25th of Chislev is about the time of winter solstice when the sun begins its annual rising. So too the Messiah is prophesied as being the sun (Ps. 19; 84:11; Is. 60:19f.; Mal. 4:2) and His birth is spoken of as being the rising of the sun (Luke 1:78). This feast celebrating the rebuilding of the Temple points to Christ who is the Temple (John 2:19), and will begin His work of Temple-building. It spells the beginnings of the reversal of the blackness and cold of the long winter nights when all nations except for Israel sat in the darkness of sin. No longer would the nations have to come to Israel to find salvation, but God would send the victory of His kingdom throughout the world and gather in His great harvest from every kindred and tongue. The candles that were lit in the Temple and every home were beautiful symbols of this. Every night more candles were lit as an expression of the increase of Christ’s kingdom.

The Date of Christ’s Birth – two possibilities

But is it reasonable to think that Jesus was born on December 25? If one holds to a three and a half year ministry of Jesus (as I do), there are only two credible theories for the birth of Christ from the Biblical and historical evidence: 1) that Jesus was conceived on December 25 and born in September, 2) or that Jesus was conceived in March and born on December 25. No other dates have any solid evidence.56 They are all based on conjecture. The first posits a conception of Jesus on December 25 and His birth in Fall during the Festival of Tabernacles. The other posits a conception on March 25 and a birth on December 25. It is my view that the second alternative has the strongest evidence in its favor. But on either view, Chislev 25 (and the festival of Hanukkah) has great significance.

Theory 1 – Christ born on the Festival of Tabernacles

Let me first give the evidences that others have adduced that Jesus was born on the Festival of Tabernacles. First, we know that Jesus was crucified at the time of Passover (John 18:39). It is quite clear that His public ministry lasted at least three and a half years (based on the festival sequences in the Gospel of John). If it was exactly three and a half years, that would place the beginning of his ministry in the Fall. At the time of his baptism, Jesus “was about thirty years old” (Luke 3:23; compare with the requirements for priests in Numbers 4:3,47). This makes His birthday somewhere near the Fall.

The second major pillar of this viewpoint is based on the time of Zacharias’ Temple ministry. We know from 1 Chronicles 24:7-19 that there were twenty-four courses of priests. We know from Josephus that each course ministered “eight days, from Sabbath to Sabbath.”57 This fits with the evidence that we have in 2 Chronicles 23:8. 1 Chronicles 24:10 says that Abijah had the eighth course, and Luke 1:5,8 says that Zacharias belonged “to the priestly division of Abijah.” Now we come to a major assumption: if the first course started serving during the first month of the Jewish calendar (early spring), then Zacharias would have served in early June.58

If the previous assumption is true, then the angel appears to Zacharias while serving in the temple (Luke 1:8) in June. He returns home and Elizabeth presumably conceives right away. Adding nine months makes John’s birth in the early spring of the next year. Since Jesus was born six months after John (deduction from Luke 1:24-26,36), this would place Christ’s birth in the fall.

The next portion of the argument is that it would be easier for Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem to be taxed59 after the harvest, not before it. Likewise, it would make sense to go in the direction of Jerusalem during the Festival of Tabernacles.60 The presence of large crowds at the Festival of Tabernacles could explain why there was no room in the local inn since thousands of Jews converge on the area for such festivals on their way to Jerusalem, just five miles away.61

The next argument that is offered is that John 1:14 says that “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” The word for “dwelt” in the NKJV is literally “tabernacled.” This would tie in nicely with the festival of tabernacles.62 Furthermore there is a nice symmetry with symbolism since John the Baptist would be born on Passover (the day that Jews leave an empty chair for Elijah the prophet, and Jesus says that John was the symbolic Elijah) and Jesus would be born on Tishri 15, 5 BC.

But even this interpretation gives significance to the date of December 25: If Jesus was born on Tabernacles, then counting back exactly 267 days (which would still be a normal pregnancy) you get a date for conception of December 25. This is an amazing coincidence, and it has made some people believe that the conception did indeed occur on December 25. Either way, we are stuck with December 25 being a very significant date. Though I do not agree with this date for conception, perhaps an awareness of this fact will temper the fierce opposition some have to the day of December 25 being somehow pagan. They will have to deal with the issue of a December 25 date one way or another.

Theory 2 – Christ was born on December 25, 5 BC.

I believe that both the internal and external evidence relating to the birth of Jesus Christ favors a December 25 date for His birth. But to ascertain the date on the lunar and solar calendars, it is imperative that we find the right year for Christ’s birth.

Internal Evidence

Anyone who has worked with chronologies knows that to be off by even one year will radically affect the outcome of the calculations of months and days. This is true because the Jews followed a lunar calendar whereas we follow a solar calendar. Because the year assigned to Christ’s birth radically affects the outcome of monthly calculations, it is important to be as accurate as possible on this date. It is also important that the Gospel of John’s careful record of the festivals be taken into account. Most conservative scholars believe that John’s Gospel mandates at least a three and a half year ministry for Jesus.

Does a December 25 birth fit the length of Christ’s ministry?

The festival sequence in the Gospel of John can be interpreted anywhere from three and a half years to four years. A December 25 date for Christ’s birth could mean that He either 1) ministered for slightly more than 3.5 years or 2) that He was baptized a couple months after His birthday. External evidence has convinced me that He was born on December 25 and baptized less than two weeks later on January 6. Internal evidence would allow for this, though does not necessitate it. We know that He died on Passover (John 18:28,39), that He was baptized when He “was about thirty years old” (Luke 3:23), and that (based on Numbers 4:3,47) it is unlikely He would have begun His ministry before His birthday. So He must have been slightly older than thirty. Thus the dates of either theory fit the length of His ministry perfectly well.

However, when it comes to the sequence of Christ’s ministry, the theory that has Christ born in the Fall of 6 BC falls apart. It mandates that at least five months have elapsed between Christ’s baptism and John 2:13. As we will see in the next section, not more than three months could have elapsed (which takes us to the end of December or beginning of January).

Does it fit the year of Christ’s birth?

But what about the year of His birth? Is there any evidence that can narrow this down with reasonable certainty?

  1. We know from Matthew 2:1 that Jesus was born before Herod’s death. Josephus records that Herod died in April of 4 BC.63 This would indicate that Christ had to be born sometime before April of 4 BC.64 The most common current scholarship has opted for a 5 BC date.
  2. The killing of the children in Bethlehem from two years old and under was “according to the time which he had determined from the wise men” (Matt 2:16). It is true that Herod may have been trying to play it safe by killing older than he needed to. Nevertheless, this reference would seem to indicate a birth of Jesus by sometime between late 6 and early 4 BC. It still does not narrow the time frame down by much.
  3. But we have a great hint in the “forty-six years” mentioned in John 2:20. Verse 13 indicates that this statement was made during the first Passover of His ministry immediately after He cleansed the temple (John 2:14-16). The Jews affirm that the temple construction had begun forty-six years previously (John 2:20). From Josephus we know that the work began in 19 BC. Thus, simple math brings us to the Spring of AD 27 as the time of the first Passover in the Gospel of John.
  4. Building on the previous point, we can move backwards from the Passover of John 2:13-22 to the earlier baptism of Jesus (John 1:29-34). We know that this baptism occurred somewhere close to His thirtieth birthday (Luke 3:21-23). By examining what time transpired between His baptism and John 2:13, we can narrow the timing down much more precisely. Actual harmonies of the four Gospel accounts do not allow for more than three months between Christ’s baptism and the cleansing of the temple. Nor do they allow for much less. The events that must be fit in are the forty days of fasting (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13), John’s announcement of the Messiah (John 1:29-34), the selection of the first five disciples (John 1:35-51), the miracle of the water into wine (John 2:1-11) and the brief sojourn in Capernaum (John 2:12). This three-month period makes a fall baptism impossible (September to March is six months). Furthermore, it narrows the timing of Christ’s birth to sometime between December of 5 BC and the middle of January of 4 BC. No other scenario fits the evidence.
  5. 5 BC happens to be one of those rare years in which Chislev 25 falls on December 25. As we have seen earlier, this is a remarkable coincidence.
  6. As we will see in the next section, the best scenario for the angelic visitation to Zacharias (Luke 1:5-23) is in the Fall of 6 BC. This makes for a conception of Jesus in March and a birth in late December to early January (depending on the length of the pregnancy).
Does it fit the time of the angelic visitation to Zacharias?

The strongest internal evidence comes from the time that Zacharias served in the temple. According to Luke 1:5, Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, was a priest of the order of Abijah. He was performing his duties in the temple when the angel told him that his wife, Elizabeth, would conceive a child, and that he should call his name John. Because Mary’s conception occurs on the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, we can calculate the birth of Jesus if we know the time that Zacharias served in the temple. This will be a fairly accurate dating method, plus or minus about a week (time for Zacharias to travel home). What are some clues?

  1. Zacharias belonged to the Levitical division of Abijah. (Luke 1:5)
  2. Abijah was the eighth division of twenty-four divisions (1 Chronicles 24:1).
  3. Three times a year, all 24 courses worked together (Deut. 16:16). However, it is clear from Luke’s account that Zacharias was not simply helping others in their course. Luke was quite clear that the angel appeared to him “while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division” (Luke 1:8). Our date must line up with a specific week assigned to his order of priests.
  4. Each course ordinarily served for seven days, measured from Saturday evening to Saturday evening (1 Chron. 9:25; 2 Chron. 23:1-8).
  5. As will be discussed under external evidences (see “Evidence from 70 AD”), we have indisputable evidence that Zacharias served only two courses of temple ministry in 6 BC (the year before Christ’s birth). The division of Abijah (of which Zacharias was a part) served from April 18-25 and served again from October 3-10.
  6. Of these two dates, we can narrow it down to October 3-10 for two reasons: First, when the angel met Zacharias, “the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside” (Luke 1:10). The whole multitude only gathered at one of the three required feasts: Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. Second, it had to be a feast that overlapped the “appointed order” (Luke 1:5). The only feast that did so in 6 BC was the Feast of Tabernacles (Sept. 29-Oct. 5). During these festivals the priests of the appointed orders were the ones who offered the daily offerings.65 This duty was assigned by lots,66 just as Zacharias’ duties were (Luke 1:9).
  7. Zacharias’ service ended on October 10. Since this was to be a miraculous conception, there is no need to think of a monthly fertility cycle. She no doubt conceived that night or the next day.
  8. Mary conceived during the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, which also happened to be the sixth month of the Syro-Macedonian calendar, Xanthikos. Kenneth Doig demonstrates how this was five and a half months after the conception of Elizabeth.67 “The sixth inclusive month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy began about March 10, 5 BCE, and the middle of that lunar month was about March 25. This is the traditional day for the Annunciation, or conception of Jesus.”68 (See external evidence for more on this date.)
  9. Taking all of the Biblical data, Doig gives the following chart of events:
    Oct 3-10, 6 BC Division of Abijah served
    Oct. 10 Conception of John
    March 25 Conception of Jesus
    Dec 25, 5 BC Birth of Jesus

Jesus’ presentation at the temple (after 41 days) would have occurred on February 2, 4 BC. The Bible presents its own chronology of events. But there is also abundant external evidence to supplement it, as we will see in the next section.

External Evidence

The external evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of a March 25 date for Christ’s conception and a December 25 date for Christ’s birth.

Nova on March 25, 5 BC

It is an exceptionally rare coincidence to have a nova like the one that occurred on March 25, 5 BC69 to coincide with the Bible’s chronology of the conception of Jesus. This nova was visible for 70 days. If one believes that all the major events of redemptive history had celestial signs accompanying them, then this could be significant.

December 25 = Chislev 25 in 5 BC

It is also an extremely rare occurrence to have December 25 and Chislev 25 (the Jewish lunar date for Hanukkah) to coincide. But in 5 B.C., the year of Christ’s birth, Chislev 25 landed on December 25.70 This is an amazing “coincidence.” This festival expressed the hope of the return of the Shekinah glory of God to Israel when Messiah would come. It foretold the coming of “The Prophet” spoken of in 1 Maccabees 4:46, and the dedication of a new temple. The Shepherds did indeed see the Shekinah light of God when the Messiah was born. And Jesus declared that his body was the temple that they looked for (John 2:19-21). On Hanukkah Jesus declared his deity, saying, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:22-30).

Evidence from 70 AD

Kenneth F. Doig did an analysis of all the key events interrupting the priestly cycles from David to 70 AD.71 I will not repeat his complicated analysis here, but his historical analysis of the dates from David to 6 BC reconcile perfectly with the dates counting backwards from 70 AD to 6 BC. The Jews wrote that the priestly division of Jehoiarib was serving in the temple when it fell in 70 AD.72 1 Chronicles 24 tells us that Jehoiarib’s division was the first one, and Abijah’s was the eighth. Calculating backwards from 70 AD to 6 BC we can know the exact times that Jehoiarib’s and Abijah’s divisions were serving. As discussed earlier, this narrows the date of John the Baptist’s conception down to within a week, which narrows the birth of Jesus down to late December. (See fuller discussion from the internal evidence section.)

The early Christians had access to the Roman census

Cyril of Jerusalem (348-386) asked Julius to assign the true date of Christ’s birth “from the census documents brought by Titus to Rome.”73 It is clear that Julius had access to these records. After investigation, Julius assigned the date of December 25th for Christ’s birth. John Chrysostom (347-407 AD) says that he saw the actual census/tax records that contained the names of Joseph and Mary when they were registered in Bethlehem. He too dates the events to December 25 based upon those records. These are eyewitnesses to documents recorded in 5 BC. As early as the second century, church fathers appealed to these Roman records: Justyn Martyr (100-165 AD), in his Apology, drew up an explanation of the Christian faith for Emperor Marcus Aurelius. He said that Jesus was born at Bethlehem “as you can ascertain also from the registers of the taxing.”74 Though no date is mentioned by Justyn, the fact that early fathers saw this document indicates that they would have known the date of Christ’s birth. Tertullian (160-250 AD), spoke of “the census of Augustus – that most faithful witness of the Lord’s nativity, kept in the archives of Rome.”75 This should temper the skepticism of those who think that the numerous church fathers (listed below) who confidently affirm a December 25 birth for Jesus should be discarded. At least some of them were eyewitnesses to the census.76

Evidence from AD 70-125

It appears that the “Ebionite Christians of Palestine first instituted the feast [of the Baptism of Jesus on January 6], and this in fact, must underlie the statement of John of Nice, a late but well-informed writer (c. 950), that it was fixed by the disciples of John the Baptist who were present at Jesus’ Baptism.”77

Another interesting evidence comes from the first century document, Megillath Taanith Batra, otherwise known as “the Scroll of Fasts.” This document lists the well-known fasts of the Jews, but adds one on Tebeth 9, with the note: “our teachers do not say why.” The famous Jewish convert to Christianity, Alfred Edersheim, said, “Now, Jewish chronologists have fixed on that day as that of Christ’s birth, and it is remarkable that, between the years 500 and 816 A.D. the 25th of December fell no less than twelve times on the 9th of Tebeth. If the 9th of Tebeth, or 25th December, was regarded as the birthday of Christ, we can understand the concealment about it. Comp. Zunz, Ritus d. Synago. Gottesd. P. 126.”78 Though the Jewish calculation was off by a few days, it is interesting that they ascribe a winter date so close to that given by the church.

Evidence from AD 129-154

Note that the evidence cited in this paragraph has been challenged by recent scholars as being a possible fabrication from later centuries. There are other scholars who question such skepticism,79 but I will not present this evidence with any degree of dogmatism. This evidence comes from two church fathers: Telesphorus, second pastor of Rome (129-138 AD) and Theophilus, the bishop of Caesarea (died in 195 AD). George K. Evans states,

Telesphorus, the second bishop of Rome (129-138), ordained that ‘in the holy night of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior, they do celebrate public church services, and in them solemnly sing the Angels’ Hymn, because also the same night he was declared unto the shepherds by an angel, as the truth itself doth witness.’ Theophilus, who was Bishop of Caesarea during this same period, urged that ‘the observance or celebration of the birthday of our Lord [be held] on what day soever the 25 of December shall happen.’80

Evidence from AD 125 & 200

An unusual reference to the celebration of the birth and baptism of Jesus comes from the Gnostic heretic, Basilides (c. AD 125). Clement of Alexandria (writing about AD 200) questions the date that they (and a few of Clement’s contemporaries) assigned to the birth of Jesus (25 Pachon or May 20). But in the course of discussing their wrong date, he mentions that “the followers of Basilides celebrate the day of His Baptism too, spending the previous night in readings. And they say that it was the 15th of the month Tybi of the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar.”81 The 15th of Tybi is January 6. There are three facts to glean from Clement’s comments: 1) In 200 AD there were those who celebrated both the birth and the baptism of Jesus. 2) In 125 AD the Basilideans celebrated both festivals. 3) Since the baptism of Jesus was believed by both Clement and Basilideans to be on January 6, it is likely that his birthday was shortly before that. Later fathers spoke of January 6 as the “twelfth day,” that is, the twelfth day from December 25.82

Evidence from AD 205

In 205 AD, Hippolytus (165-235 AD) clearly speaks of December 25 as being the birth date of Jesus. He said, “The first coming of our Lord, that in the flesh, in which he was born in Bethlehem, took place eight days before Kalends of January…” (Commentary on Daniel 4:23). Eight days before Kalends of January would be December 25.

