The birth of Christ was a glorious event. For centuries God's people had looked forward to the coming of the promised Messiah. Matthew and Luke record the excitgement and joy surrounding His appearance into the world.
It was precisely at the right moment of time-"the fullness of time" (Gal. 4:4)-that God sent His son into the world to redeem mankind. We are eternally grateful for this demonstration of love.
The celebration of Christ's birthday as a special religious observance is without Divine authority. This was not generally practiced until the fourth century. Some historians claim instances as early as the third century. The early disciples, under the guidance of the apostles, met upon the first day of the week-the day of His victorious resurrection- to observe the Lord's Supper in memory of His death, and to hold it forth before the world until he comes again. (Acts 20:7, I Cor. 11:23-30).
No one can determine with certainty the day or year of Christ's birth. Our calendars are supposed to date from the year of His birth, but there was an obvious error in the calculation. Some historians contend that Jesus was born in 4 B.C., others in 6 B.C. or earlier. The world today generally observes December 25 as the day of His birth, but this is the least likely of all the proposed dates.
Christ was born during the reign of Herod the Great who died in 4 B.C. Herod was still ruling when the wise men from the East arrived at Jerusalem seeking the newborn king, Jesus. Herod inquired diligently about when tthe star appeared (Matt. 2-7). When the wise men came to Bethlehem, Jesus was no longer called a babe, but rather, a "young child" (Matt.2:11). Herod had all the children killed who were two years of age and under. One is two years of age until he reaches his third birthday. Herod no doubt set the age span to make certain he included Jesus. The indication, however, is that Jesus must have been between one and two years old. If Herod's death occurred shortly after his decree, Jesus must have been born sometime around 6 B.C., possibly earlier.
Luke informs us that when Jesus was born, Joseph went to Bethlehem to enroll for taxation ordered while Quirenius (Cyrenius) was governor (ruler) of Syria (Luke 2:2). Quirenius was twice in charge of affairs in Syria: first from 9-6 B.C., when C. Sentius Saturnius was governor, as the general military commander accompanying the civil provincial governors. The second rule began in A.D. 6. This would have been too late. Luke's language does not imply that Quirenius was the procurator of Syria, but only that he was in command. Augustus ordered that his subjects enroll for taxation every 14 years. The cycle for enrollment would have occurred in 7 B.C., but may have been delayed in Judea. Tertullian said that the first enrollment tookplace from 6 to 4 B.C.
The month and day of Christ's birth are even more difficult to ascertain. Arguments have been made for everey month of the year. The Eastern Church observed "Christmas" on January 6. The Roman church declared December 25 as the date for this celebration. However, no pretension is made to the effect that this is the true date of Christ's birth. The Romans were accused accustomed to celebrating a pagan festival on this date in honor of the Winter soltice. They simply declared this day as good as any for the celebration of Christ's birth.
It is very unlikely that Jesus was born in either December or January for two reasons: (1) The sheep in Plaestine were not found in the open fields at night from November until March. (2) Enrollment for taxation would not have been ordered at this time of year because of the difficulty in traveling.
Some seek to establish the birth of Christ by calculating the birth of John, who was six months older. This is done by determining when Zacariah's course of priests would have been serving in the temple. For 6 B.C., the date is said to have been in August. However, no one can prove conclusively either the month or the day of Jesus' birth.