I remember the profound sadness I experienced when learning that December 25th was not the actual day Jesus was born. Although I had always loved the "magic" of Christmas as a child, with the tree and lights and the excitement of giving and receiving gifts, I was glad [after coming to Christ] to move beyond the commercialization of the holiday to worshipping His glorious birth and the real "reason for the season". And then the Lord led me to the truth that He wasn't actually born on December 25th. In fact, God never commanded that we celebrate a particular day of Jesus's birth. I became more aware that Christianity has its roots in the faith of the Hebrews, and God commanded certain customs and rites to be observed for all generations as "holy days", or Feasts. The "holy day" of Christmas is not among these Feast Days, and it wasn't hard to see that God's holy days were replaced with man-made traditions.
It all began when Emperor Constantine perverted the Church and its holy days into pagan-impacted holidays. His extreme hatred of the Jews resulted in their exclusion from the Early Church, and their subsequent contempt of our festivities. The pagan holidays of "Saturnalia" and "Dies Natalis Solis Invicti" (which means "birthday of the unconquered Sun"), both of which were celebrated on December 25th, when the Romans thought the Winter Solstice took place, made it easy for Constantine to merge facets of the Christian faith with accepted pagan practices, and keep the hated Jews separate and isolated. The history of the origins of associating Christ's birth with December 25th haunted my soul and I found myself becoming "religious" about my disdain for the inauthenticity of Christmas. And my spirit was dissatisfied with remaining there.
So, I made up my mind [and heart] to return to honoring the beautiful stories in Matthew and Luke of the details of His conception and birth. I acknowledged that gifts were brought to Him, but as tokens of His Kingship, His Priesthood, and His role as Savior. Although the Bible doesn't record a God-mandated date for celebration of His miraculous birth, we as Believers need the hope that the records in Matthew and Luke afford us. This reminds me of a post I wrote on Christmas Day, 2012. It relates a story about the American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who on Christmas Day, 1864, wrote the words to a poem he titled, I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day. When Longfellow penned the words to his poem, America was still months away from Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9th, 1865; and, his poem reflected all the years of the war's despair, while ending with a confident hope of triumphant peace.
Longfellow's poem was written from the same despair and grief that our nation is currently experiencing from the pandemic. He wrote the poem after suffering through the tragic death of his wife, Frances, and the crippling injuries of his son, Charles, from war wounds. In 1861, his wife was burned to death after melted wax from a candle ignited her dress. She ran to Henry's study, where he frantically tried to smother the flames by throwing his arms around Frances-- severely burning his face, arms, and hands. Fanny Longfellow died the next morning. Too ill from his burns and grief, Henry did not attend her funeral. (Incidentally, the trademark full beard of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow arose from his inability to shave after this tragedy.) The first Christmas after Fanny's death in 1861, Longfellow wrote, "How inexpressibly sad are all holidays." In 1862, a year after the incident, he wrote on Christmas Day, "I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace." But that next year brought more tragedy, when his son was paralyzed in the Civil War. His journal entry for the Christmas of 1863 is silent. How many families today are experiencing that same grief, despair, hopelessness, and disheartenment during this Christmas season?
But in the spirit of hope that Christmas symbolizes, Longfellow would rise from his abject misery to compose one of the most inspirational poems of any era. Longfellow's Christmas Bells loudly proclaimed, "God is not dead!" Even more, the bells announced, "Nor doth He sleep." It is a message that needs to be heard in the hearts and minds and souls of all mankind today, and particularly in America. Here are the last two stanzas of that beautiful poem: And in despair, I bowed my head; "There is no peace on earth", I said; "For hate is strong, and mocks the song of Peace on earth, Good-Will to men!". Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: "God is not dead; nor doth He sleep! The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, with Peace on earth, Good-Will to men!".
That was my Christmas message in 2012. Today, I want to leave you with a new Biblical understanding of the birth of Christ; one that was shared with me by a Godly woman of faith. It comes from a teaching by Dr. Jim Garlow, titled The Migdal Eder, Really Understanding Christmas. I hope you will listen to it in its entirety, but I wanted to give you a new picture of just how prophetic and significant Christ's birth was. While acknowledging that Jesus was not born on December 25th, Dr. Garlow is able to shine new light on just how intentional God planned this divine birth.