Evidence from AD 221

Sextus Julius Africanus, in his Chronicle entry for the year 221 AD, stated that Jesus was born on December 25. He is noted as being an expert in comparative chronologies and world history.

Evidence from AD 243-311

From a sermon given by Augustine against the Donatists (see Augustine below), Thomas J. Talley concludes that the Donatists must have celebrated Christmas before 311 AD, and that it must have had universal affirmation prior to the Donatist schism. This also places the celebration of the birth of Jesus before Constantine’s protection of the church. Talley concludes, “If we supposed that that festival was kept by the Donatists, we may place its establishment between 243 and 311.”83

Evidence from AD 300-330

In the early fourth century document, De Solstitiis et Aequinoctia, the writer says, “Therefore, our Lord was conceived on the eighth of the kalends of April in the month of March, which is the day of the passion of the Lord and of his conception. For on the day that he was conceived on the same he suffered.”84 Analysis of the Scripture variants and the Semitisms in the article have led scholars to believe that it must have been written in either Syria or (more likely) Palestine. An intricate dating is used explaining how Zacharias served in the Autumn, John the Baptist was conceived at the Autumn equinox, was born at the summer solstice, that Jesus was conceived exactly six months after John was conceived, and that Jesus was delivered at the Winter solstice. It appeals to the law in Exodus 34:25-26 that forbids a kid from being boiled in its mother’s milk because Jesus was killed at the very time of his mother’s lactation. (Augustine later used this same argument.) His calculations move from conception on March 25 to birth on December 25 (nine months later).

Evidence from 336 & 354

The Roman Chronograph of 354 AD clearly marks December 25 as the birthday of Jesus. It has two lists associated with it, the Depositio Martyrum (a list of burial dates for Christians and martyrs) and the Depositio Episcoporum (the burial dates for church leaders). Both lists make December 25 the liturgical date for Christ’s birth. This indicates that Christ’s birth was celebrated on this date for a long period already. Based on this calendar’s markings we know that an earlier calendar existed in 336 that dates Christ’s birth to December 25. This is the calendar that the Roman Chronograph is based upon.85

Evidence from 350-400
  1. Ephrem the Syrian (306-373) puts Christ’s conception in the Jewish month of Nisan.86 This would mean a December birth.
  2. Cyril of Jerusalem (348-386) asked Julius to assign the true date of Christ’s birth “from the census documents brought by Titus to Rome.”87 After investigation, Julius assigned the date of December 25th. If Julius still had access to these census documents, then he had a much clearer picture of when Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem than we do.
  3. In 354 AD, Pope Liberius moved the birth of Jesus from January 6 to December 25. He had strong evidence that convinced him that the January 6 date was wrong (though it may indeed have been the date of Christ’s baptism). It is also interesting to note that he would not have done this to coincide with the winter solstice, since by that time the winter solstice had retreated to December 21. He was moving the date for his regional celebrations based on concrete evidence, and to conform to earlier celebrations in other regions of the empire.
  4. John Chrysostom (347-407 AD) says that he saw the actual census/tax records for Joseph and Mary when they were registered in Bethlehem. He said that based on these census documents, we can know with certainty that the birth took place on December 25. He delivered a sermon on December 25 outlining a detailed chronology of events from Zacharias’ ministry in the temple to the birth of Jesus, stating that Zacharias ministered on the Fast for the Day of Atonement and the following Festival of Tabernacles. Working forward six months he came to the conception of Jesus on March 25 and then nine months later his birth on December 25. Unless we are willing to say that he deliberately lied, there is no reason to question his claim to have seen the census documents containing the names of Joseph, Mary and Jesus.
  5. In 379 Gregory Nazianzenus stated that Jesus was born on December 25.
  6. In 386 Gregory of Nyssa supported a December 25 date in his sermon on the Nativity.
  7. Epiphanius (310-403) said, “Zachariah remained until the completion of the two feasts, twelve days, and it was on Tisri 22, on the fifth day of the week [that he fell dumb], and on the Friday (urbath) he went home and came in to his wife Elisabeth and she conceived at eventide of Urbath the lightgiving torch which was to precede the sun of righteousness. So that from that day until Nisan, the 6th of April there are 5-1/2 months, a point set forth by the holy archangel when he said ‘In the sixth month.’” His discourse continues its calculations, giving a birth date for Jesus on January 6. Though this is different from our December 25 date, it 1) argues for a winter birth and 2) can be explained by virtue of the difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars. He continues: “For Christ was born in the month of January, that is, on the eighth before the Ides of January – in the Roman calendar this is the evening of January fifth, at the beginning of January sixth. In the Egyptian calendar it is the eleventh of Tybi.”88 “For the magi themselves reached Bethlehem, after a two year interval, on this very day of the Epiphany. . .As I have said before and am obliged to say over and over, this was the day in the thirteenth consulship of Octavius Augustus and the consulship of Silvanus which fell on the eighth day before the Ides of January, thirteen days after the increase of the daylight. This lasts from the winter solstice, the eighth before the Kalends of January [December 25], until the actual day of Christ’s birth and Manifestation, because of the type I spoke of – the Savior himself and his disciples, making thirteen.”89
  8. The Armenian Church observes January 6 as the birthday of Jesus, believing that he was baptized on that day. (Again, Luke does not say it was his birthday, but implies that it was near to his birthday – “about.”) But this is testimony to a winter birth that goes back quite early. Again, there was very little debate about the timing of Christ’s baptism, so it is a more certain anchor point from which to work.
Evidence from AD 400-500
  1. Orosius (375-418) said, “He was baptized in the Jordan on the sixth day of the month of Audynae.”90 This January 6 baptism again points to a winter birth.
  2. Augustine (354-430) said, “For he is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also he suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid… But he was born, according to tradition, upon December the 25th.”91 He described the number of days Christ was in the womb as “276…i.e. nine months and six days. This is the time between March 25th (the day on which the Lord is believed to have been conceived, since he also suffered and died on that same day) to December 25th (the day on which he was born.)”92 Augustine also complained that the Donatists, having despised the unity of the whole church, did not celebrate the feast of Epiphany “with us.” This implies that Epiphany was a well-established festival by Augustine’s time. (See sermon 202) From this sermon, Thomas J. Talley concludes that the Donatists did celebrate Christmas before 311 AD, and that it must have had universal affirmation prior to the Donatist schism. This also places the celebration of the birth of Jesus before Constantine’s protection of the church. Talley concludes, “If we supposed that that festival was kept by the Donatists, we may place its establishment between 243 and 311.”93
  3. In a sermon on December 25, 410 AD, Jerome claimed that the tradition of celebrating Christmas on December 25 goes back to Peter and Paul.94
Evidence from AD 500-600
  1. “Both Bainton and Talley find a later but more explicit witness in Cosmas Indicopleustes relating the chronology of the conception and birth of John counted down to the days, with the birth of Christ on Choiak 28, that is, 25 December.”95 Cosmos Indicopleustes was a Greek merchant who later became a monk. He wrote around 522 AD.
  2. 532 AD - the Abbot of Rome, Dionysius Exiguus said that the Annunciation to Mary (and thus the conception) occurred on March 25 and his birth (nine months later) was December 25.
  3. John Malalas (d. 578), in his “Chronographia” PG xcvii, col. 351, says “In the 4th month of the 42nd year of Augustus, on the 8th of the Calends of January [that is, December 25th] at the seventh hour of the day, our Lord Jesus Christ was born at Bethlehem.” 96
Answering other objections

Some have objected that it would have been too cold for shepherds to be with their flocks in the fields. However, those who are familiar with the weather patterns in Israel disagree. The rainfall in December was far lower than the rainfall in January and February; so much so that Taan 6b says, “Good the year in which Tebheth (December-January) is without rain.”97 There are contemporary98 and historical records of sheep in the fields in December. Edersheim quotes ancient Jewish sources that show that flocks “remain in the open alike in the hottest days and in the rainy season – i.e. all the year round.”99 Shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem would have been on the way to the Jerusalem market (a distance of five miles). In any case, the sheep that were being raised for Temple use were in the fields outside Bethlehem all year round.100 These sheep would be needed for the daily sacrifices at the temple. It is interesting in connection with this that the Jews believed that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and “revealed from Migdal Eder, the tower of the flock.”101 Thus, the Lamb of God was brought forth where the Temple lambs were brought forth, and was marked out for sacrifice just as they were.

Others object that it would have been too cold for Joseph and Mary to travel during the winter. However, it is possible they chose a rout through the Jordan Valley. If so, a large portion of the trip would be below sea level and fairly mild.

Others object that Rome would not have done a census during the winter months. However, the very best time for a tax enrollment would be when field labor was no longer working. (Rome did not want to jeopardize increased taxes.) So a winter date for their travel to Bethlehem is more likely than a fall date. It would not interrupt the business cycle as severely.

Others have objected that Jesus could not have been immersed on his birthday (Luke 3:21-23) if it was in the dead of winter. Even if one holds to immersion,102 it is clear that Jesus was baptized near the Dead Sea, which is the lowest spot on the earth. It makes for a very mild winter climate.

The Name Christmas?

What about the name Christmas? Is our use of it an indication of an unthinking acceptance of Roman Catholic ritual in this area? I may be wrong, but I do not think that the name carries any evil import like the name Easter does. In footnote 2 I have demonstrated that the etymology of the word “mass” does not refer to the Roman Catholic mass, but rather to a festival, meeting or assembly. Because Eucharist became central to the mass, mass later came to refer to Eucharist also. When we celebrate Christmas we are not partaking of Eucharist but of a meeting or festival. However, if one feels uncomfortable with the word, or if the word is misunderstood, one can substitute any number of names such as Dedication (Hanukkah), Consecration, and Feast of Lights. I prefer the first name Hanukkah since it clearly portrays the setting up of The Temple. However, Christmas appears to me to be a suitable term as well.

Lunar Versus Solar Calendar?

Someone might think that we should follow the Jewish Calendar rather than our present one since Chislev 25 does not always fall on December 25. There is nothing wrong with doing so. However, three things should be born in mind. 1) First, the only mandated feast day in the New Covenant is the Sunday Sabbath.103 There is no “should” about such celebrations as Hanukkah. They are educational experiences, and refreshing times, but not holy days. 2) The present Jewish calendar is quite different than the Biblical calendar anyway. Since Bible times it underwent two revisions. Even the names of months have changed. For example the first month, Abib, changed to Nisan as seen in Deuteronomy 16 and Nehemiah 2:1; Esther 3:7.104 3) The Jewish calendar months are not any more “righteous” than ours are since they are Phoenician or Babylonian in origin. For example, the month Tammuz is named after the Phoenician god mentioned in Ezekiel 8:14. 4) As Rushdoony has pointed out we have switched to a “Christian” calendar - that is, Christ’s birth is the focal point of History (all history is either AD or BC). Since Christ has come and is central to history, we do not need to revert to the Jewish system of calculating the calendar.

But what about Liberty of Conscience?

Individual Liberty

I want to end this thesis by repeating once again that it is not the intent of this book to impose Christmas as a “holy day” upon God’s people. It is not a holy day. Galatians 4:10 and Colossians 2:16 render all Old Testament holy days as no longer holy. It is precisely because they are not holy that Paul insists on liberty and says, “let no one judge you” with respect to them (Col. 2:16). This command means that no one can judge a person who has chosen not to celebrate Christmas as if he is somehow in sin. But this command also means that such a person may not judge those of us who desire to celebrate Christmas Jewish style as being in sin. As Paul said in Romans 14, “He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it.” (v. 6). Christmas celebration is an issue of liberty.

Church Liberty

But what about church-celebration of a non-holy day? It is my view that this would be no different than the church calling for a fast day or a day of thanksgiving. The Westminster Confession of Faith not only declared the freedom of people from “holy days,” but also balanced this by saying that it was quite proper for a church to have “solemn fastings and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner” (WCF 21.5). In other words, the worship that occurs on such days can be holy without the day itself being holy. The great reformer, Turretin, summarized this view well when he said,

The question is not whether anniversary days may be selected on which either the nativity, or circumcision, or passion, or ascension of Christ, and similar mysteries of redemption, may be commemorated, or even on which the memory of some remarkable blessing may be celebrated. For this the orthodox think should be left to the liberty of the church. Hence some devote certain days to such festivity, not from necessity of faith, but from the counsel of prudence to excite more to piety and devotion. However, others, using their liberty, retain the Lord’s day alone, and in it, at stated times, celebrate the memory of the mysteries of Christ… …we deny that those days are in themselves more holy than others; rather all are equal. If any sanctity is attributed to them, it does not belong to the time and the day, but to the divine worship. Thus, the observance of them among those who retain it, is only of positive right and ecclesiastical appointment; not, however, necessary from a divine precept.105

Does Church Liberty Conflict With Personal Liberty?

But doesn’t the church’s liberty to celebrate Christmas infringe on private liberty to not so celebrate? I believe that Turretin’s comments in the preceding paragraph answer this objection. The only way that such a conflict would arise would be if the church added ceremonies that are not a part of normal church worship (such as having a Christmas tree, a candlelight ceremony, an outdoor service facing the sunrise on Easter, passing of Easter eggs, etc). But these “extras” conflict with the regulative principle of worship in their own right.

However, if there is no “element of worship” that is being added on these festival days, the question can be asked, “Which portion of the service would violate a person’s conscience?” If singing a traditional “Christmas hymn” in July would not violate the regulative principle, then why would singing the same hymn in December do so? If preaching on Matthew 1-2 in August would not violate the regulative principle of worship, then why would preaching on such a text in December violate a person’s conscience? So long as a church’s celebration of Christ’s birth in December could also be done on another portion of the year, there is no way in which the church’s liberty and the individual’s liberty needs to come into conflict.

Perhaps Paul’s own practice will illustrate this point. When the Judaizers said, “unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1), Paul vigorously opposed their call for circumcision (Acts 15:1-41), and refused to submit to their demands that Titus get circumcised (Gal. 2:1-5). To submit to circumcision in those circumstances would have been tantamount to compromising the Gospel. But when the other side pushed its own agenda and said that no one could get circumcised (Acts 21:21), Paul resisted that extreme as well and said that circumcision was a matter of liberty (Acts 21:22-26). As far as Paul was concerned, “circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters” (1Cor. 7:19). Circumcision was no longer a commandment of God. Yet it is interesting that immediately after the Jerusalem Council Paul circumcised Timothy (Acts 16:1-5). What makes this even more significant is that Paul circumcised Timothy (verse 2) immediately before the two of them delivered the Jerusalem decrees to all the churches (Acts 16:1-5). He was making a point that anyone can engage in circumcision, so long as they do not consider it to be a means of salvation.

Paul treated the issue of festivals in exactly the same manner. When the Jews insisted that the Gentiles had to follow the ceremonial law to be saved, Paul said that it would be better not to “observe days and months and seasons and years” at all if it would give people that idea (Gal. 4:10). It’s not that all day-keeping was forbidden. In fact, Paul told the same Galatian church that they were under “orders” to observe the first day of the week as the Christian Sabbath (“…as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: on the first day Sabbath [literal Greek] let each one of you lay something aside…” [1Cor. 16:1-2]). Obviously Paul did not intend to prohibit all day-keeping. Galatians 4:6 and Colossians 2:16 need to be taken in the context of the threat of Judaizers destroying the Gospel.

