Instead of concentrating on the Tanach for this week, I would like to throw out different ideas which are floating in my head. First, as it is approaching the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, many discussion lists turn to the date of Christmas, and many comments were made one way or another.
There are currently three schools of thought on the date of the Nativity. The first school is that the Nativity was in the spring, with a possibility of the Messiah being born on or near Passover. Some reasons behind this theory have to do with ideas as to when shepherds would be out with their sheep (the idea that December would be too cold). After studying the habits of sheep and shepherds in Israel and the surrounding areas, I have to discount this idea.
The second school of thought holds that Jesus was born in September or October. There are several reasons for this, the most important of which is that some people take the language of the Gospel of John as suggesting that Jesus was born on the feast of the tabernacles. This is an appealing idea from the Gospel, and of course would relate well to the high holy days. In addition there are several star and planetary formations which suggest this time of year.
The third school of thought was that Jesus was born on or about December 25th, and the date was decided on because of some older feasts such as the Annunciation of the Angel to the Virgin Mary (nine months before Christmas). We note in passing that some people have speculated in the past that Christmas was celebrated on the 25th of December to take the place of the celebration of the invincible sun. Recent and some ancient scholarship suggest though that the feast of the invincible sun was moved to December 25th in order to repaganise the Roman Empire. I would not that no less a personage as Benedict, the current Bishop of Rome goes along with this idea.
To give credence to the latter two times, lambing season begins in October and continues several months. In addition there are winter rains, that would encourage the growth of grass and brush, so more than likely the shepherds would be out with their sheep (and in fact studies show that shepherds were out with their sheep 365 days per year). An interesting additional point, is that the shepherds around Bethlehem were more than likely Levitical shepherds. These were the guys who raise the sheep which were Kashrut (Kosher) for sacrifice. In other words, they were the ones who certified that the newborn lambs were without blemish. Do you see where this is going. To me it is marvelous. Why did the angels apprear to the shepherds? They were to certify that the new born lamb (Jesus) was without blemish, which only a levitical shepherd or priest could do. How great is our heavenly Father, who used Levitical Priest to guarantee that the sacrifice for our sins was without blemish. How great is he who made the things of the universe come out this way.
In addition, tonight we begin the celebration of Chanukah. As you may know, the kingdom of Israel was overund by Greeks under the leadership of Antiochus Epiphanes, who tried to destroy the Hebrew religion. He was not very succesful, and a revolt aros under the leadership of Judas Macabeus and his sons. The Greeks ( apowerful nation in those days) were defeated (a miracle in and of itself demonstrating God's hand and keeping the path open for Messiah), and the temple was cleansed and purified. There was only enough oil to fill the Menorah for one day, but through a great miracle, the oil lasted for eight days, the length of time for dedicating the temple. Chanukkah is very much a festival of light, and is a wonderful celebration of how the light of the world came into the world, and to remind us, that our lights should shine bright, that many could come to know Jesus through our witness.
Shalom b'Yehsua haMoshiach
Mar Michael Abportus, OSA