I'm having lunch with my teacher, catching up on how our holidays went. We met today because we just couldn't meet on Christmas, between our families and her going to services and so on. Last year was the first time I could actually spend part of Christmas Day with her, and it was just so great. I tell her so, that I'm sorry we couldn't meet on the actual day again this year. She says it's okay, we are together, and that's what matters. I comment, Well, it's not like the actual day is THAT important.
“What makes you say that?”
Well, Jesus wasn't born on December 25th. It's just when it's celebrated.
She looks at me, examining me and what I've said. “You think December 25th is just a chosen date.”
“Why would that date be chosen?”
Because ancient cultures based their holidays around the calendar. The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year. There are several holidays from all cultures that are observed around the Winder Solstice, and this is just how the Christians celebrate it.
“Very good,” she said.
“And completely wrong.”
I almost gave myself whiplash when my head snapped towards her. “What?”
“You are wrong. Christians actually have a valid reason to claim December 25th, or close to it, for a religious celebration.”
The words practically rushed from my mouth. What is it?
“Now, now, Peter. You know that's not how this works.”
And so we stopped at a bookstore and grabbed a Bible (no, I don't carry one with me) and headed for a wifi hotspot. Armed with the Bible, my netbook computer Kylie, my tablet Fermata, a nice, tall cup of coffee for her and a peppermint hot chocolate for me, we got to work.
“So,” she starts, “tell me when you think Jesus was born.”
No exact date. I figured springtime, given the shepherds looking after their sheep.
“Not bad,” she said, “but the shepherds in the field around Bethlehem actually tended to sacrificial animals. So they kept them year round.”
Well, there goes THAT idea. And I've been telling people that for years.
“You just didn't look deep enough. Think hard. What does the Bible say about when Jesus was born?”
I thought hard and said, He was born six months after John The Baptist.
“Very good, Peter, but that's not enough. He was conceived in the six month of John The Baptist's pregnancy.”
“Fine. But that is the key. When was John The Baptist born?”
“What do you know of the Jewish calendar?”
It's lunar based.
“Close enough. The first month on the Jewish calendar is called Nisan. It takes place during March and April, and the rest of the calendar comes from that. John The Baptist's mother, Elizabeth, was married to Zechariah, a member of an order that served in temple. Zechariah was part of the eighth order, and his service happened the week after Pentecost. Luke 1:8-20 describes the ceremony and his meeting with Gabriel the archangel.”
I just stared at the calculator on Fermata and the calendar function on Kylie. And that puts us...about the first week of June.
“Zechariah went home after his service ended. After he had been home for a while, Elizabeth conceived.”
So we're talking....
“Third week of June to the first week of July.”
But Elizabeth would have to be pregnant by the first week of July at the very latest, and that would mean Gabriel visited Mary in about mid to late December....
My eyes popped. She just smiled at me, “Peter, don't lose your focus.”
Right, right. Okay.
“Gabriel visiting during the sixth month, which means greater than five but less than six. More than enough time for Mary to go to Elizabeth, stay for three months, and return to Nazareth before John The Baptist was born. Now, how long is a normal pregnancy?”
“Precisely how long?”
I punched it up and told her, normal human gestation period is 280 days.
“Now, what does your calculator tell you about the day John The Baptist was born?”
I did some fast math. Ballpark figure? Maybe April 2nd.
“Which puts his birth around Passover.”
Long beat, then I said, I'm guessing there's something significant about that.
“You need to reread your Bible,” she laughed. “John The Baptist was the new Elijah, and Elijah said he would return during Passover.”
I started hitting keys. So, based on that, we have Jesus being born on or about....September 29th, the Feast Of St. Michael.
“Mm-hmm. And if it was a normal pregnancy, that would put Jesus's conception at around....”
I punched in the numbers and my jaw dropped at the answer.
My teacher just kept smiling at me.
I said, It's still not December 25th.
“Their watches weren't wound correctly,” she laughed.
Now, I know these numbers are imprecise, it is pretty much best guesses. But still....
Even after all this time, my teacher is still teaching me. Her guiding me to knowledge? Now, THAT is the best gift I can ever receive.