Once Paul had established that neither circumcision nor day-keeping could be a basis for salvation, he immediately went on to say that both can continue to be an issue of total liberty within the church. Indeed, Paul delighted in celebrating Jewish feast days with a Christian accent. For example, Paul said, “I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem.” He was not just attending the feast; he was keeping it or observing it. Paul saw no contradiction with doing so. Some people read Colossians 2:16-17 only as an abolition of Jewish day-keeping and fail to see that Paul’s words “let no one judge you … regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths” also prohibit “Scottish Reformation” brothers from judging those of us who delight in celebrating such days, not as holy days, but as what the Confession calls days and seasons of thanksgiving. It is clear that Paul delighted in the refreshing celebration of those same Jewish festivals (see for example Acts 18:21; 20:16; 1 Cor. 16:8). If Christmas is seen as a thanksgiving day for the incarnation, there is nothing in Scripture that would say it was wrong. Likewise, if we celebrate the birth of Jesus in the Jewish Christian way that Jesus (John 10:22) and the early church did, it could make this special thanksgiving day even more Christ-centered. Celebrating Christmas Jewish style has given our family a renewed sense of covenant history and has been a wonderful educational tool. It has certainly been fun for our children to have eight days of gift giving rather than one or two.

Where do we go from here?

I have written this booklet to give the theological background for our unique approach to Christmas as a Christian Hanukkah. Part 2 will show what my family does to make this a very special celebration. For us, the eight days of Christmas/Hanukkah are eight days of celebration, feasting and gift giving. They are days in which we rethink covenant history. They are days of tangible connection with the Jewish roots of Jesus. They help to put us into the mindset of faithful Jews like Simeon who were “waiting for the Consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25), and of Paul who loved celebrating Jewish festivals in a New Covenant context (Acts 18:21; 20:16; 1 Cor. 16:8; etc). They are days in which we attempt to leave the glamour and glitz of modern Christmas celebration and attempt to reenter the poor stable where Jesus was born. They are days to remember that the Incarnation was leaving glory behind and being willing to humble Himself for our salvation.

We hope that those who have not been convinced by this volume will give us grace and we hope that those who want to experiment with the ideas in part 2 will find them worthwhile. Blessings to you, and a Merry Hanukkah!

The Feasts of Israel & Their Prophetic Significance

For more information on the historic Jewish feasts, see the Feasts Of Israel on Kayser Commentary.

Part 2: Suggestions for Celebrating

Introduction to part 2

This section is a practical “how to” on celebrating the birth of Jesus in a Jewish way. There will be no attempt to defend the celebration of a Jewish Christmas, since we did that in part 1. Many people who have loved our approach to celebrating the birth of Jesus have asked me if I would give some practical tips based on how we have made this a fun and meaningful eight day event. But knowing the controversy that surrounds this day, we do not want to communicate in any way that this is the only way to do it or even that others must celebrate Christmas. That is left to liberty of conscience. This is not a holy day, but a thanksgiving day that falls under the liberty Paul gave in Romans 14:6. Just as we did in part 1, we say to those who either want to celebrate differently than us or who do not want to celebrate Christmas at all: “let no one judge you… regarding a festival” (Col. 2:16). We give you liberty of conscience. But that verse cuts two ways. Paul says to those of us who enjoy celebrating this thanksgiving day: “let no one judge you… regarding a festival” (Col. 2:16).

As we mentioned in part 1, our family has thoroughly enjoyed celebrating the birth of Jesus in traditional Hanukkah style. These eight days are days of celebration, feasting and gift giving. They are days in which we rethink covenant history. They are days of tangible connection with the Jewish roots of Jesus. They help to put us into the mindset of faithful Jews like Simeon who were “waiting for the Consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25), and of Paul who loved celebrating Jewish festivals in a New Covenant context (Acts 18:21; 20:16; 1 Cor. 16:8; etc). They are days in which we attempt to leave the glamour and glitz of modern Christmas celebration and attempt to reenter the poor stable where Jesus was born.

Decorations: We Keep It Rustic

The reason we have avoided fancy Christmas decorations is because we wanted to teach our children about the way Jesus “humbled Himself” (Phil. 2:8). He didn’t arrive in glory, but left glory behind (Phil. 2:6). Each Old Testament festival portrayed a different aspect of Christ’s kingdom. Hanukkah pointed to the humility of Christ’s incarnation when “He made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7). Passover pointed to the next step of humiliation when “being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8). Firstfruits and Pentecost spoke of His resurrection and exaltation. They powerfully pictured the truth that “God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9). Each festival after Pentecost had decorations that were appropriate to the theology of the feast, and ended with Purim’s celebration of the Kingship of Christ over every aspect of the world.1

Appropriate ornamentation when celebrating each festival can teach our children the meaning of the feast in ways that transcend oral instruction. We have found that this non-verbal communication is quite effective. Thus, while rich ornaments would be great symbols for Purim, more rustic ornaments better describe the reality of Hanukkah.

Booth, Hut, or Stable

As I mentioned in part 1, Jews considered Hanukkah to be the “Succoth in Chislev,” or a winter version of the Feast of Tabernacles. The booths represented the homeless wandering of the Jews in the wilderness after they came out of Egypt, the branches represented individual believers bound together in one body, and the falling leaves represented our sins being removed. What a marvelous symbol of the birth of Jesus! He was homeless at birth, and had to be placed in an animal’s feeding trough (Luke 2:7). After His birth He was made to wander in the wilderness (Matt 2:13-15). He identified Himself as the New Israel by going down into Egypt and coming up out of Egypt. Since every individual branch is bound up in Jesus, and since we can have no identity outside of Christ, it is quite appropriate to apply Hosea 11:1 to Jesus. Certainly God did, saying, “Out of Egypt I have called My Son” (Matt 2:15). Christ came to earth in poverty in order to redeem us from our sins (Matt 1:21). A primitive booth or shack is a wonderful symbol of this.

Our family has tied all of these pieces together by making a booth that is also a stable. We have a manger scene in the booth to make it clear that it represents the birth of Jesus. We also store all of our presents in this booth that will be opened on each day of Hanukkah. But any booth, hut, temporary dwelling, or stable would be an appropriate decoration that is rich with symbolism.

The Menorah and Other Candles

Almost everyone recognizes the Menorah to be a part of Hanukkah. Though having two more candles than the temple candlestick, the central candle served the same purpose – to light the others. There are three interesting things about this central lamp that point to Jesus. The first is that it is called the Shamash, or “servant candle,” because it is used to light the others. Jesus was the “Servant” given as a “light to the Gentiles” (Is. 49:6), and in His light every other legitimate light comes into being.

Second, it was called the Ner Elohim, or the Light of God. Jesus was the Light of God (Rev. 21:23).

Third, according to both the Jerusalem Talmud (see Jacob Neusner, The Yerushalmi, p.156-157) and the Babylonian Talmud (Soncino version Yoma 39:b), the original Shamash was snuffed out exactly forty years before the temple was burned in 70AD and went out every evening for the next forty years. This means that from the moment Jesus was crucified, the Shamash did not work.

But which candlestick should be used, the original seven-branched one or the modern nine-branched one? In one sense it doesn’t matter because, unlike the festivals of Leviticus 23 where every detail was regulated, Hanukkah and Purim were primarily home celebrations with limited requirements and maximum liberty. But there were three reasons given by the Jews for using an eight-branched candelabra:

  1. First, they wanted to clearly distinguish between temple ceremonies and the home ceremonies of Hanukkah. Hanukkah, though celebrating the dedication of the temple, was celebrated in homes.
  2. Second, the eight candles on each side of the servant candle were symbolic of the eight days of the festival, not symbolic of the temple candlestick.
  3. Third, it’s not the number of candles that are present (many Hanukkah celebrations have hundreds of candles), but the fact that each of the eight days has an increasing number of candles representing the increase of Christ’s kingdom. Both Hanukkah and the birth of Jesus are pictured as being times of darkness into which light is beginning to pierce (Luke 1:79; John 1:5) and to grow over time (Is. 63:1-3). So our home is full of many different kinds of candle, and each day of Hanukkah we increase the number.

Tabernacle/Temple

Hanukkah/Christmas is called “the Feast of Dedication” (John 10:22). It is called this because the original tabernacle of Moses was “dedicated” on Chislev 25,2 and the subsequent dedications or rededications of the temple under Solomon, Hezekiah, Nehemiah, and the Maccabees were called Hanukkah (the Hebrew for dedication).3 Thus, it is quite fitting to have a replica of the original tabernacle or of the temple under Solomon. Both the tabernacle and the temple were rich symbols of the incarnation of Jesus (John 2:18-22; Hebrews). Christ is the final temple.

Branches Everywhere

The bringing in of branches as decorations is a major part of Hanukkah. They did not have a tree, but both deciduous and evergreen branches were placed everywhere.

Fruit

Fruit and nuts can double not only for food, but also for decoration. You can’t have a festival without lots of munchies!

Gift Giving

Gift giving was a major part of every Hanukkah. In fact, the first Hanukkah had gifts for twelve days straight (Numb. 7). So seeing brightly wrapped up presents is a major part of our Hanukkah celebration.

Miscellaneous creative decorations

Since Hanukkah is similar in many ways to the Festival of Tabernacles, branches, straw, tents, candles, and any harvest decorations are all appropriate. A ram or other sacrificial animal would also be an appropriate decoration. Of course, everyone knows that the dreidel is an essential of modern Hanukkah celebration. We will have more to say about this under games.

Perhaps a brief listing of some of the symbols will spark your own imagination: Christ’s body is the Temple (John 2:19-21), in His Incarnation He is the rising sun (Luke 1:78), He is the “candle” or “lamp” which burns in the New Jerusalem giving all the light that is needed (Rev. 21:23 cf. the Greek), He is the firstfruits of the harvest (1 Cor. 15:20, 23), He is the Branch which will grow up out of the roots of Jesse (Is. 11:1), later to be anointed (Is. 11:2).

Because of Christ’s Incarnation and our union with Him we too participate in and are likened to the symbols of the sun (Judges 5:431), the temple (1 Cor. 3:16, 17), the candles or lamps (Matt. 5:14; Rev. 1:20), the firstfruits of harvest (James 1:18; Rev. 14:4) and the branches (Prov. 11:28; Is. 60:21). These symbols give plenty of room for creativity in decoration.

Games

Dreidel

The dreidel is a four sided top. The dreidel game is probably the most popular game at Hanukkah. The four sides of a dreidel show a different Hebrew character: נ (nun), ג (gimel), ה (hey), and ש (shin).

Tradition says that whenever the Greek-Syrians would burst into a home to see if they were discussing the Torah (a capital offense), the residents of the house would start spinning a top as if this were the pastime they were gathered to watch.

Later tradition said that each letter stands for one of the four major empires that sought to destroy the Jews, with nun representing Nebuchadnezzar and his kingdom of Babylonia, gimel representing Gog and the kingdom of Greece, hey representing Haman and the kingdom of Persia, and shin representing Seir and the kingdom of Rome.

Others say the four letters simply represent the four German words nichts (nothing), ganz (all), halb (half), and stell ein (put in).

In any case, the game is played this way:

Each player places some popcorn kernals (or pennies, candies, etc) into a kitty. Each player takes a turn spinning the dreidel. When only one object is left in the kitty, each player adds another object into the kitty. When a player has all the objects, (ie. everyone else is broke), that person wins!

  • “Nun” means nothing. (You win nothing, you lose nothing.)
  • “Gimel” means ‘gantz’ or whole. (You take the whole kitty, leaving 1 object, while everyone else puts in 1 object.)
  • “Hey” means ‘halb’ or half. (You win half of what’s in the kitty plus one if there is an odd number.)
  • “Shin” means ‘shtel’ or put in. (You lose, and must put one object into the kitty.)

For those of you who don’t want to play with objects, the game may be played with points. On a piece of paper, keep track of how many points you get. Who ever reaches 100 points first wins!

Rebellion

The dedication of the temple during the time of the Maccabees was an act of rebellion against state-imposed idolatry. Of course, the original Hanukkah under Moses showed the same cleansing of the people from the state-imposed idolatry of Egypt. The rededication of the altar under Hezekiah was a deliberate rejection of the idolatry of his father, who had polluted the temple with idols. So it is quite appropriate to play a game of rebellion!

For two or more players.

The Object: To get all 52 cards.

Cards rank: from high to low: K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 A; Ignore suits.

To Play:

  1. Dealer shuffles cards and then deals out all of the cards, one at a time. Some players may have more cards than others.
  2. At the same time, players turn over their top cards. Player with the higher card takes both and places them under his/her pile. If both cards are the same rank (two jacks, for example), there is a “rebellion.” Players call out, “Rebellion!” and place three cards in the center face-down and then one card face-up. The higher card takes all. If cards are the same rank, there is another “rebellion.” Repeat.
  3. Player to get all 52 cards wins. For a faster game, the winner of three “rebellions” wins. If you run out of cards during a “rebellion,” you lose the game. If both players run out of cards at the same time, it’s a tie. If both players run out of cards during a “rebellion” but one player runs out of cards before the other, that player loses.

Some Sample Hanukkah Recipes

Roast Chicken

Yields 4 servings

Prep Time: 10 minutes, Cook Time: 1 hour

Roast chicken is a Hanukkah favorite. Simply mix spices, coat chicken and then bake uncovered in the oven. You can make preparation and serving even easier by buying a chicken cut into eighths. The result is a moist and flavorful chicken entree that everyone will love.

Ingredients

  • 1 3 1/2-pound (1.5 kilo) chicken, cut into eighths
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup water

Preparation

  1. Place chicken in a shallow pan.
  2. Mix oil and spices in a bowl. Rub on chicken. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight.
  3. Discard marinade. Pour water into a shallow roasting pan. Place rack over water. Place chicken on the rack.
  4. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
  5. Roast chicken, covered, for 1 hour, or until the chicken is tender and its juices run clear when pricked with a fork. Uncover for 30 min. to brown the top.

Variations

  1. Add 1-2 tablespoons of white wine to the marinade.
  2. Place onion slices under the rack in the roasting pan.

Sweet Challa Bread

Makes 2 medium loaves

Ingredients for yeast prep

  • 1 cup luke warm water
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 cup bread flour

Ingredients for the bread

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 whole egg
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (it’s fine to use a different salt)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2-3 cups bread flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • poppy seed or sesame seed or cinnamon sugar or cheese (optional)

Preparation

  1. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the water, honey and yeast.
  2. Let stand for 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in 1 cup bread flour, and cover with a towel.
  4. Let stand for 30 minutes.
  5. Stir in the olive oil, whole egg, and egg yolks until very well mixed.
  6. Add the salt, sugar, and the rest of the flour.
  7. You should have a sticky dough Pour dough out onto a well floured surface and knead, adding flour as you need it, for 10 minutes.
  8. Place dough in a large greased mixing bowl and let rise for 1 hour.
  9. Place dough in the refrigerater and let rise over night or at least 6 hours.
  10. Turn dough out on a corn mealed surface and cut it into two proportional pieces.
  11. Cut and braid the two dough balls, place in two loaf pans or form the Jewish circle with them.
  12. Let dough rise for 1 hour and preheat your oven to 375F.
  13. Beat 1 egg with the tablespoon of water and brush the doughs with the egg wash twice.
  14. Sprinkle with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or cinnamon sugar, optional.
  15. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, you may have to cover the breads with foil to stop them from browning to much after 15 or 20 minutes.
  16. Remove the breads from the oven and either place them in plastic bags to get a soft crust or place them on wire racks until cooled completely before storing for a crisp crust (I personally don’t wait for either and just eat it right out of the oven).
  17. If you would like a cheesey challah bread, sprinkle on your favorite cheese in the last 2 minutes of baking.

Middle Eastern Flat Bread

Ingredients

  • 6 c. flour
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. sugar
  • 2 pkgs. yeast
  • 2 1/2 c. warm water

Preparation

  1. Put 6 cups flour, 1 tbsp. salt and 2 tbsp. sugar in bowl.
  2. Proof 2 packages yeast in 1/2 cup water and 1 tsp. sugar.
  3. Add yeast mixture to bowl with 2 - 2 1/2 cups warm water (or enough water to make dough stiff enough to handle).
  4. Knead and let double.
  5. Punch down and divide into 16 balls.
  6. Let stand for 10 minutes, then roll into 6 inch rounds.
  7. Fry in a pan till nice and bubbly. Turn for other side.
  8. Brush tops with oil to keep soft. After that, sprinkle salt on it.
  9. Cut into pie-shaped slices with a pizza cutter, if needed.
  10. Keep warm on a plate under a towel until serving.

