Jesus’ Conception and Birth---What the Watchtower Left Out
When my brother and I were growing up, our father was not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and our mother was considered to be a “weak” Witness, so we celebrated Christmas until I was about ten years old. Then I decided on my own to give it up for the sake of the “truth.” But no matter how many times over the years I parroted the Witness spin on the pagan roots of Christmas, in my secret heart of hearts I could never quite forget the thrill of it all. Even now after fifty years have passed, I can still recite the story of Jesus’ birth from the King James Version of the Bible. I still know the words to most Christmas carols. And I still remember those cold, crisp, snowy nights when my brother and I turned off all the living room lights and sat in front of a twinkling Christmas tree, anticipating the moment when we could unwrap all those enticing presents we had been squeezing and shaking for over a week.
With this shady past, it wasn’t difficult for me to slowly start celebrating Christmas once I left Jehovah’s Witnesses. After all, if the Watchtower could inconsistently overlook the pagan origins of wedding rings, eye shadow, and nail polish, then how was it any different for me to do the same with some of the ancient pagan customs associated with Christmas? However, for those of you who still feel uncomfortable with the traditional Christmas festivities, my husband Nils and I discovered a way for you to celebrate a gift-giving holiday in December and be right on target with the Biblical account. Instead of celebrating Jesus birth, celebrate his conception!
Earlier this year when Nils and I were doing research on the Jewish festivals, we came across some fascinating information that the Watchtower had never taught us. It has to do with when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that she was about to conceive the promised Messiah. To figure out when this took place, we have to start with the conception of John the Baptist.
Luke chapter 1 tells us that John’s father Zechariah was a priest serving at the temple when the angel of the Lord informed him that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a child in their old age. Verse five says that Zechariah served as priest in the division of Abijah. Without going into a detailed account of all the courses or weeks of service for each division of priests (1 Chronicles 24:1-19), this simply means that Zechariah would have been serving at the temple both the week before and the week of Pentecost. When he returned home shortly after Pentecost in June, Luke tells us, “. . . as soon as the days of his service were completed, he departed to his own house. Now after those days [probably not long after!] his wife Elizabeth conceived, and she hid herself five months,” (Luke 1:24) or until November on our calendar.
Now Luke tells us that when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, he told her, “Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her” (Luke 1:36), which would bring us to the month of December. According to the Jewish calendar, an important feast was celebrated in the month of December, the Festival of Lights called Hanukkah. This feast began as a commemoration of the Jewish victory led by Judas the Maccabee over the Greeks in 164 B.C. The temple was cleansed of the abominations placed there by the Greeks and rededicated to Jehovah. Although this feast was not one commanded in the Old Testament, the Jews have celebrated it throughout the years, including the years of Jesus’ ministry, and up to our day. Scholars believe that Hanukkah was the Feast of Dedication Jesus observed at John 10:22. Many modern Messianic Jews and others claim that Jesus was conceived on Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, not only because of a careful study of the Jewish calendar, but also because of how John described Jesus at John 1:4-9:
In him [Jesus] was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.
If these two important conceptions, those of Jesus and John the Baptist, are followed through to their subsequent births, both of those dates also fall on significant festivals. Luke 1:56 says that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months, right up to the time for Elizabeth to give birth. Nine months from the time of John’s conception near Pentecost falls on the Festival of Passover, which would be a highly symbolic time for John to be born. Even to this very day, the Jewish celebration includes an expectation that Elijah the prophet will appear during the time of Passover. A special cup is placed on the table for Elijah at the Passover meal, and children check for him at the door during the service. Both the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:17) and Jesus (Matthew 11:14) confirmed that John the Baptist was “the Elijah who was to come” in fulfillment of the prophecy at Malachi 4:5, 6.
The same amazing “coincidence” marks the time for Jesus’ birth. Nine months from his conception on Hanukkah means that Jesus would have been born during the Feast of Tabernacles in the seventh Jewish month (September/October). If Jesus were born during this feast, it would explain why there was no room at the inn for Joseph and Mary. Bethlehem was only a few miles from Jerusalem, so all accommodations would be filled with pilgrims attending the feast. The Festival of Tabernacles reminded the Jews of when they dwelt in tents in the wilderness, and it pointed forward to a time when God would tent or tabernacle with men (Revelation 21:3, 4). John alluded to Jesus’ birth on this feast, as well, at John 1:14:
And the Word became flesh, and did tabernacle among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of an only begotten of a father, full of grace and truth.” (YLT)
The prophet Isaiah had foretold, “. . . and they will call him ‘Immanuel’---which means, ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 1:23)
So in view of this information, my question to the Watchtower Society is this: Why can’t Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrate the date of Hanukkah as the date of Jesus’ conception? Jesus himself honored this date, along with his followers. The Feast of Dedication was no doubt one of the “days” the apostle Paul spoke of at Romans 14:5-10 when he said:
One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. . . . You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.
Therefore, for anyone who has qualms about celebrating Christendom’s date for Jesus’ birth, there is a Biblical alternative. If onlookers get the impression that you are Jewish and celebrating Hanukkah, what a great opportunity to explain your commemoration of Jesus’ conception---a time in December of festive lights, of giving gifts, and of praising God for sending us the greatest gift of all, salvation through the Prince of Peace, his only-begotten Son!