Tag Archives: Christmas

The Gift of Giving

At this time of the year, people in Burton, like everywhere in the Western World, get very excited about giving. It is often said that part of the fun is in the giving, in watching the expression on the face of a loved one as they open the present, or in the delight of a child as they play with a new toy.

The Bible agrees that giving is an important part of our human existence. It is within the capacity of all of us to make someone else happy by giving – either a present, or a hug, or even some time and attention. There are plenty of Bible stories that talk about being generous and selfless in the way that we give. Think of the widow woman, for example, who gave her two mites into the temple treasury, which was all she had to live on (see Mark 12v41-44). This example to us means even more when we think that she was not necessarily an old widow; she could have had children to support. And yet the giving was the important thing, not the amount, and not what she got in return, just the giving itself.

Too often we focus on the value of material things, and what we accumulate in our houses. The focus is on the object, not on the action. Jesus Christ lived his whole life as a gift to others – constantly serving, providing, healing and comforting – as well as pointing out the way to please God was to do likewise. Ultimately this is the way the Gospel of John describes his final act of self-sacrifice: as a gift not from Jesus, but from God.

“God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3v16)

Should we be giving more this year than presents and cards? What could we do with our time, our love, and our thoughts and prayers? Do we value those as much as the goods we purchase in shopping centres? And how do you value the ultimate gift that is offered to you?

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.” (Romans 6v23)

We’re holding a special event at our hall on Saturday 24 December at 4:30pm, entitled A King is Born.  

Some thoughts on the birth of Jesus

Jesus’s birth was a miraculous event, that transcended physical laws and therefore taught a very important message.

Normally, God sticks to physical laws which He has put in place. One of the many promises which He made to mankind is that the seasons would always continue. He promised this shortly after Noah’s ark survived the flood.  It says in Genesis 8 verse 22: “While the earth remains, seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease.”  It’s a good job – even though we often complain about the weather!  This regularity is what gives life, and why no life has ever been found on any other planets.  God is in control of the seasons, that’s how He was able to make that promise, just as He is in control of all creation.

Some people who depended on seasons and cycles in life were the shepherds in Luke 2.  You can picture the regularity of their life, perhaps a life that their families had known for centuries.  And then this amazing thing happens, in verse 9: a light as bright as the sun appears in the middle of the night.  Angels materialise out of nowhere to give them a message.  The regularity of their lives is completely turned upside down with no warning it was coming.  No wonder they were scared!

But God is not under the same physical laws we are under.  These shepherds knew that God could hold back the water in the Red Sea.  He is certainly not subject to times and seasons like we are.  And whenever something really important happens in the Bible, physical laws are broken.  Light is formed out of darkness in the middle of the night.  Angels appear miraculously.  A baby, Jesus, is born to a virgin mother.

God is trying to tell us something.  He is telling us that this baby’s life will also transcend a physical law.  This baby’s life will ultimately not end in death, like every other baby’s had done and has done.  This baby’s life will endure forever, and give new hope to mankind for all time.  This baby will one day, after the pain and suffering of the cross, be immortal.  This life will transcend seasons and threescore years and ten.

And so you will find no reference to what time of year it was in any Bible passage.  No reference to what date he was born on, or even what time of day.  Jesus never celebrates a birthday, never personally refers to his age.  Because none of that matters.  The point is that his life cannot be measured by our yardstick of time.  He is God’s gift for all seasons, and for all time.  We just know that he was born, his life had a definite starting point.  We thank God that it started, and we thank God that despite death, it did not end.

If you are interested in hearing more about the truth behind the birth of Jesus, why not come along to our Bible talk tomorrow (Sunday 23rd December) at 6pm? See here for more details.

Was Jesus born on Christmas Day?

Many people believe that Jesus Christ was born on December 25th, since it is the day on which Christmas is traditionally celebrated.

However, there are several arguments to show that Jesus could not possibly have been born on that date. Essentially, the date of December 25th was chosen simply because it was an already-established pagan festival that the church was struggling to suppress (see here and the post on Hallowe’en here).

The first argument against December 25th, and perhaps the best known objection, is the fact that shepherds would not have been out in the fields around Bethlehem at night in the middle of winter. Bethlehem is cold enough for snow in this season (see below). But we know that on the very same night, “in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night,” (Luke 2v8). It is more likely to have been a milder time of year, like summer or autumn.

Bethlehem-75214

Secondly, we know that there was a Roman census at the same time, which meant Joseph and Mary travelling away from their home in the north at Nazareth, down south to Judea, “to the city of David which is called Bethlehem… to be registered,” (Luke 2v5). Again it is highly unlikely that the Romans would have organised for this to take place in the middle of winter, when travelling long distances was extremely difficult. Since Palestine was a mainly agricultural area, they would also have encountered many difficulties if they had tried to call the census during peak times of the farming year. It is more probable that the census was called after the harvest had been gathered in, some time after late summer, when agricultural work would have been slack and people would have been freer to move around. It also makes sense that the Romans would have tried to take advantage of a general upheaval in the population at feast-time to get them to go and register while they were ‘on the move’ already!

A third reason lies in the fact that there was no room at the inn where Joseph and Mary sought lodgings (Luke 2v7). In their desperation to find accommodation, they ended up in a stable, which means that the whole city must have been totally packed out. This was likely to have been at a time of religious festival, when hoards of people came to Jerusalem and the overflow towns around it (such as Bethlehem) would have been full as well. There were three of these occasions in the year: Passover in springtime, Pentecost in early summer, and Tabernacles, the feast to celebrate gathering in the harvest, in the autumn.  None of these happened anywhere near the middle of winter, but our autumn date is looking promising.

Finally, we have a dating system through what we know about John the Baptist, who was exactly six months older than Jesus. Elisabeth, John’s mother, gave birth three months (Luke 2v56-57) after the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her “Elisabeth has also conceived,” (Luke 2v36), implying that this was the point Mary conceived too. We know that John the Baptist was conceived at another one of these three key feasts, a time when “the whole multitude of the people” (Luke 1v10) were gathered together. We also know that John’s father Zacharias was ministering in the Temple at the time, and he was on a rota system, “of the division of Abijah,” (Luke 1v5). 1 Chronicles 24 tells us that his was the 8th in order, and we know from the Jewish chronicles and the Mishnah (the ancient commentary on the Jewish Scriptures) that this rota began at New Year in March, and each priest ministered for a week, Sabbath to Sabbath. This takes us neatly to the Feast of Pentecost in May / June. See here for further explanation.

So John was conceived 15 months before Jesus was born (6 months + 9 months), again taking us to late September as a good estimation of the birth of Jesus, around the Feast of Tabernacles.

One more thing makes the birth of Jesus around this time highly appropriate. In John 1v14 we read the inspired words that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The word ‘dwelt’ is literally ‘tabernacled’, or stayed in a small temporary dwelling such as were used at the Feast of Tabernacles.

We cannot be certain about the date on which Jesus was born, and in many ways it does not matter – nowehere in the Gospels is the date specifically mentioned, Jesus never celebrates a birthday, and two Gospels don’t even tell the story of his birth. We should concentrate far more attention on what he said and did. But nevertheless, this exercise shows how carefully we must read our Bibles and not necessarily accept what others tell us to believe.