Crock Pot Pumpkin Soup (Aka Korma Soup)

Takes 3 ¼ hours

Makes 10 cups

This is a wonderful soup based on a recipe from “S.O.U.P.S. - Seattle’s Own Undeniably Perfect Soups” by Michael Congdon and is wonderful.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon green peppercorn
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried ancho chile powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried chipotle powder
  • 1 teaspoon vietnamese ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half
  • 1 (8 fluid ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 1 (29 ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • grated cheddar cheese, for garnish
  • toasted cashews, for garnish

Preparation

  1. In a hot skillet, toast the cloves, coriander seeds, and peppercorns.
  2. Add the ground spices to the whole ones in the skillet- the cumin, chile powders, cinnamon, garlic powder, and nutmeg, and toast the mixture over high heat, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes or until the spices begin to smoke.
  3. Remove from heat, let cool, and grind together to a powder (an electric coffee grinder works well for this); set aside.
  4. Pour the stock, half and half, and evaporated milk into the crock pot; stir well, cover, and turn on high.
  5. Put the pureed pumpkin into a large bowl, then add the maple syrup, salt, and the now-powdered spice mixture; use a whisk to incorporate the mixture well.
  6. Add the pumpkin mixture to the liquids in the crock pot, whisking it well to make sure there are no lumps.
  7. Cover and let simmer on high for 2 to 3 hours.
  8. Garnish servings with grated cheddar cheese and toasted cashew pieces.

Mulled Wine

Yields 8 servings

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 bottle Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 1/2-inch piece of cinnamon stick
  • 3-4 whole allspice seeds
  • 3-4 whole cloves
  • sugar substitute equal to 1/4-1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 long piece of navel orange peel

Preparation

  1. In a 2-quart pot, combine all ingredients and heat, but do not boil, until liquid is steaming.
  2. Cover and let sit for 1 hour off the heat.
  3. Gently reheat to steam again.
  4. Strain liquid into a 2-quart thermos bottle. Seal lid tightly.
  5. Serve steaming hot.

Apple and Orange Punch

Ingredients

  • 4 cups apple juice
  • 2 cups orange juice
  • 2 cups cranberry juice
  • 4 cloves
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 orange, sliced

Preparation

  1. Heat all ingredients, except orange slices, in a saucepan.
  2. Reduce heat when it boils and cook for 10 more minutes.
  3. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
  4. Heat again, garnish with orange slices and serve.

Hanukkah Latkes (Potato Pancakes)

Yields approximately 20 pancakes

Fried food is traditionally eaten on Hanukkah in commemoration of the oil that miraculously burned for eight days when the Maccabees purified and rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem. Fried Potato Pancakes (called Latkes in Yiddish and Levivot in Hebrew) are a holiday favorite. For best results, use russet potatoes. This variety is much higher in starch, and the starch is necessary to keep the pancakes from falling apart. Most people choose to peel the potatoes, though others leave the skin on.

Ingredients

  • 5 potatoes
  • 2 onions
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • between 1/4 to 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • oil for frying (canola is recommended)

Preparation

  1. Peel potatoes. Place in a bowl of cold water so they won’t turn brown.
  2. When ready to prepare the latkas, drain the potatoes. Place potatoes and onions in a food processor fitted with a knife blade. Pulse until smooth. Drain mixture well.
  3. Pour potato mixture into a large bowl. Add beaten eggs. Add salt and pepper. Add enough flour so that the mixture holds together.
  4. Pour 1 inch of oil into a large, deep frying pan. Heat the oil over medium-high heat.
  5. Carefully drop 1/4 cup of the potato mixture into the hot oil.
  6. Flatten the pancake slightly so the center will cook.
  7. Fry for several minutes on each side until golden brown and cooked through.
  8. Drain on paper towels.

Serving Suggestion: Serve the latkes with applesauce.

Hanukkah Loukoumades (Honey Puffs)

Ingredients

  • 2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup warm milk
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 3 eggs
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 cups vegetable oil, or as needed
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preparation

  1. Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in a small bowl. The water should be no more than 100 degrees F (40 degrees C). Let stand for 5 minutes until the yeast softens and begins to form a creamy foam. In a large bowl, mix the warm milk, sugar, and salt, and mix to dissolve. Pour the yeast mixture into the milk mixture, and stir to combine.
  2. Beat in the butter, eggs, and flour until the mixture forms a smooth, soft dough. Cover the bowl, and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 30 minutes. Stir the dough well, cover, and let rise 30 more minutes.
  3. Mix honey and 1/2 cup of water in a saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn off the heat and let the honey syrup cool.
  4. Heat oil in a deep-fryer or large saucepan to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Oil should be about 2 inches deep.
  5. Place a large table or soup spoon in a glass of water near the batter. Scoop up about 2 tablespoons of dough per puff with the wet spoon, drop it into the wet palm of your hand, and roll it back into the spoon to create a round shape. Do not overhandle the puffy, soft dough. Drop the dough balls into the hot oil in batches, wetting the spoon each time you make a dough ball. Fry in the hot oil until golden brown on the bottom, and roll them over to cook the other side, 2 to 3 minutes per batch. Gently set the loukoumades aside to drain on paper towels.
  6. Place the loukoumades on a baking sheet, drizzle them with honey syrup, and sprinkle with cinnamon. Serve warm.

Readings & Celebration

Hanukkah should not be dull. Each evening should be anticipated as a time of celebration, history, feasting and games! Which of those words do not belong together? Oh yeah, history. There are serious moments in the evening as we think about the threat to liberties that Hanukkah commemorates. But because our God is bigger than the conspiracies, even history resolves itself in a way that gives basis for celebration. Each day there can be singing, reading from Scripture, and application of the different parts of the history of this feast to Jesus.

Hanukkah starts on Chislev 25 and goes for eight days. We recommend starting on December 25, having the readings about the birth of Christ, and then moving forward to January 1, when a new year, and God’s eternal kingdom are celebrated. However, we have sometimes had to have Hanukkah be the eight days leading up to December 25, or even to scatter the celebration over two weeks because of busyness. Remember that this is not a mandated holiday, but an optional and very educational thanksgiving season. So there is no need to get stressed over fitting everything in. Feel free to substitute your own readings.

General Instructions

Instructions on Lighting the Candles

The Menorah

Buy or make your own Hanukkah Menorah (also called a Hanukkiah). It can be in any shape that you desire, but should always have nine branches. Some people wonder why Jews do not use the same seven-branched candlestick that was in the temple. The reason is twofold: 1) This celebration is in the homes and is symbolic. 2) Each candle represents one of the eight days of Hanukkah that were always associated with temple dedication (for example, see 2 Chron. 29:17).

Since there are eight days of lights on the “festival of lights,” Jews reserved one branch for each day of this festival. Though we have always had one Menorah and let our children take turns lighting it, some Jewish households like to have each child light their own Menorah.

The Shamash

The center candle is only used for lighting the others, and is therefore called the Shamash (or servant candle). We light a new candle each day, and have the child who is lighting it recite what each candle represents.

How to light the candles
Lighting candles on the first night

On the first night, place one candle in the Menorah’s far right (as you face the Menorah). Also place the Shamash in the middle candle holder. One member (often a child) can light the Shamash candle and hold it while the father says the blessings (see next section). After the blessing, the child will use the Shamash to light the single candle that has been placed in the right hand branch. He will then set the Shamash back in its place. Candles are lit when everyone is present, usually shortly after nightfall, though it can be any time during the evening.

Lighting the candles on the Second through Eighth Nights

The second night, place two candles in the Menorah’s far right (as you face the Menorah). Place the Shamash (helper) candle in the middle. Say the two blessings (see next section), then a member of the family will light the ca ndles using the Shamash candle. Note: it is traditional to put the candles into place from right to left, but to start lighting the candles from the left to right. So on night eight, the candles would be put into place from right to left, but the first candle that would be lit by the Shamash would be the left-most candle. As a member of the family lights each candle, he/she names that candle (see the specific day for the name of each candle). We usually take turns lighting and naming the candles. Immediately after lighting the candles we sing a song.

Optional: Give a $1 bill to the child who lights the Menorah during the singing of the song and the dancing.

Blessings

The blessings are said with the lit shamash in hand, and the candles are lit immediately after reciting the blessings. After lighting the candles, one or two songs are sung: Though traditionally the Hanerot Hallalu and Ma’oz Tzur are sung (and these can be downloaded online), we have chosen to sing Christmas hymns and in connection with the readings from Maccabees (see next section).

Day 1 – The Bible is the Light

Leader: Explain the following - We need an objective revelation to live by in an age of darkness (just as the Maccabees did). We cannot simply follow our opinions, since opinions constantly change. But the Word of God is a Light that never changes. It is the first light we light and it is the foundation for our lives. We live in a time of great darkness when the Word of God is ignored. But we should not be discouraged. There was great darkness in the time of the Maccabees as well as at the time of Christ’s birth. Yet God overcame the darkness. It is important that we hold fast to God’s Word.

For a bit of fun, instruct your children that every time the evil name of Antiochus, Antiochus Epiphanes, or “the king” is mentioned, they can stamp their feet on the ground several times.

Reading from the Maccabees

The Jews had abandoned God’s Word

In those days certain renegades came out from Israel and misled many, saying, “Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles around us, for since we separated from them many disasters have come upon us.” This proposal pleased them, and some of the people eagerly went to the king, who authorized them to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles. So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil.4

God Disciplines His People With Antiochus Epiphanes

After subduing Egypt, Antiochus returned in the one hundred forty-third year. He went up against Israel and came to Jerusalem with a strong force. He arrogantly entered the sanctuary and took the golden altar, the lampstand for the light, and all its utensils. He took also the table for the bread of the Presence, the cups for drink offerings, the bowls, the golden censers, the curtain, the crowns, and the gold decoration on the front of the temple; he stripped it all off. He took the silver and the gold, and the costly vessels; he took also the hidden treasures that he found. Taking them all, he went into his own land.

He shed much blood,
and spoke with great arrogance.
Israel mourned deeply in every community,
rulers and elders groaned,
young women and young men became faint,
the beauty of the women faded.
Every bridegroom took up the lament;
she who sat in the bridal chamber was mourning.
Even the land trembled for its inhabitants,
and all the house of Jacob was clothed with shame.

Two years later the king sent to the cities of Judah a chief collector of tribute, and he came to Jerusalem with a large force. Deceitfully he spoke peaceable words to them, and they believed him; but he suddenly fell upon the city, dealt it a severe blow, and destroyed many people of Israel. He plundered the city, burned it with fire, and tore down its houses and its surrounding walls. They took captive the women and children, and seized the livestock. Then they fortified the city of David with a great strong wall and strong towers, and it became their citadel. They stationed there a sinful people, men who were renegades. These strengthened their position; they stored up arms and food, and collecting the spoils of Jerusalem they stored them there, and became a great menace,

For the citadel became an ambush against the sanctuary,
an evil adversary of Israel at all times.
On every side of the sanctuary they shed innocent blood;
they even defiled the sanctuary.
Because of them the residents of Jerusalem fled;
she became a dwelling of strangers;
She became strange to her offspring,
and her children forsook her.
Her sanctuary became desolate like a desert;
her feasts were turned into mourning,
Her sabbaths into a reproach,
her honor into contempt.
Her dishonor now grew as great as her glory;
her exaltation was turned into mourning.

Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, and that all should give up their particular customs. All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the towns of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land, to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the sanctuary, to profane sabbaths and festivals, to defile the sanctuary and the priests, to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and other unclean animals, and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, so that they would forget the law and change all the ordinances. He added, “And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.”

In such words he wrote to his whole kingdom. He appointed inspectors over all the people and commanded the towns of Judah to offer sacrifice, town by town. Many of the people, everyone who forsook the law, joined them, and they did evil in the land; they drove Israel into hiding in every place of refuge they had.

Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-fifth year, they erected a desolating sacrilege on the altar of burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding towns of Judah, and offered incense at the doors of the houses and in the streets. The books of the law that they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. Anyone found possessing the book of the covenant, or anyone who adhered to the law, was condemned to death by decree of the king. They kept using violence against Israel, against those who were found month after month in the towns. On the twenty-fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the altar that was on top of the altar of burnt offering. According to the decree, they put to death the women who had their children circumcised, and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers’ necks.

Despite The Evil, God Raised Up Many Uncompromising Believers

But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. Very great wrath came upon Israel.5

Word came to Judas concerning Nicanor’s invasion; and when he told his companions of the arrival of the army, those who were cowardly and distrustful of God’s justice ran off and got away. Others sold all their remaining property, and at the same time implored the Lord to rescue those who had been sold by the ungodly Nicanor before he ever met them, if not for their own sake, then for the sake of the covenants made with their ancestors, and because he had called them by his holy and glorious name. But Maccabeus gathered his forces together, to the number six thousand, and exhorted them not to be frightened by the enemy and not to fear the great multitude of Gentiles who were wickedly coming against them, but to fight nobly, keeping before their eyes the lawless outrage that the Gentiles had committed against the holy place, and the torture of the derided city, and besides, the overthrow of their ancestral way of life. “For they trust to arms and acts of daring,” he said, “but we trust in the Almighty God, who is able with a single nod to strike down those who are coming against us, and even, if necessary, the whole world.”

Moreover, he told them of the occasions when help came to their ancestors; how, in the time of Sennacherib, when one hundred eighty-five thousand perished, and the time of the battle against the Galatians that took place in Babylonia, when eight thousand Jews fought along with four thousand Macedonians; yet when the Macedonians were hard pressed, the eight thousand, by the help that came to them from heaven, destroyed one hundred twenty thousand Galatians and took a great amount of booty.

Christmas hymn

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here,
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
in ancient times didst give the law
in cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Dayspring from on high
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Key of David, come
and open wide our heav’nly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel.

Words: translated by John Mason Neale 1851. Music: Veni Emmanuel. Public Domain.

Readings on the Bible Being the Light

Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path. The entrance of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple. To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.6

Hanerot Hallalu (Can be read or sung.)7

We light these lights for the miracles and the wonders,

For the redemption and the battles that you made for our forefathers In those days at this season, through your holy priests.

Blessings and Candles

Have a child light the Shamash candle and hold it while the blessings are read by the father:

First Blessing to Recite

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old, at this season.

Second Blessing to Recite

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, and has preserved us, and enabled us to reach this time.

Light the first candle (starting on the left) with the Shamash, and name the candle – “The Bible is the Light.”

Sing, “Through Our God, We Shall Do Valiantly” and a hand dollar bill to the child lighting the candle, while dancing and singing.

Through Our God, We Shall Do Valiantly

Through our God we shall do valiantly, it is He who will tread down our enemies. We’ll sing and shout His victory, Christ is King! For God has won the victory and set His people free, His Word has slain the enemy, the earth shall stand and see that through our God we shall do valiantly, it is He who will tread down our enemies. We’ll sing and shout His victory, Christ is King! Christ is King! Christ is King!

© 1979 Thank you Music.

Christmas Story

Matthew’s Story of the Birth of Jesus

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”

So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS.8

Luke’s Story of the Birth of Jesus

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.9

Prayer of thanks for the Light of the Bible

Christmas Presents for Day One

Games

Day 2 - Jesus is the Light.

For background, play the Hanerot Hallalu10

Leader: Explain the following – Down through history God has always raised up a deliverer in the midst of the darkness. There were many judges who prefigured the coming of Jesus. At the first Hanukkah, Israel had Moses as their deliverer. During the time of the Maccabees, another deliverer arose called Judas Maccabeas. Though Judas and the other Maccabees helped to deliver the Jews, they recognized that they were still looking forward to the Messiah, Jesus, who would deliver all people from Satan and sin.

Reading from the Maccabees

God Raises Up A Deliverer

The king’s officers who were enforcing the apostasy came to the town of Modein to make them offer sacrifice. Many from Israel came to them; and Mattathias and his sons were assembled. Then the king’s officers spoke to Mattathias as follows: “You are a leader, honored and great in this town, and supported by sons and brothers. Now be the first to come and do what the king commands, as all the Gentiles and the people of Judah and those that are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons will be numbered among the Friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honored with silver and gold and many gifts.”

But Mattathias answered and said in a loud voice: “Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to obey his commandments, everyone of them abandoning the religion of their ancestors,

I and my sons and my brothers will continue to live by the covenant of our ancestors. Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances. We will not obey the king’s words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left.”

When he had finished speaking these words, a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice on the altar in Modein, according to the king’s command.

When Mattathias saw it, he burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him on the altar. At the same time he killed the king’s officer who was forcing them to sacrifice, and he tore down the altar. Thus he burned with zeal for the law, just as Phinehas did against Zimri son of Salu.

