This may seem to be a rather strange topic since Sunday evening, September 30th, at sunset, we began observing the Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot. What do the two events have in common?
The Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot, is the final fall Biblical feast described in Leviticus.
Leviticus 23:39-43 (KJV)
Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the LORD seven days: on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath.
And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days.
And ye shall keep it a feast unto the LORD seven days in the year. It shall be a statute for ever in your generations: ye shall celebrate it in the seventh month.
Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths:
That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
From this passage we see that it occurs on the fifteenth of the month of Tishrei and runs for seven days. It was the time when the Jews gathered in the olive crop as well as began processing the grapes for the year. The first day of the feast was to be a Sabbath as well as the eighth day (even though the feast ran for seven days). Four species of tree branches were to be waved before the Lord in joy. Verse 41 states that this feast was to be kept every year forever. And verse 42 commands that the people were to live in booths (tabernacles or tents) throughout the week's celebration. This was in remembrance of the time of the Exodus when the people lived in tents.
The tone of the entire feast was to be joyous. This was in contrast to the feasts of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which were very solemn feasts due to their focus on repentance and judgment. The sins of the people had been covered for the year. How could they not now be joyous over that?
But what does this have to do with Jesus?
It is widely accepted that Jesus was probably not born on Christmas, the 25th of December. That day had been chosen in about 375 A.D. by the Church of Rome because it was a day that was already celebrated as a pagan holiday (the Victory of the Sun-God festival in Babylon and Saturnalia, which honored Saturn, the harvest god, and Mithras, the god of light). Since Christianity was the official religion there was a desire to "Christianize" the pagans in the empire and co-opt this pagan holiday. In this way, the pagans could feel more comfortable making the switch while keeping many of their own traditions (like evergreens in the home, mistletoe, Santa Claus, and the Yule log).
So, can we discover when Jesus was actually born? We do find some clues in the Scriptures.
Luke 1:5 (KJV)
There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
This verse tells us the Zachariah was of the priestly course of Abijah. According to 1Chronicles 24:7-19, Abijah was the eighth of twenty-four courses which served in the temple throughout the year. The first week of service for the eighth course would have fallen the week immediately after Pentecost. This would have been about the first week of June. It was during this week that Gabriel, while visiting Zachariah, told Zachariah that he and Elisabeth would have a son, named John, who would prepare the way for the Lord. Although Zachariah would have served a second week later in the year, it is this first week that fits with other circumstances.
Luke 1:26-27 (KJV)
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.
These verses mark six months of Elisabeths's pregnancy. Roughly, if Elisabeth's first month were July, then Mary's encounter with Gabriel would have probably been in late December. Assuming John was not premature, he would then have been born three months later in about the first part of April. This would have been around the time of the Passover, which would not be surprising since the Jews had expected Elijah to return at Passover (John being a type or kind of Elijah). Since Mary's visit to Elisabeth was at the beginning of her own pregnancy (December), we just need to go out nine months from then, or six months from John's birth, to arrive at a birth time in late September.
This time period aligns well with the Matthew account that states that the sheep around Bethlehem were out in the fields. Normally, during the winter they would have been kept in pens or corrals. It was usually around October that they would have been brought in from the fields. In September they would have been outside.
The census that is mentioned in Luke 2:1-2 would likely have been done after the fall harvest. Judea also customarily collected taxes during this time when the bulk of the farmers' income came in.
So far, the picture that is emerging seems to indicate that Jesus could have been born during the time of the Feast of Tabernacles which occurs in September or October.
John 1:14 (KJV)
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
The word that is translated as "dwelt" is the Greek word "skenoo" which means "to tabernacle" (or "tent"). Jesus came to tabernacle amongst us!
All of these clues point to the Feast of Tabernacles. Doesn't this seem fitting? So, while the Jews have much to be joyful over during the Feast of Tabernacles, how much more do we who are born again believers in Jesus have a reason to celebrate it?!