Now, if you are like me, the term Migdal-eder was new to me. But it is actually mentioned in Genesis 35:19-21 in reference to Jacob, after he buried his wife, Rachel, on his way to Bethlehem: So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). Jacob set up a stone monument over Rachel’s grave, and it can be seen there to this day. Then Jacob traveled on and camped beyond Migdal-eder. Now, that term, Migdal-eder, means "[Watch] Tower of the flock", and refers to the exact place where the sheep, who were to be used as sacrificial lambs in the Temple, were raised. The shepherds assigned to watch over these flocks were highly trained to identify lambs worthy of the sacrifice -- they were to be unblemished, perfect, and wrapped in swaddling cloths to protect them from injury. These cloths came from the priestly garments of the priests who carried the blood of the sacrificial lambs into the Holy of Holies to be sprinkled on the Mercy Seat for the forgiveness of the sins of Israel. They were washed and shredded, in order to swaddle [wrap] the perfect lambs who were picked by the shepherds. It is conjecture [and not confirmed by Scripture], but it is possible that the swaddling cloths that Mary wrapped the baby Jesus in came from her cousin, Elizabeth [the mother of John the Baptist], whose husband, Zechariah, was a priest who served in the Temple.
I hope you will see that it is no coincidence that Mary gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem in that particular manger, and that the angel of the Lord came to those particular shepherds to announce His birth. Approximately 700 years before Jesus's birth, the prophet Micah wrote: And you, O Tower of the Flock (Migdal-eder), hill of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, the former dominion shall come, kingship for the daughter of Jerusalem (Micah 4:8). The "former dominion" of Jerusalem refers to the zenith of Israel's rulership, under the reign of King David. Remember, Jesus comes from the line of David. So, Micah prophesies that at the future "Tower of the Flock", the kingship of David will be re-established.
And it is no coincidence that the angel of the Lord announced to these particular shepherds, Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth [swaddled], lying in a manger. [NOTE: the word "manger" in Greek is the word phat-ne, and means "birthing stall"]. This explains why the angel appeared to these particular shepherds, because first of all, these shepherd knew where to go ... they knew the ancient prophesies of Micah that the Messiah would come from the line of David and would come to Migdal-eder. They knew Micah had also written that from Bethlehem, would come one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days (Micah 5:2). Also, they were the ones hired to find the perfect sacrificial lambs (unblemished and perfect; without spots), and to keep them swaddled until the day they were to be sacrificed for the forgiveness of sins. They knew where the manger/birthing stall was for the lambs, so they knew where they were going and to whom they were going to! The Messiah would be born in a birthing stall at the Tower of the Flock, and He would be swaddled. They were being called to the birth of the Perfect Sacrificial Lamb!
I am so thankful to have received this expanded teaching on Scripture and to share it with you on this Christmas Day. It is significant to me that the understanding of this concept does not rely on December 25th being the designated day of Christ's birth. In fact, it it is not the day that is important, but the miracle of His birth and the reason that He came into the world the way He did -- magnifying Himself as the sacrificial lamb that takes away the sins of the world. I don't know about you, but I love seeing the connections between the Tower of the flock, the shepherds, the swaddling cloths, and the manger. It deepens my relationship with the story, and shows me once again the Sovereignty of our God and His will.
So, I pray that this Christmas Day, you are able to see the magnificence of our Lord's birth in a new light, and that whether you are experiencing this day with joy, or pain and sorrow, you can receive the confident hope and inexplicable, triumphant peace that the angel of the Lord promised 2000 years ago. It doesn't matter the exact day that Christ was born ... it only matters that He was born! I wish you all a day of joy with your families, and if like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, you are struggling with pain, sorrow, and tragedy, remember that he could not deny that the Living God exists. Celebrate that baby, wrapped in swaddling cloths, in a birthing stall meant for sacrificial lambs. He is with you today, and brings His peace, joy, and comfort. Merry Christmas!
Luke 2:14 Glory to God in the highest [heaven], and on earth, peace among men with whom He is well-pleased.