Then Mattathias cried out in the town with a loud voice, saying: “Let every one who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come out with me!”

Then he and his sons fled to the hills and left all that they had in the town.11

Meanwhile Judas, who was also called Maccabeus, and his companions secretly entered the villages and summoned their kindred and enlisted those who had continued in the Jewish faith, and so they gathered about six thousand. They implored the Lord to look upon the people who were oppressed by all; and to have pity on the temple that had been profaned by the godless; to have mercy on the city that was being destroyed and about to be leveled to the ground; to hearken to the blood that cried out to him; to remember also the lawless destruction of the innocent babies and the blasphemies committed against his name; and to show his hatred of evil.

As soon as Maccabeus got his army organized, the Gentiles could not withstand him, for the wrath of the Lord had turned to mercy. Coming without warning, he would set fire to towns and villages. He captured strategic positions and put to flight not a few of the enemy. He found the nights most advantageous for such attacks. And talk of his valor spread everywhere.

When Philip saw that the man was gaining ground little by little, and that he was pushing ahead with more frequent successes, he wrote to Ptolemy, the governor of Coelesyria and Phoenicia, to come to the aid of the king’s government. Then Ptolemy promptly appointed Nicanor son of Patroclus, one of the king’s chief Friends, and sent him, in command of no fewer than twenty thousand Gentiles of all nations, to wipe out the whole race of Judea. He associated with him Gorgias, a general and a man of experience in military service. Nicanor determined to make up for the king the tribute due to the Romans, two thousand talents, by selling the captured Jews into slavery.

So he immediately sent to the towns on the seacoast, inviting them to buy Jewish slaves and promising to hand over ninety slaves for a talent, not expecting the judgment from the Almighty that was about to overtake him.12

Christmas hymn

The People who In Darkness Walked

(To the tune of God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman)

The people who in darkness walked
have seen a glorious light;
the heavenly dawn broke forth on those
who dwelt in death and night,
to greet you Son of Righteousness,
the gathering nations come.

O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy.

To us the promised child is born,
to us a Son is given;
and on his shoulders ever rests
all power in earth and heaven.
the Wonderful, the Counselor,
the Mighty God is he.

O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy.

His peace and righteous government
shall over all extend;
on judgment and on justice based,
his reign shall never end;
his name shall be the Prince of Peace
forevermore adored.

O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Words: Psalter Hymnal, CRC Publications.

Readings on Jesus Being the Light

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.
“I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness,
And will hold Your hand;
I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people,
As a light to the Gentiles, Indeed He says,
“It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob,
And to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles,
That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.13

Rock of Ages (Maoz Tzur) (Popular English Version)

Rock of ages, let our song praise your saving power
You amid the raging foes were our sheltering tower
Furious they assailed us but your arm availed us
And your wordbroke their sword when our own strength failed us
Children of the wanderers whether free or fettered
Wake the echoes of the songs where you may be scattered
Yours the message cheering that the time is nearing
Which will see all men free tyrants disappearing

Blessings and Candles

Have a child light the Shamash candle and hold it while the blessings are read by the father:

First Blessing to Recite

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old, at this season.

Second Blessing to Recite

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, and has preserved us, and enabled us to reach this time.

Light the second candle (starting on the left) with the Shamash, and name the candle – “Jesus is the Light.”

Then light the first candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “The Bible is the Light.”

Sing, “Through Our God, We Shall Do Valiantly” and hand dollar bill to the child lighting the candle, while dancing and singing.

Christmas Story

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 have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:”

“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.”

Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”

When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”

When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.

Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:

“A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.”

Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.”

Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel.

But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee.

And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”14

Prayer of thanks for Jesus our Light

Christmas Presents for Day Two

Games

Day 3 – Believers are lights

Leader: Explain the following - We are to be lights shining in the world as testimonies. We have to take the light to the world rather than hiding it under a basket. But our light must come from God’s grace.

Reading from the Maccabees

Jews in the time of the Maccabees who were willing to be lights

It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and thongs, to partake of unlawful swine’s flesh. One of them, acting as their spokesman, said, “What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”

The king fell into a rage, and gave orders to have pans and caldrons heated.

These were heated immediately, and he commanded that the tongue of their spokesman be cut out and that they scalp him and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of the brothers and the mother looked on. When he was utterly helpless, the king ordered them to take him to the fire, still breathing, and to fry him in a pan. The smoke from the pan spread widely, but the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die nobly, saying, “The Lord God is watching over us and in truth has compassion on us, as Moses declared in his song that bore witness against the people to their faces, when he said, ‘And he will have compassion on his servants.’”

After the first brother had died in this way, they brought forward the second for their sport. They tore off the skin of his head with the hair, and asked him, “Will you eat rather than have your body punished limb by limb?” He replied in the language of his ancestors and said to them, “No.” Therefore he in turn underwent tortures as the first brother had done. And when he was at his last breath, he said, “You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws.”

After him, the third was the victim of their sport. When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands, and said nobly, “I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again.” As a result the king himself and those with him were astonished at the young man’s spirit, for he regarded his sufferings as nothing.

After he too had died, they maltreated and tortured the fourth in the same way.

When he was near death, he said, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of mortals and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life!”

Next they brought forward the fifth and maltreated him. But he looked at the king, and said, “Because you have authority among mortals, though you also are mortal, you do what you please. But do not think that God has forsaken our people. Keep on, and see how his mighty power will torture you and your descendants!”

After him they brought forward the sixth. And when he was about to die, he said, “Do not deceive yourself in vain. For we are suffering these things on our own account, because of our sins against our own God. Therefore astounding things have happened. But do not think that you will go unpunished for having tried to fight against God!”

The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honorable memory. Although she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord. She encouraged each of them in the language of their ancestors. Filled with a noble spirit, she reinforced her woman’s reasoning with a man’s courage, and said to them, “I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of humankind and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.”

Antiochus felt that he was being treated with contempt, and he was suspicious of her reproachful tone. The youngest brother being still alive, Antiochus not only appealed to him in words, but promised with oaths that he would make him rich and enviable if he would turn from the ways of his ancestors, and that he would take him for his Friend and entrust him with public affairs. Since the young man would not listen to him at all, the king called the mother to him and urged her to advise the youth to save himself. After much urging on his part, she undertook to persuade her son. But, leaning close to him, she spoke in their native language as follows, deriding the cruel tyrant: “My son, have pity on me. I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you. I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. And in the same way the human race came into being. Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again along with your brothers.”

While she was still speaking, the young man said, “What are you waiting for? I will not obey the king’s command, but I obey the command of the law that was given to our ancestors through Moses. But you, who have contrived all sorts of evil against the Hebrews, will certainly not escape the hands of God. For we are suffering because of our own sins. And if our living Lord is angry for a little while, to rebuke and discipline us, he will again be reconciled with his own servants. But you, unholy wretch, you most defiled of all mortals, do not be elated in vain and puffed up by uncertain hopes, when you raise your hand against the children of heaven. You have not yet escaped the judgment of the almighty, all-seeing God. For our brothers after enduring a brief suffering have drunk of ever-flowing life, under God’s covenant; but you, by the judgment of God, will receive just punishment for your arrogance. I, like my brothers, give up body and life for the laws of our ancestors, appealing to God to show mercy soon to our nation and by trials and plagues to make you confess that he alone is God, and through me and my brothers to bring to an end the wrath of the Almighty that has justly fallen on our whole nation.”

The king fell into a rage, and handled him worse than the others, being exasperated at his scorn. So he died in his integrity, putting his whole trust in the Lord.

Last of all, the mother died, after her sons. Let this be enough, then, about the eating of sacrifices and the extreme tortures.15

Christmas hymn

Go Tell It On the Mountain

Go tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere,
Go tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born.

When I was a seeker
I sought both night and day,
I asked the Lord to help me,
And he showed me the way.

Go tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere,
Go tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born.

He made me a watchman
Upon a city wall,
And if I am a Christian,
I am the least of all.

Go tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere,
Go tell it on the mountain,
That Jesus Christ is born.

Readings on the Believers Being the Light

Thus says God the LORD,
Who created the heavens and stretched them out,
Who spread forth the earth and that which comes from it,
Who gives breath to the people on it,
And spirit to those who walk on it:

“I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness,
And will hold Your hand;
I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people,
As a light to the Gentiles,
To open blind eyes,
To bring out prisoners from the prison,
Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.
I will bring the blind by a way they did not know;
I will lead them in paths they have not known.
I will make darkness light before them,
And crooked places straight.
These things I will do for them,
And not forsake them.

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.16

Blessings and Candles

Have a child light the Shamash candle and hold it while the blessings are read by the father:

First Blessing to Recite

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old, at this season.

Second Blessing to Recite

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, and has preserved us, and enabled us to reach this time.

Light the third candle (from the left) with the Shamash, and name the candle – “We are the Light.”

Then light the second candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “Jesus is the Light.”

Then light the first candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “The Bible is the Light.”

Sing, “Through Our God, We Shall Do Valiantly” and hand a dollar bill to the child lighting the candle, while dancing and singing.

Christmas Story

John the Baptist also came to be a light and testimony to Jesus.

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,

and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the LORD;
Make His paths straight.’”

Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”17

Prayer that God would help us to be faithful lights

Christmas Presents for Day Three

Games

Day 4 – The Spirit is the Light.

Leader: Explain the following - Apart from the convicting work of the Spirit in the world, we would not make much progress. He convicts the world of sin, or righteousness and of judgment.

Reading from the Maccabees

God gave victory to the Jews

Apollonius now gathered together Gentiles and a large force from Samaria to fight against Israel. When Judas learned of it, he went out to meet him, and he defeated and killed him. Many were wounded and fell, and the rest fled.

Then they seized their spoils; and Judas took the sword of Apollonius, and used it in battle the rest of his life.

When Seron, the commander of the Syrian army, heard that Judas had gathered a large company, including a body of faithful soldiers who stayed with him and went out to battle, he said, “I will make a name for myself and win honor in the kingdom. I will make war on Judas and his companions, who scorn the king’s command.” Once again a strong army of godless men went up with him to help him, to take vengeance on the Israelites.

When he approached the ascent of Beth-horon, Judas went out to meet him with a small company. But when they saw the army coming to meet them, they said to Judas, “How can we, few as we are, fight against so great and so strong a multitude? And we are faint, for we have eaten nothing today.” Judas replied, “It is easy for many to be hemmed in by few, for in the sight of Heaven there is no difference between saving by many or by few. It is not on the size of the army that victory in battle depends, but strength comes from Heaven. They come against us in great insolence and lawlessness to destroy us and our wives and our children, and to despoil us; but we fight for our lives and our laws. He himself will crush them before us; as for you, do not be afraid of them.”

When he finished speaking, he rushed suddenly against Seron and his army, and they were crushed before him. They pursued them down the descent of Beth-horon to the plain; eight hundred of them fell, and the rest fled into the land of the Philistines.18

Christmas hymn

Of the Father’s Love Begotten

Of the Father’s love begotten,
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the Source, the Ending He,
Of the things that are, that ha- - - -ve been,
And that future years shall see, Evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessed,
When the Virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bore the Savior of our race;
And the babe, the world’s Redeem- - - -er,
First revealed His sacred face, Evermore and evermore!

This is He whom heav’n-taught singers,
Sang of old with one accord,
Whom the Scriptures of the prophets,
Promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long-expect- - - - ed;
Let creation praise its Lord, Evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heav’n, adore him;
Angel hosts, His praises sing;
All dominions, bow before Him,
And extol our God and King;
Let no tongue on earth be si- - - - lent,
Ev’ry voice in concert ring, Evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee, with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn, and chant, and high thanksgiving,
And unwearied praises be,
Honor, glory, and domin- - - -ion,
And eternal victory, Evermore and evermore!

Readings on the Holy Spirit Being the Light

And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.

Now the angel who talked with me came back and wakened me, as a man who is wakened out of his sleep. And he said to me, “What do you see?”

So I said, “I am looking, and there is a lampstand of solid gold with a bowl on top of it, and on the stand seven lamps with seven pipes to the seven lamps. Two olive trees are by it, one at the right of the bowl and the other at its left.” So I answered and spoke to the angel who talked with me, saying, “What are these, my lord?”

Then the angel who talked with me answered and said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” And I said, “No, my lord.”

So he answered and said to me:

“This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel:
‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’
Says the LORD of hosts.19

Blessings and Candles

Have a child light the Shamash candle and hold it while the blessings are read by the father:

First Blessing to Recite

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old, at this season.

Second Blessing to Recite

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, and has preserved us, and enabled us to reach this time.

**Light the fourth candle (from the left) with the Shamash, and name the **

candle – “The Holy Spirit is the Light.”

Then light the third candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “We are the Light.”

Then light the second candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “Jesus is the Light.”

Then light the first candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “The Bible is the Light.”

Sing, “Through Our God, We Shall Do Valiantly” and hand a dollar bill to the child lighting the candle, while dancing and singing.

Christmas Story

The Spirit’s work in the pre-Christmas story

Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

And Mary said:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.”

And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.

Prayer of thanks for the Light of the Holy Spirit in our lives

Christmas Presents for Day Four

Games

Day 5 – the Kingdom is the Light.

Leader: Explain the following – Though God’s kingdom has always existed, the kingdom of Messiah began at Christ’s first coming. He was given all authority in heaven and on earth at His ascension (Matt 28:16-20 with Dan. 7:13-14). As the sun rising at dawn, Christ’s kingdom will continue to grow (Is. 9:7) until the noon-day light covers the earth.

Reading from the Maccabees

Re-establishing the Jewish Kingdom in the Old Testament times

After this Judas appointed leaders of the people, in charge of thousands and hundreds and fifties and tens.

Those who were building houses, or were about to be married, or were planting a vineyard, or were fainthearted, he told to go home again, according to the law. Then the army marched out and encamped to the south of Emmaus.

And Judas said, “Arm yourselves and be courageous. Be ready early in the morning to fight with these Gentiles who have assembled against us to destroy us and our sanctuary. It is better for us to die in battle than to see the misfortunes of our nation and of the sanctuary. But as his will in heaven may be, so shall he do.”

Now Gorgias took five thousand infantry and one thousand picked cavalry, and this division moved out by night to fall upon the camp of the Jews and attack them suddenly. Men from the citadel were his guides. But Judas heard of it, and he and his warriors moved out to attack the king’s force in Emmaus

while the division was still absent from the camp. When Gorgias entered the camp of Judas by night, he found no one there, so he looked for them in the hills, because he said, “These men are running away from us.”

At daybreak Judas appeared in the plain with three thousand men, but they did not have armor and swords such as they desired. And they saw the camp of the Gentiles, strong and fortified, with cavalry all around it; and these men were trained in war. But Judas said to those who were with him, “Do not fear their numbers or be afraid when they charge. Remember how our ancestors were saved at the Red Sea, when Pharaoh with his forces pursued them. And now, let us cry to Heaven, to see whether he will favor us and remember his covenant with our ancestors and crush this army before us today. Then all the Gentiles will know that there is one who redeems and saves Israel.”

When the foreigners looked up and saw them coming against them,

they went out from their camp to battle. Then the men with Judas blew their trumpets and engaged in battle. The Gentiles were crushed, and fled into the plain, and all those in the rear fell by the sword. They pursued them to Gazara, and to the plains of Idumea, and to Azotus and Jamnia; and three thousand of them fell. Then Judas and his force turned back from pursuing them,

and he said to the people, “Do not be greedy for plunder, for there is a battle before us; Gorgias and his force are near us in the hills. But stand now against our enemies and fight them, and afterward seize the plunder boldly.”20

Christmas hymn

Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
join the triumph of the skies;
with th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ, by highest heav’n adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
late in time, behold him come,
offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
hail th’incarnate Deity,
pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.

Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
ris’n with healing in his wings.
Mild he lays his glory by,
born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
born to give them second birth.

Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Come, Desire of nations, come,
fix in us thy humble home;
rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed,
bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Now display thy saving power,
ruined nature now restore;
now in mystic union join
thine to ours, and ours to thine.

Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
stamp thine image in its place:
second Adam from above,
reinstate us in thy love.
Let us thee, though lost, regain,
thee, the Life, the inner man:
O, to all thyself impart,
formed in each believing heart.

Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King!”

Words: Charles Wesley, 1739. Music: Felix Mendelssohn, 1840.

Readings on the Kingdom Being the Light

Arise, shine;
For your light has come!
And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you.
For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth,
And deep darkness the people;
But the LORD will arise over you,
And His glory will be seen upon you.
The Gentiles shall come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.
His name shall endure forever;
His name shall continue as long as the sun.
And men shall be blessed in Him;
All nations shall call Him blessed.
Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel,
Who only does wondrous things!
And blessed be His glorious name forever!
And let the whole earth be filled with His glory.
Amen and Amen.21

Blessings and Candles

Have a child light the Shamash candle and hold it while the blessings are read by the father:

First Blessing to Recite

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old, at this season.

Second Blessing to Recite

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, and has preserved us, and enabled us to reach this time.

Light the fifth candle (from the left) with the Shamash, and name the candle – “The Kingdom is the Light.”

Light the fourth candle and name the candle – “The Holy Spirit is the Light.”

Then light the third candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “We are the Light.”

Then light the second candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “Jesus is the Light.”

Then light the first candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “The Bible is the Light.”

Sing, “Through Our God, We Shall Do Valiantly” and hand a dollar bill to the child lighting the candle, while dancing and singing.

Christmas Story

Zechariah’s prophecy of the imminent kingdom

Now his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying:

“Blessed is the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited and redeemed His people,
And has raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of His servant David,
As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets,
Who have been since the world began,
That we should be saved from our enemies
And from the hand of all who hate us,
To perform the mercy promised to our fathers
And to remember His holy covenant,
The oath which He swore to our father Abraham:
To grant us that we,
Being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
Might serve Him without fear,
In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.
“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;
For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
To give knowledge of salvation to His people
By the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

So the child grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.22

Prayer of thanks for the Kingdom of Light

Christmas Presents for Day Five

Games

Day 6 – Guidance Is Our Light.

Leader: Explain the following - We need guidance in how to advance the cause of Christ. We cannot just do what we want to do.

Reading from the Maccabees

We don’t always understand God’s providence

Then Judas and his force turned back from pursuing them, and he said to the people, “Do not be greedy for plunder, for there is a battle before us; Gorgias and his force are near us in the hills. But stand now against our enemies and fight them, and afterward seize the plunder boldly.”

Just as Judas was finishing this speech, a detachment appeared, coming out of the hills. They saw that their army had been put to flight, and that the Jews were burning the camp, for the smoke that was seen showed what had happened.

When they perceived this, they were greatly frightened, and when they also saw the army of Judas drawn up in the plain for battle, they all fled into the land of the Philistines. Then Judas returned to plunder the camp, and they seized a great amount of gold and silver, and cloth dyed blue and sea purple, and great riches.

On their return they sang hymns and praises to Heaven—“For he is good, for his mercy endures forever.” Thus Israel had a great deliverance that day.

Those of the foreigners who escaped went and reported to Lysias all that had happened. When he heard it, he was perplexed and discouraged, for things had not happened to Israel as he had intended, nor had they turned out as the king had ordered. But the next year he mustered sixty thousand picked infantry and five thousand cavalry to subdue them. They came into Idumea and encamped at Beth-zur, and Judas met them with ten thousand men.

When he saw that their army was strong, he prayed, saying, “Blessed are you, O Savior of Israel, who crushed the attack of the mighty warrior by the hand of your servant David, and gave the camp of the Philistines into the hands of Jonathan son of Saul, and of the man who carried his armor. Hem in this army by the hand of your people Israel, and let them be ashamed of their troops and their cavalry. Fill them with cowardice; melt the boldness of their strength; let them tremble in their destruction. Strike them down with the sword of those who love you, and let all who know your name praise you with hymns.”

Then both sides attacked, and there fell of the army of Lysias five thousand men; they fell in action. When Lysias saw the rout of his troops and observed the boldness that inspired those of Judas, and how ready they were either to live or to die nobly, he withdrew to Antioch and enlisted mercenaries in order to invade Judea again with an even larger army.23

Christmas hymn

We Three Kings

We three kings of Orient are Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star

O Star of wonder, star of night Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to thy Perfect Light

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain Gold I bring to crown Him again
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to rein

O Star of wonder, star of night Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light

Frankincense to offer have I Incense owns a Deity nigh
Pray’r and praising, all men raising
Worship Him, God most high

O Star of wonder, star of night Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume Breathes a life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb

O Star of wonder, star of night Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light

Glorious now behold Him arise King and God and Sacrifice
Alleluia, Alleluia
Earth to heav’n replies

O Star of wonder, star of night Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light

Rev. John Henry Hopkins, 1857

Readings on God’s Guidance Being the Light

For with You is the fountain of life;
In Your light we see light.
To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.”
If you extend your soul to the hungry
And satisfy the afflicted soul,
Then your light shall dawn in the darkness,
And your darkness shall be as the noonday.
The LORD will guide you continually,
And satisfy your soul in drought,
And strengthen your bones;
You shall be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
Those from among you
Shall build the old waste places;
You shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach,
The Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.24

Blessings and Candles

Have a child light the Shamash candle and hold it while the blessings are read by the father:

First Blessing to Recite

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old, at this season.

Second Blessing to Recite

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, and has preserved us, and enabled us to reach this time.

Light the sixth candle (from the left) with the Shamash, and name the candle – “Guidance is the Light.”

Light the fifth candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “The Kingdom is the Light.”

Light the fourth candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “The Holy Spirit is the Light.”

Then light the third candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “We are the Light.”

Then light the second candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “Jesus is the Light.”

Then light the first candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “The Bible is the Light.”

Sing, “Through Our God, We Shall Do Valiantly” and hand a dollar bill to the child lighting the candle, while dancing and singing.

Christmas Story

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.

So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth.

For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.

He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

And Zacharias said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years.”

And the angel answered and said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings.

But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”

And the people waited for Zacharias, and marveled that he lingered so long in the temple. But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.

So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, “Thus the Lord has dealt with me, in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”25

Prayer of thanks for God’s Guidance

Christmas Presents for Day Six

Games

Day 7 – God’s Blessing on our Work is Light.

Leader: Explain the following – Psalm 127 explains that without God’s blessing upon all that we do, our striving will be in vain. Unless God shines the light of His countenance upon us, we will not succeed.

Reading from the Maccabees

God’s blessings on the Jews

Then Judas and his brothers said, “See, our enemies are crushed; let us go up to cleanse the sanctuary and dedicate it.” So all the army assembled and went up to Mount Zion. There they saw the sanctuary desolate, the altar profaned, and the gates burned. In the courts they saw bushes sprung up as in a thicket, or as on one of the mountains. They saw also the chambers of the priests in ruins. Then they tore their clothes and mourned with great lamentation; they sprinkled themselves with ashesand fell face down on the ground. And when the signal was given with the trumpets, they cried out to Heaven.

Then Judas detailed men to fight against those in the citadel until he had cleansed the sanctuary. He chose blameless priests devoted to the law, and they cleansed the sanctuary and removed the defiled stones to an unclean place. They deliberated what to do about the altar of burnt offering, which had been profaned. And they thought it best to tear it down, so that it would not be a lasting shame to them that the Gentiles had defiled it. So they tore down the altar, and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until a prophet should come to tell what to do with them. Then they took unhewn stones, as the law directs, and built a new altar like the former one. They also rebuilt the sanctuary and the interior of the temple, and consecrated the courts.

They made new holy vessels, and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. Then they offered incense on the altar and lit the lamps on the lampstand, and these gave light in the temple. They placed the bread on the table and hung up the curtains. Thus they finished all the work they had undertaken.

Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-eighth year, they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering that they had built.

At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshiped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and joyfully offered burnt offerings; they offered a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving offering. They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests, and fitted them with doors. There was very great joy among the people, and the disgrace brought by the Gentiles was removed.

Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev.

At that time they fortified Mount Zion with high walls and strong towers all around, to keep the Gentiles from coming and trampling them down as they had done before. Judas stationed a garrison there to guard it; he also fortified Beth-zur to guard it, so that the people might have a stronghold that faced Idumea.26

Christmas hymn

O Little Town of Bethlehem

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love
O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth
And praises sing to God the King
And Peace to men on earth

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may his His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel

Phillips Brooks, 1868

Readings on God’s Blessing Being the Light

God be merciful to us and bless us, And cause His face to shine upon us.

Now therefore, our God, hear the prayer of Your servant, and his supplications, and for the Lord’s sake cause Your face to shine on Your sanctuary, which is desolate.27

Blessings and Candles

Have a child light the Shamash candle and hold it while the blessings are read by the father:

First Blessing to Recite

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old, at this season.

Second Blessing to Recite

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, and has preserved us, and enabled us to reach this time.

Light the seventh candle (starting from the left) with the Shamash, and name the candle – “The Blessing of God on our Work is Light.”

Light the sixth candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “Guidance is the Light.”

Light the fifth candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “The Kingdom is the Light.”

Light the fourth candle, and name the candle – “The Holy Spirit is the Light.”

Then light the third candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “We are the Light.”

Then light the second candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “Jesus is the Light.”

Then light the first candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “The Bible is the Light.”

Sing, “Through Our God, We Shall Do Valiantly” and hand a dollar bill to the child lighting the candle, while dancing and singing.

Christmas Story

Jesus is Dedicated to God

And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord

(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD”), and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”28

God blesses Simeon’s Faithfulness

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:

“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.”

And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him.29

God’s Blessing Can Only Come Through Christ’s Suffering

Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

So when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.30

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.31

Prayer of thanks for the Blessing of God on our Work

Christmas Presents for Day Seven

Games

Day 8 – The Eternal Kingdom will be Light.

Leader: Explain the following – God’s kingdom is eternal. He has a perfect plan that stretches from eternity past to eternity future. This plan includes an old creation and a renewed creation. This plan includes a grand battle between the seed of the woman and the seed of Satan. This plan includes redemption and judgment. God has always been victorious, and everything that was lost to man through the first Adam’s disobedience will be restored through the Second Adam’s perfect obedience. All of history is moving toward the glory of God as He rules in righteousness forever and ever. One day all darkness and all injustice will vanish as God makes a new heavens and a new earth in which dwells righteousness.

Reading from the Maccabees

The Jews in Jerusalem and those in the land of Judea, To their Jewish kindred in Egypt, Greetings and true peace.

May God do good to you, and may he remember his covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, his faithful servants. May he give you all a heart to worship him and to do his will with a strong heart and a willing spirit. May he open your heart to his law and his commandments, and may he bring peace. May he hear your prayers and be reconciled to you, and may he not forsake you in time of evil. We are now praying for you here.

In the reign of Demetrius, in the one hundred sixty-ninth year, we Jews wrote to you, in the critical distress that came upon us in those years after Jason and his company revolted from the holy land and the kingdom and burned the gate and shed innocent blood. We prayed to the Lord and were heard, and we offered sacrifice and grain offering, and we lit the lamps and set out the loaves. And now see that you keep the festival of booths in the month of Chislev, in the one hundred eighty-eighth year.

The people of Jerusalem and of Judea and the senate and Judas, To Aristobulus, who is of the family of the anointed priests, teacher of King Ptolemy, and to the Jews in Egypt, Greetings and good health.

Having been saved by God out of grave dangers we thank him greatly for taking our side against the king, for he drove out those who fought against the holy city. When the leader reached Persia with a force that seemed irresistible, they were cut to pieces in the temple of Nanea by a deception employed by the priests of the goddess Nanea. On the pretext of intending to marry her, Antiochus came to the place together with his Friends, to secure most of its treasures as a dowry. When the priests of the temple of Nanea had set out the treasures and Antiochus had come with a few men inside the wall of the sacred precinct, they closed the temple as soon as he entered it. Opening a secret door in the ceiling, they threw stones and struck down the leader and his men; they dismembered them and cut off their heads and threw them to the people outside.

Blessed in every way be our God, who has brought judgment on those who have behaved impiously.

Since on the twenty-fifth day of Chislev we shall celebrate the purification of the temple, we thought it necessary to notify you, in order that you also may celebrate the festival of booths and the festival of the fire given when Nehemiah, who built the temple and the altar, offered sacrifices.32

Christmas hymn

Joy to the World

Joy to the world! The Lord is come:
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heav’n and nature sing, And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing.

Joy to the earth! The Saviour reigns:
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains,
Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found, Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.

He rules the world With truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of his love And wonders of his love,
And wonders, wonders of his love.

Readings on the Eternal Kingdom Being the Light

Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

Those who are wise shall shine
like the brightness of the firmament,
And those who turn many to righteousness
like the stars forever and ever.

And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal,
proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.
In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river,
was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits,
each tree yielding its fruit every month.
The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
and there shall be no more curse,
But the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it,
and His servants shall serve Him.
They shall see His face,
and His name shall be on their foreheads.
There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun,
for the Lord God gives them light.
And they shall reign forever and ever.33

Blessings and Candles

Have a child light the Shamash candle and hold it while the blessings are read by the father:

First Blessing to Recite

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who wrought miracles for our fathers in days of old, at this season.

Second Blessing to Recite

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, and has preserved us, and enabled us to reach this time.

Light the eighth candle (starting from the left) with the Shamash, and name the candle – “The Eternal Kingdom will be Light.”

Light the seventh candle and name the candle – “The Blessing of God on our Work is Light.”

Light the sixth candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “Guidance is the Light.”

Light the fifth candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “The Kingdom is the Light.”

Light the fourth candle, and name the candle – “The Holy Spirit is the Light.”

Light the third candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “We are the Light.”

Light the second candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “Jesus is the Light.”

Light the first candle with the Shamash, and name the candle – “The Bible is the Light.”

Sing, “Through Our God, We Shall Do Valiantly” and hand a dollar bill to the child lighting the candle, while dancing and singing.

Christmas Story

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ ”

And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.

For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.34

Prayer of thanks for the Light of the Eternal Kingdom

Christmas Presents for Day Eight

Games

About the Author

Controversy continues to surround the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

This book traces the roots of this festival to the Jewish Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah). The date of December 25 was borrowed from the Jews, not the pagans. Not only does Pastor Kayser show the Mosaic origins of this family celebration, and demonstrate from internal and external evidence that Jesus really was born on that date, but he also demonstrates how the celebration of this festival on December 25 precedes the pagan celebration of that date by at least one hundred years.

This book outlines the theological basis for celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25 and describes how this joyful celebration can be done Jewish style.

Founder and President of Biblical Blueprints, Phillip Kayser has degrees in education, theology, and philosophy. Ordained in 1987, he currently serves as Senior Pastor of Dominion Covenant Church, a conservative Presbyterian (CPC) church in Omaha, NE. He also serves as Professor of Ethics at Whitefield Theological Seminary and President of the Providential History Festival. He and his wife Kathy have 5 children and 9 grandchildren.

Notes

1Oliver Cromwell enforced a ban on Christmas in England in 1644. Christmas was outlawed in Boston from 1659-1681. Opposition to Christmas was especially found among Scottish Presbyterians, though the Puritans of England either opposed Romanist corruptions in the day or opposed the day altogether. Many cite the Westminster Directory of Worship as giving an absolute ban on the celebration of Christmas – “There is no day commanded in Scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord’s day, which is the Christian Sabbath. Festival days vulgarly called ‘Holy-days,’ having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued.” However, many subscribers to the Directory of Worship celebrated Christmas, not as a holy day, but as a thanksgiving day. They cited chapter 21:5 of the Confession which permits “solemn fastings and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner.” Interestingly, the proof text for this statement was the Jewish festival of Purim in Esther 9:22, which is analogous to Hanukkah. Nevertheless, the bulk of the Puritan and Scottish Reformed tradition did not allow for Christmas celebration.

However, these were a definite minority in Reformed circles. The German Reformed, French Reformed, Dutch Reformed, Swiss Reformed, and some English Reformed churches were much more open to the celebration of Christmas. For example, the Second Helvetic Confession of 1566 said, “Moreover, if in Christian Liberty the churches religiously celebrate the memory of the Lord’s nativity, circumcision, passion, resurrection, and of his ascension into heaven, and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon his disciples, we approve of it highly.” Interestingly, the Scots were the only ones who took exception to that phrase, giving the impression that most Reformed churches highly approved of the celebration of Christmas. The ecumenical Synod of Dordt advocated the celebration of Christmas, as have many continental and American Reformed churches. The dialogues between Henrich Bullinger and John Calvin showed that the latter was not intent on getting rid of Christmas, but only of purifying it of Romanist idolatry.

2A common misunderstanding of the etymology of the word “Christmas” is to import later heretical ideas of the Romanist “Mass.” This is the view of Michael Schneider, who says, “Perhaps it would impress on our minds the real meaning of Christmas if we would refer to it as Christmass. What is the significance of the mass? At the heart of the Roman Catholic mass is a denial of the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement. It professes to be a reenactment of the sacrifice of Christ for sin. It is a denial of the gospel. The Roman Catholic Church has many other masses, such as Michaelmass, but it is their Christmass that Protestants have singled out for observance.” http://www.swrb.com/newslett/actualNLs/Xmas_ch1.htm. Though Ralph Woodrow originally held the same view, he changed his mind and wrote a book called Christmas Reconsidered. The term Christmas actually comes from the Middle English, Christemasse, which in turn came from the Old English phrase Cristes mæsse, or Christ’s festival. This phrase was already in use in 1038 AD, before the doctrine of transubstantiation corrupted the church. Though the doctrine of transubstantiation was first proposed in the ninth century by a Benedictine monk, Radbertus, it did not become official Romanist doctrine until 1215 AD at the Lateran Council. Thus, though the term “mass” later came to be associated with Roman Catholic transubstantiation, the origin of the term had nothing to do with what is now known as the “Mass.” It was a reference to any church festival. Webster’s dictionary says of “Mass,” that “the word came from ite, missa est ecclesia…, ‘go, the congregation is dismissed,’ the proclamation at the end of the service.” Thus Christmas simply means, “Festival of Christ.”

3Rev. Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons (Neptune, NJ: Loiseaux Brothers, 1916) represents the arguments of many on this subject when he claims that December 25 was a pagan festival day appropriated by the church. This book will argue that this is a misinformed judgment.

4This appears to have been a pagan rite found in Scandinavia and connected with the gods Frigga, Baldur, and Loki. Mistletoe was associated with erotica (it was seen as an aphrodisiac) and free love (it was thought to have abortifacient qualities enabling uninhibited sexuality). There does seem to be good evidence that kissing under a mistletoe has thoroughly pagan roots.

5Though transformed into Christmas caroling today, many trace the origin to pagans singing to their fruit trees in order to scare away evil spirits and produce a good harvest. The word wassail comes from the Anglo Saxon toast, wæs þu hæl, “be thou hale” — i.e., “be in good health.” An old song carries over some of the older meanings of this custom: “Wassaile the trees, that they may beare / You many a Plum and many a Peare: / For more or lesse fruits they will bring, / As you do give them Wassailing.”

6While many say that Santa Claus was inspired by the generous historical figure, Saint Nicholas of Myra, others trace him to the Germanic god, Odin. Children would place their boots with carrots, straw or sugar near the chimney for Odin’s flying horse to eat, and Odin would reward the children with gifts and candy. Others think it is a merging of such traditions.

7Some appeal to a Christian tradition of Saint Boniface destroying an oak tree during a pagan child sacrifice. Tradition says that a small fir tree grew up in its place that represented Jesus. However, others trace its roots to pre-Christian paganism (see Jer. 10:2-4) or to later pagan practices of the Saxons or Druids.

8Many suggest that the common practice in Anglo-Saxon England and Scandinavia ties this practice to ancient worship of Thor, though Carl Willhelm von Sydow contests this claim.

9Some have suggested that the boar’s head with an apple in its mouth harks back to the Germanic people’s tribute to their god Freyr.

10Such as drunkenness, idolatry, gambling, and rowdy behavior.

11Paul said, “I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem” (Acts 18:21). He was not just attending the feast; he was keeping it. Some people read Colossians 2:16-17 only as an abolition of Jewish day-keeping and fail to see that Paul’s words “let no one judge you… regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths” also prohibit “Scottish Reformation” brothers from judging those of us who delight in celebrating such days, not as holy days, but as what the Westminster Confession of Faith calls days and seasons of thanksgiving. It is clear that Paul delighted in the refreshing celebration of those same Jewish festivals (see for example Acts 18:21; 20:16; 1 Cor. 16:8). The church was at liberty to celebrate such days, but was not at liberty to make them mandated holy days. Thus, while Paul fought vigorously against a legalizing tendency of Jews to impose their customs on Gentiles in Acts 15, Paul properly defended the right of Christians to continue to celebrate the Jewish customs in Acts 21. As we will see, the majority of Reformers correctly refused to call Christmas a “holy day,” but also refused to stop celebrating the day as a thanksgiving day. The Old Testament actually anticipated that at least some would celebrate these festivals until the end of history: “And it shall come to pass that from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh shall come to worship before Me,’ says the LORD.” (Is. 66:23) “And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations …shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD or hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.” (Zech. 14:16). While these latter two texts could be interpreted as using Old Covenant language to get across New Covenant realities that are not a literal keeping of the day, Paul’s own liberty at keeping the days cannot be explained away.

12For example, Ignatius of Antioch (35-98AD) said, “Do not lightly esteem the festivals. Despise not the period of forty days, for it comprises an imitation of the conduct of the Lord. After the week of the passion, do not neglect to fast on the fourth and sixth days, distributing at the same time of thine abundance to the poor. If any one fasts on the Lord’s Day or on the Sabbath, except on the paschal Sabbath only, he is a murderer of Christ.” (chapter XIII). This reference to the “paschal Sabbath” was a reference to the church celebration of Passover/Resurrection. Scholars agree that the early church clearly celebrated at least Passover/Resurrection and Pentecost. Though there was heated debate in 154 about whether Passover should be celebrated on Sunday or on any day of the week on which Nisan 14 might land, all the church fathers of that period agreed that Passover was celebrated continuously by the church since the time of the apostles. It will be argued in this paper that the same was true of Hanukkah/Christmas.

13Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons (Neptune, NJ: Loiseaux Brothers, 1916), p. 93.

14Tertullian, The Apology, chapter XXXV.

15Tertullian, The Apology, chapter XXXV.

16Tertullian, On Baptism, chapter XIX; On Prayer, chapter XXIII; Idolatry, chapter XIV.

17Heated debates took place in 154 AD. Many wanted to celebrate Passover purely in Jewish style. Others wanted to add uniquely Christian practices. But the major controversy arose over the day Passover should be celebrated. In Asia Minor Christians celebrated Passover on Nisan 14 whereas others wanted to celebrate it only on a Sunday. There is no evidence that celebrating Passover was a new innovation.

18

The early church appears to have celebrated the birth of Jesus as long as we have record, though there may have been different dates on which it was celebrated. Though the sources for the following quotes have been questioned by some scholars, there is evidence of a December 25 celebration as early as the time of Telesphorus, who was bishop from 129-138 AD. George K. Evans, says,

Telesphorus, the second bishop of Rome (129-138), ordained that ‘in the holy night of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior, they do celebrate public church services, and in them solemnly sing the Angels’ Hymn, because also the same night he was declared unto the shepherds by an angel, as the truth itself doth witness.’ Theophilus, who was Bishop of Caesarea during this same period, urged that ‘the observance or celebration of the birthday of our Lord [be held] on what day soever the 25 of December shall happen.’”

Quoted from The International Book of Christmas Carols, musical arrangements by Walter Ehret, trans. George K. Evans (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963; New York: Walton Music Corp., 1963), p. 3. For original source, see Liber Pontificalis, translated with an introduction by Louise Ropes Loomis (Arx Publishing, LLC, 2006).

While the accuracy of certain portions of Liber Pontificalis, and the Magdeburg Centriators (I,3.118) have been questioned on their historicity, there is reasonable evidence that these particular quotes were not fabrications (lies) of the church, but were quotes from actual documents that they had in hand. It is the belief of the current author that the early Jewish Church never stopped celebrating their Jewish Festivals with a joyous sense of their fulfillment in Christ, and that as Gentiles were grafted into the Church, they continued to celebrate at least the festivals of Dedication (Christmas), Pascha, and Pentecost. There never has been a time when the latter two feast days were not celebrated, and there is strong evidence of the same for the first one.

19In the Chalki manuscript of Hipploytus (about 205 AD), he says,

“For the first coming of Our Lord in the flesh [in which He has been begotten], in Bethlehem, took place [eight days before Kalends of January] in the reign of Augustus….”

Eight days before Kalends of January is December 25. Some scholars claim that the words I have placed in brackets must have been added, and could not be the words of Hippolytus. Their arguments are:

Argument 1 - It is too early for any Christian to affirm a December 25 date since even the pagans didn’t celebrate December 25 yet. Answer: This is circular reasoning. It is assuming without proof that the Christians got December 25 from the pagans. This could be used to discredit any early references to Christ being born on December 25 (and I suspect has been used to discredit the two references in the second century – see footnote 18).

Argument 2 - Two names in the context were spelled wrong [Rufus versus Rufius; Rubellio versus Rubellius]. This argues that the author did not know his facts. Answer: These same scholars inconsistently accept a great deal of latitude in spelling in other church fathers! Why not in Hippolytus? There is nothing unusual about these alternate spellings.

Argument 3 - He gets the age at which Jesus died correctly (age 33) and could not have known that. Answer: This assertion is historical arrogance. Why could he not have known this? He was much closer to the sources than we are.

Argument 4 - There are too many historical details that this author knows that Tertullian and Clement were either ignorant of or silent about. Answer: With the scant materials we have of all these fathers, this is asking a lot! Interest levels, access to historical documents, purpose in writing, lost writings by early fathers, and other factors can easily account for details that Hippolytus might mention that are left out by Tertullian and Clement.

As far as I can see, there simply are no credible arguments to discount Hipplytus being the author of this statement. Therefore, we believe this is a clear reference a belief already current in 205 AD that Jesus was born on December 25.

20In Stromata I.21 Clement says, “From the birth of Christ, therefore, to the death of Commodus are, in all, a hundred and ninety-four years, one month, thirteen days. And there are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus, and in the twenty-fifth day of Pachon.” These two sentences might actually give two conflicting dates. The first date (if Eusebius is correct about the date of the death of Commodus) would place the birth of Jesus on November 18, 3 BC. (From December 31, 192 AD to January 1, 2 BC is 194 years. Add one month and thirteen days and you arrive at November 18, 3 BC.) The date of the second sentence is May 20, 2 BC. However, if you read the full paragraph, he also gives two other possibilities, one being Pharmuthi 25 (April 19 or 20 on our calendar). The only consistency is the 25th day of some month.

21For example, December 25, 2008 on the Julian calendar is January 7, 2009 on the Gregorian calendar. Likewise, December 25, 1800 would be January 6, 1801.

22The Westminster Directory of Worship banned the celebration of Christmas as a holy day – “There is no day commanded in Scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord’s day, which is the Christian Sabbath. Festival days vulgarly called ‘Holy-days,’ having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued.”

23

Contrary to the opinion of some, Calvin was not opposed to family celebration of Christmas. In letter 1, 1551, Calvin answered the objection of the Swiss who thought that he had abolished Christmas, by saying that Christmas celebration was abolished by the city council “without my desire,” and insisting, “I have pursued the moderate course of keeping Christ’s birth-day as you are wont to do.” The full context of this quote is even stronger:

Besides the abolition of the feast-days here has given grievous offense to some of your people, and it is likely enough that much unpleasant talk has been circulating among you. I am pretty certain, also, that I get the credit of being the author of the whole matter, both among the malevolent and the ignorant. But as I can solemnly testify that it was accomplished without my knowledge, and *without my desire,* so I resolved from the first; rather to weaken malice by silence, than be over-solicitous about my defense. Before I ever entered the city, there were no festivals but the Lord’s day. Those celebrated by you were approved of by the same public decree by which Farel and I were expelled; and it was rather extorted by the tumultuous violence of the ungodly, than decreed according to the order of law. Since my recall, I have pursued the moderate course of keeping Christ’s birth-day as you are wont to do.

In letter CCCLXXIX (written in 1555), Calvin said,

“Respecting ceremonies, because they are things indifferent, the churches have a certain latitude of diversity. And when one has well weighed the matter, it may be sometimes considered useful not to have too rigid a uniformity respecting them, in order to show that faith and Christianity do not consist in that. . .

“As to festival days, they were abolished at Geneva before I left France …though for the innovation I am personally irresponsible. For the rest, my writings bear witness to my sentiments on these points, for in them I declare that a church is not to be despised or condemned, because it observes more festival days than the others. From this recent abolition of feast days, here is what has resulted. Not a year has passed without some quarrel and bickering, because the people were divided, and to such a degree as to draw their swords. . .

“Meanwhile we have done what we ought, to appease these troubles. The most feasible means that could be devised for that purpose, seemed to be to keep the holy day in the morning, and open the shops in the afternoon, though this plan did not much remedy the evil. For several thoughtless persons failed not to fall foul of one another. So that for the last time entreating and exhorting the Council of the two hundred to redress this abuse, I begged them, among other things, to be pleased to conform as much as possible to the order established among you for the purpose of keeping up a good understanding. Judge then of my astonishment when I learned what had been decided in the general Council, without my knowing that such a question had been entertained by it. Of that I can produce a goodly number of competent witnesses.”

Nothing could be clearer from these quotes. Calvin had no problem with giving liberty on the subject of celebrating festival days such as Christmas.

24As was pointed out in the previous footnote, Calvin told Zwingli’s successor, Bullinger that he was totally opposed to Geneva’s ban of Christmas. He went on to say, “I am anxious, indeed, in such matters, to see that liberty preserved, which I perceive to have flourished in the churches from the very days of the apostles.” Calvin considered Christmas celebration a liberty, even though it was not a holy day. He speaks of such celebration as a thing “indifferent,” and insisted that “the churches have a certain latitude of diversity” and that no one impose “too rigid a uniformity” on this issue.

25Turretin refers to the Scottish prohibition as “rigid judgment” that denies the “liberty” of the church. “Hence we cannot approve of the rigid judgment of those who charge such churches with idolatry (in which those days are still kept, the names of the saints being retained), since they agree with us in doctrine concerning the worship of God alone and detest the idolatry of the papists.” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 2, p. 104)

26While absolutely rejecting any “holy days,” Henirich Bullinger said that the celebration of “the memory of the Lord’s nativity, circumcision, passion, resurrection, and of his ascension into heaven, and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon his disciples” was a “Christian liberty” and “we approve of it highly.” See Second Helvetic Confession (which was crafted by Bullinger), chapter XXIV.

27Beza also adopted the Second Helvetic Confession, which highly approved of Christmas celebration.

28Most of the leaders in the German Reformed, French Reformed, Dutch Reformed, and Swiss Reformed Churches rejected “holy days” but embraced the “liberty” of celebrating Christmas, Resurrection Day, and Pentecost, just as the church universal had done as far back as we have records.

29Sola Scriptura was a Latin slogan at the Reformation that meant that “Scripture alone” is our regulative authority, that “Scripture alone” was inspired, and that “Scripture alone” should govern all that is done in the church. It also summarized the Reformation belief that Scripture is sufficient for faith and practice (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

30Soli Deo Gloria was another Latin slogan at the time of the Reformation that captured the Protestant desire to do everything in life to God’s glory.

31It is quite clear that God did not want anything to be added to what His Word allowed for worship. He said, “You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way… Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.” (Deut. 12:31-32). Anything in worship that cannot be explicitly justified from the Scripture is like the “unlawful fire” that brought God’s judgment on the worship of Nadab and Abihu (Numb. 26:61; 3:4; Lev. 10:1), or the “commandments of men” that made Jesus displeased with the worship of the Pharisees (Matt 15:7-9), or the “self-imposed religion” condemned by Paul (Col. 2:23). The Regulative Principle of Worship means that everything in worship must be authorized from the Bible.

Perhaps the best definition of the Regulative Principle of Worship is that “Christian worship is to be offered in accordance with Scriptural norms and ordinances to the exclusion of all forms of worship not warranted by the teaching of Scripture.” (Cf. WCF xx-xxi & LC 108-109). God condemns certain forms of worship simply on the ground that they were not commanded (Lev. 10:1ff; Jer. 7:31) or that they sprang merely from the human will (Col. 2:22). The Confession makes a distinction between the regulative principle of worship and the regulative principle of the rest of life:

“God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his word; or beside it, in matters of faith or worship.” (WCF xx,ii)

Thus, in our day by day life we are free from any doctrines or commandments of men that are contrary to the Word, but in worship the restrictions are greater for we are also to be free from any doctrines and commandments of men that are beside the Word (i.e., not warranted directly from the Word) even if they do not thereby contradict the Word.

32Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1994), volume 2, p. 101.

33For some helpful articles on this, see William J. Tighe, “Calculating Christmas,” Touchstone, December, 2003; Alvin J. Schmidt (2001), “Under the Influence,” Harper Collins, pp. 377-379. M. R. Salzman, “New Evidence for the Dating of the Calendar at Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome” Transactions of the American Philological Association 111 (1981, pp. 215-227).

34This is listed on The Chronograph of 354 AD. M. R. Salzman, “New Evidence for the Dating of the Calendar at Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome” Transactions of the American Philological Association 111 (1981, pp. 215-227) p. 221.

35“An inscription of unique interest from the reign of Licinius embodies the official prescription for the annual celebration by his army of a festival of Sol Invictus on December 19” (Allan S. Hoey, “Official Policy towards Oriental Cults in the Roman Army” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, 70, (1939), p. 480 and note 128).

36William J. Tighe, “Calculating Christmas,” Touchstone, December, 2003.

37Ibid.

38“For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.” (2Macc. 7:2) 2 Maccabees 7 gives a gruesome story of an entire family that was tortured to death one by one, constantly with the offer of riches and life if they would eat pork. Each one died faithful to the covenant. 1-4 Maccabees has testimony after testimony of an utterly uncompromising approach to borrowing anything from the pagans. Any Jews who did borrow pagan practices came under discipline or even death. To think that they borrowed a celebration of December 25 from the pagans is ludicrous in the extreme.

39And as we will see, many Jewish scholars argue for this date being of Mosaic institution since the first “feast of dedication” occurred on Chislev 25.

40Of course, we will later argue that the first celebration of a December 25 festival was under Moses, at the festival of the dedication of the tabernacle. It was clearly Satan who copied from God.

41Victor Buksbazen, The Gospel in the Feast of Israel, (Philadelphia: Friends of Israel, 1954), p. 51.

42Emily-Solis Cohen, Jr., Hanukkah (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1947), p. 109.

43These twelve days may form the background for the “twelve days of Christmas.” See more below.

44Though Goldstein has argued that the two dates were the same. James VanderKim says, “Goldstein thinks that the association between Hanukkah and Tabernacles was further suggested by the unintercalated calendar of Judea in this time… Two intercalary months had been omitted so that Chislev (i.e. the ninth month) 164 B.C.E. on the unintercalated calendar would have corresponded with the seventh month (Tishri) on the intercalated one.” As quoted by James C. VanderKam in From Revelation to Canon (BRILL, 2000), p. 142.

45James C. VanderKam, Ibid, argues that “the celebration of Hanukkah was fashioned after the example of the description in 2 Chronicles 7 of Solomon’s dedication which coincided with the festival of Tabernacles.” (p. 141) Thus, the two letters prefixed to 2 Maccabees speak of celebrating Hanukkah after the manner of Tabernacles. Edersheim states, “Thus the two festivals (Dedication and Tabernacles), which indeed are put in juxtaposition in 2 Macc. X. 6, seem to have been both externally and internally connected” (Life and Times, ii, p. 227). Zecharaiah 14:16-21 teaches that the feast of Tabernacles pointed to the latter day glory of Christ’s reign where the nations would be converted to Him. The feast of Hanukkah dealt with the beginning of that reign.

46As Keil and Delitzsch said, “From this day, i.e., from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, Jehovah will bless again, i.e., grant a blessing, namely, so that fruitful seasons will come again, and fields and fruit-trees bear once more.”

47Emily-Solis Cohen, Jr., Hanukkah (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1947), p. 110. Whether this tradition is true or not, it illustrates the tight connection that these various “dedications” had in the minds of the Jews.

48I have counted 115 references to “the law” in Maccabees. They did not see themselves as adding anything to the law of God. Instead, they were constantly insisting that the people go back to the Scriptures.

49Aileen Guilding, The Fourth Gospel and Jewish Worship (Oxford: Clarendon, 1960), has an extensive (though liberal) defense of this position. She says on p. 3.

It is suggested, then, that the Fourth Gospel appears to be a Christian commentary on the Old Testament lectionary readings as they were arranged for the synagogue in a three-year cycle. The order of the Gospel follows the cycle of the Jewish lectionary year, which was so arranged that a suitable portion of scripture was read at each of the feasts, and the evangelist’s many allusions to the Jewish festivals are not merely casual references but are fundamental to the structure of the Gospel.

50For example, Leon Morris, The New Testament and the Jewish Lectionaries, (London: Tyndale Press, 1964) is skeptical that the case has been proved. However, a lot more research has taken place since then, and the contours of this structure are taking shape.

51F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), p. 47.

52See chart under Festival of Dedication.

53Guilding, The Fourth Gospel, p. 129.

54For example, see “Simon the Zealot” (Acts 1:13; Luke 6:15). The Geneva Study Bible says, “”Possibly referring to Simon’s former membership in the Zealot revolutionary group.” For historical background on this revolutionary party, see Josephus, Jewish War 2.8.1, para 117-118; Antiquities 18.1.1 para 1-10; 18.1.6 para 23-25; Stumphff, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 2:882-887; Schürer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, vol. 2, pp 598-606.

55N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Fortress Press, 1996), p. 539. Though there is much on which I disagree with Wright, he has had some very insightful critiques of first century Judaism.

56While other dates were suggested, they are marred by a superstition that a hero always dies on the date of his birth. For example, Clement of Alexandria came up with May 10. Other spring suggestions included April 2 or 19, and May 20. The anonymous treatise De Pascha Computus (AD 243, once falsely credited to Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage) argued for March 28. To have Jesus born in the Spring clearly violates the three and a half year cycle of festivals recorded in the Gospel of John.

57Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 7, 14:7

58However, there is contradictory evidence to this assumption: Rabbinical tradition says that the when the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, the priestly division of Jehoirarib was serving. If the order of priestly cycles was unbroken during those 70 years, then the course of Abijah that Zacharias belonged to would have served during the first week of October. Though slightly later than the previous calculation, it would make the birth in late December. See discussion under theory 2, which gives charts of all possible outcomes from the course of Abijah. A second fact that contradicts this thesis is that Zechariah was obviously serving during one of the major festivals when “the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense” (Luke 1:10). See discussion under theory 2 for more implications of this fact.

59Note that Luke 2:1-5 says that this was a “census” (v. 2) in which they were “registered” (vv. 3,5), not a taxation.

60However, note that the text of Luke 2 says nothing about going to Jerusalem to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles. The only reason being given is that they needed to be registered in a census.

61But if there was a census, the same congestion would be noticed.

62However, it should be noted that the “tabernacles” that are being referred to have nothing to do with the tabernacle of Moses which prefigured Jesus. Instead, it refers to the “booths” that each family erected out of branches to remind them of their sojourn out of Egypt and in the wilderness. Thus the parallel between the name “festival of tabernacles/booths” and Jesus tabernacling among us is misplaced. Christ tabernacling refers to the tabernacle that Moses set up in which the fullness of God’s glory dwelt. It did not refer to small human habitations (booths).

63This reference by Josephus is contradicted by the Magillath Ta’anith, an ancient Jewish scroll that was contemporary with Jesus. This scroll indicates that Herod died on January 14, 1 BC. If this is the case, then it gives plenty of breathing room for this point.

64This automatically rules out several theories that posit a birth in 4 BC, 2 BC or 1 BC.

65see the Talmud, Sukkah 55b.

66“Those who are fresh to the incense come and draw lots.” (Tamid 32b)

67Kenneth F. Doig, New Testament Chronology, (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990), chapter 6.

68Doig, Ibid., chapter 7.

69D. H. Clark and Richard F. Stephenson, The Historical Supernovae (London: Pergamon, 1977), 46. See also Kenneth F. Doig, New Testament Chronology, (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990), chapter 8.

70J. A. Goldstein, 1 Maccabees (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976). The Anchor Bible, Vol. 41, 281.) It should be noted that any calculators that fail to account for 1) the rule-based calendar change instituted by the Pharisees after 70 AD and formalized by Maimonides in 1178, and 2) the precession of equinoxes, will arrive at too early a date. The more elaborate calculators like those of Faulstich correctly date this event to December 25 (even though Faulstich does not believe a December 25 date for Christ’s birth). Failure to make adjustments can be tested by calculators by entering the date Nisan 1, 3756 BC. If the calculator uses the present fixed calendar rather than making the needed adjustments, it will yield the obviously bogus date of March 9, 5 BC, when in reality it is April 6, 5 BC. A whole month is lost. In contrast, on today’s 19-year metonic cycle Jewish calendar, Nisan 1 never appears before March 12. If the new moon appeared on March 9, it would have been Adar II, not Nisan 1.

71Kenneth F. Doig, New Testament Chronology, (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990), chapter 7.

72“It is said, The day on which the first Temple was destroyed was the ninth of Ab, and it was at the going out of the Sabbath, and the end of the seventh [Sabbatical] year. The [priestly] guard was that of Jehoiarib, the priests and Levites were standing on their platform singing the song. What song was it? `And He hath brought upon them their iniquity, and will cut them off in their evil.’ They had no time to complete `The Lord our God will cut them off,’ before the enemies came and overwhelmed them. The same happened the second time.” (Arakin 11b)

73“Patrologia Latina,” VIII, 964, as cited by Cyril Martindale, “Christmas,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume III, 1908 Robert Appleton Co., Online Edition Copyright, 2003 K. Knight.

74Apology, I, 34.

75Against Marcion, Book 4, 7

76For skeptics who wonder how any Christians could have had access to these records before Constantine, it should be kept in mind that Paul said, “All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar’s household” (Phil. 4:22), and that the Gospel reached the “whole palace guard” (Phil. 1:13; Acts 28:16,30). There is no reason why Christians in the palace could not have later provided information from the archives to those who were interested – men like Justyn and Tertullian.

77The Encyclopedia Britannica, New York: The Encyclopedia Britannica Company, 1910), “Epiphany.”

78Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, book II (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), p. 187, footnote 3.

79For example, most scholars agree that Theophilus was part of the historically verifiable (and heated) debate on whether Passover should be celebrated on Sunday or on Nisan 14, irrespective of which day of the week Nisan 14 fell on. This heated debate in 154 AD was not over whether the festival should be celebrated, but on which day was appropriate. All agreed that celebrating Passover had been practiced continuously since the time of the apostles. Why do they accept the Pascha fragment and not the December 25 fragment? Both relate to the same controversial period and both were used to buttress Theophilus’ argument about which day Passover should be celebrated.

80In his notes on The International Book of Christmas Carols, musical arrangements by Walter Ehret, trans. George K. Evans (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963; New York: Walton Music Corp., 1963), p. 3. Though these quotes come from later centuries, and are therefore questioned by some, there is no reason to doubt their veracity unless we are willing to attribute deliberate lying to the church fathers who give the quotes.

81Strom., I, xxi, 45, in P.G., VIII, 888

82Just as a side note, the practice of the “twelve days of Christmas” may have come from the twelve days of gift giving by the twelve princes on the twelve days following Chislev 25 at the dedication of the first tabernacle (see Numbers 7).

83Thomas J. Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1986), p. 91.

84H. Engberding, “Der 25. Dezember als Tag der Feier der Geburt des Herm,” ALW 11 (1952) 2543, esp. p. 36. As cited by Talley, Ibid. Cf. the review of this essay by Botte, Bulletin de Theologie ancienne et médiévale VII (1954-1957), no. 918, P. 198.

85Herman Wegman, Christian Worship in East and West, New York: Pueblo Publishing, 1985, 103

86He states, “In Nisan the Lord of Thunder weakened his heart through sympathy, and entered into the womb of Mary that he might dwell there; in Nisan again he has shown himself strong, and after loosing the womb of hell is risen.” Ephrem Syrri Hymnus 21, “De resurrectione Christi,” verse 10, as translated by Bainton, “Origins of Epiphany,” 27.

87As quoted in the Patrologia Latina Database, VIII, 964. Now available online at http://pld.chadwyck.co.uk/

88Epiphanius, Panarion, Section IV, Chapter 31 (51), 24,1.

89Epiphanius, Panarion, Section IV, Chapter 31 (51), 22, 18).”

90History Against the Pagans,” PL xxxi, book 7, col. 1059.

91De Trinitate Libri, IV, 5 (9).

92David L. Mosher, (trans.), Saint Augustine. Eighty-Three Different Questions, The Fathers of the Church 70 (Washington DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1982), p. 98.

93Thomas J. Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year, (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1986), p. 91.

94See Susan K. Roll, Toward the Origins of Christmas (GA Kampen, the Netherlands: Kok Pharos Publishing House, 1995), p. 104.

95Susan K. Roll, Toward the Origins of Christmas, p. 104.

96Ioannis Malalae, Chonographia. An electronic version of this book is available here. Though a more recent critical edition can be purchased at Amazon.com

97Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book 2, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), p. 186-188.

98William Hendriksen writes,

In a letter dated January 16, 1967 the New Testament scholar Dr. Harry Mulder of The Netherlands writes (my translation from the Dutch):

‘During the brief Christmas vacation my wife and I traveled from Beirut [where he was teaching at the time] to Jerusalem. In this connection I can also answer your question regarding the presence of sheep around Bethlehem in the month of December. On Christmas eve in Shepherd Field a crowd had gathered to sing Christmas carols. We joined this crowd and took part in the singing. Right near us a few flocks of sheep were nestled. Even the lambs were not lacking. It was a moving sight. It is therefore definitely not impossible that the Lord Jesus was born in December. But it is perhaps interesting to mention in this connection that the swarthy Coptic monks whose humble dwellings are located in the heart of the older city celebrate Christmas every month on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, because we do not know in which month the Lord was born. The weather in Jerusalem was beautiful, thus also in Bethlehem. We spent a few hours in the fields of Ephrata and were not bothered by the cold or by anything of that kind.’ “

William Hendriksen, The Gospel of Matthew, pp. 181-182.

99Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book 2, p. 186. Sydney Cleveland comments, “During many live television broadcasts from Bethlehem on Christmas Eve in 1997, 1996, 1995, 1994, etc., I observed great numbers of pilgrims standing in the square and in the streets dressed in shirtsleeves – indicating that the weather was approximately 65 degrees F. Snow at Christmas or at any other time is a very rare event indeed in Bethlehem. I have heard that there is a light snow in Bethlehem approximately 4 times each century.”

100Edersheim points to a reference in the Mishna to sheep being in the fields during February, the time of the hardest rains of all. (Ibid., p. 187).

101Edersheim, Ibid., p. 186.

102But see Rev. Ben Lacy Rose, Th.D., D.D., Baptism by Sprinkling (Omaha: Biblical Blueprints Publishing, 2006) for a clear explanation of why Jesus was not immersed.

103See Phillip G. Kayser, Sunday As A First Day Sabbath (Omaha: Biblical Blueprints, 2007) for a detailed exposition of the fourth commandment and its transfer to a New Covenant Sabbath day that is in keeping with redemption accomplished.

104See The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), volume I, pp 541-542.

105Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1994), volume 2, p. 101.

Part 2: Suggestions for Celebrating

1https://kaysercommentary.com/Blogs/Feasts%20of%20Israel.md

2Chislev 25 is the Jewish equivalent to December 25. Though the Jewish lunar calendar lands in different places on our solar calendar, in the year that Jesus was born (5 BC), it landed on December 25.

3See chapter 1 for a discussion of these five Hanukkahs as well as the Hanukkah celebrated by Christ in John 10.

41 Maccabees 1:11-15

51 Maccabees 1:62-64

6Psalm 119:105,130; Isaiah 8:20; 2Peter 1:19

7

Watch a performance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaPny5dOMyQ

8Matthew 1:18-25

9Luke 2:1-20

10See footnote 4.

111 Maccabees 2:15-28

122 Maccabees 8:1-11

13Ps 27:1; is 9:2; 42:6; 49:6; John 8:12; 9:5; Rev. 21:23

14Mathew 2:1-23

152 Maccabees 7:1-42

16is 42:5-7,16; Matt 5:14

17Matthew 3:1-12

181 Maccabees 3:10-24

19Rev 4:5; Zech 4:1-6

201 Maccabees 3:55 – 4:18

21Is 60:1-3; Ps 72:17-19

22Luke 1:67-80

231 Maccabees 4:16-35

24Psalm 36:9; Luke 1:79; Is. 58:10-12

25Luke 1:5-25

261 Maccabees 4:36-61

27Psalm 67:1; Daniel 9:17

28Luke 2:21-24

29Luke 2:25-33

30Luke 2:34-40

31Isaiah 9:6-7

322 Maccabees 1:1-18

33Matt 13:43; Daniel 12:3; Rev. 22:1-5

34John 1:1-18