“Peace Among Men Whom He Approves”
The birth of Jesus was a momentous event, but it was only the beginning!
IN THE year 2 B.C.E., around the first of October, a man and his wife had traveled to Bethlehem to be registered, in compliance with a decree issued by Caesar Augustus. The woman was heavy with child. “While they were there, the days came to the full for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her son, the firstborn, and she bound him with cloth bands and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the lodging room.”—Luke 2:6, 7.
Much about this birth was unusual, and an announcement made of that birth was also unusual: “There were also in that same country shepherds living out of doors and keeping watches in the night over their flocks. And suddenly Jehovah’s angel stood by them, and Jehovah’s glory gleamed around them, and they became very fearful. But the angel said to them: ‘Have no fear, for, look! I am declaring to you good news of a great joy that all the people will have, because there was born to you today a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, in David’s city.”—Luke 2:8-11.
This was momentous news! The Jews were on the watch for Messiah’s coming. Could these shepherds really believe that this newborn babe was he? The angel continued: “This is a sign for you: you will find an infant bound in cloth bands and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a host of angels appeared, praising God and declaring: “Glory in the heights above to God, and upon earth peace among men whom he approves.” The shepherds hastened to Bethlehem—they knew that this was David’s city, where the Messiah was to be born. They found the babe in the manger—the sign given them by the angel. They thus became eyewitnesses to the fulfillment of prophecy concerning the human birth of the Messiah. Overjoyed, the shepherds returned to their flocks, glorifying and praising God.—Luke 2:12-20, footnote; Mic. 5:2; Matt. 2:4-6.
It is this birth that many nations today celebrate on December 25. That this could not be the correct date is shown by these words from Clarke’s Commentary concerning Luke 2:8:
“It was a custom among the Jews to send out their sheep to the deserts, about the passover, and bring them home at the commencement of the first rain: during the time they were out, the shepherds watched them night and day. As the passover occurred in the spring, and the first rain began early in the month of Marchesvan, which answers to part of our October and November, we find that the sheep were kept out in the open country the whole of the summer.”
No flocks would be in open country at night in December, so the Commentary concludes:
“On this very ground the nativity in December should be given up.”
The date for Jesus’ birth can be narrowed down more than just to the time that shepherds were in open country with their flocks at night. Jesus began his ministry when he became 30; it continued for three and a half years, when he was put to death on the torture stake at the age of 33 1⁄2 years.a The half year means that his birth would have to be six months before a passover, or in the fall, around October 1. However, the fact that the exact date of Jesus’ birth is not given indicates that Christians are not expected to celebrate it. His birth was only the beginning.
HIS DEATH MORE IMPORTANT
“Better is the end afterward of a matter than its beginning.” (Eccl. 7:8) Certainly this was true in the case of Jesus’ life here on earth. Jesus himself considered that the important event to commemorate was his death, not his birth. It marked the successful conclusion of Jehovah’s purpose in sending Jesus to the earth. By Jesus’ death a ransom for all redeemable mankind was provided. By his death Jesus kept integrity under the severest of tests and proved Satan to be a liar. By his death he gained the kingdom that will end wickedness and bring in lasting peace. His willingness to leave heaven, to come to earth and die sacrificially, and then his exaltation in Kingdom power are shown in Philippians 2:5-11:
“Keep this mental attitude in you that was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he was existing in God’s form, gave no consideration to a seizure, namely, that he should be equal to God. No, but he emptied himself and took a slave’s form and came to be in the likeness of men. More than that, when he found himself in fashion as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient as far as death, yes, death on a torture stake. For this very reason also God exalted him to a superior position and kindly gave him the name that is above every other name, so that in the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven and those on earth and those under the ground, and every tongue should openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
Jesus Christ becomes the Prince of Peace spoken of at Isaiah 9:6, and as Jehovah’s king of righteousness he will bring in the peaceful conditions of Psalm 72:6, 7: “He will descend like the rain upon the mown grass, like copious showers that wet the earth. In his days the righteous one will sprout, and the abundance of peace until the moon is no more.” Appropriately, then, the angel announcing his birth to the shepherds spoke of him as the one who would bring “peace among men whom he approves.” From all of this we see that it is his death that is important. His birth was necessary as a prelude to his death, but it was his death that accomplished so much and merits memorializing. Hence, the date of his birth is not even recorded, but the date of his death is known and its remembrance is commanded.—Luke 22:7, 19, 20.
“MEN WHOM HE APPROVES”
Jehovah forbids mixing his worship with that given to demon gods. “You are not to conclude a covenant with them or their gods,” he told his people Israel. “They should not dwell in your land, that they may not cause you to sin against me. In case you should serve their gods, it would become a snare to you.” (Ex. 23:32, 33; 1 Sam. 5:1-4) This restriction is repeated to Christians: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers. For what fellowship do righteousness and lawlessness have? Or what sharing does light have with darkness? Further, what harmony is there between Christ and Belial?”—2 Cor. 6:14, 15.
The preceding article showed the non-Christian roots of Christmas. It is founded on the worship of the sun by many ancient peoples. Even the work of ransom and reconciliation accomplished by the death of Jesus is mimicked. The resurrected Jesus as a mediator reconciles God and sinful humankind. The mistletoe in the Christmas customs is the pagan representation of a false messiah reconciling God and man. Hislop’s The Two Babylons comments on this and the customary kiss under the mistletoe:
“Let the reader look at the singular practice still kept up in the South on Christmas-eve, of kissing under the mistletoe bough. That mistletoe bough in the Druidic superstition, which, as we have seen, was derived from Babylon, was a representation of the Messiah, ‘The man the branch.’ The mistletoe was regarded as a divine branch—a branch that came from heaven, and grew upon a tree that sprang out of the earth. Thus by the engrafting of the celestial branch into the earthly tree, heaven and earth, that sin had severed, were joined together, and thus the mistletoe bough became the token of Divine reconciliation to man, the kiss being the well-known token of pardon and reconciliation.”—Pp. 98, 99.
Men and women who have Jehovah’s approval and thereby enjoy the promised peace will stay clear of pagan celebrations, even though these are disguised as an honoring of Jesus’ birth. Additionally, the crass commercializing of Christmas flagrantly violates the spirit of Jesus.
CHRISTMAS GIVING VERSUS CHRISTIAN GIVING
The commercial aspect of Christmas is lamented over and over, but some contend that this is offset by the fact that much giving takes place during the season. This gives the holiday a Christian flavor, since Jesus stressed the matter of giving so much. So the argument goes. However, in many instances it is a matter of exchanging presents, of looking for a return from the one to whom a person has given a gift. If the giving is not reciprocated, the one who fails to do this is struck off the Christmas list and no present is sent the next year. This is just the opposite course to that recommended by Christ Jesus. He showed the proper spirit in these words:
“When you spread a dinner or evening meal, do not call your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors. Perhaps sometime they might also invite you in return and it would become a repayment to you. But when you spread a feast, invite poor people, crippled, lame, blind; and you will be happy, because they have nothing with which to repay you. For you will be repaid in the resurrection of the righteous ones.”—Luke 14:12-14.
The same spirit is reflected in the counsel in Proverbs 19:17: “He that is showing favor to the lowly one is lending to Jehovah, and his treatment He will repay to him.” Both this scripture and the one just preceding it show that Jehovah makes a repayment. Maybe the one to whom you give will also wish to give to you. There is no wrong in this, but the point is: your motive in giving is not to receive a present in return. Your giving may stimulate a return, as Jesus indicated: “Practice giving, and people will give to you. They will pour into your laps a fine measure, pressed down, shaken together and overflowing. For with the measure that you are measuring out, they will measure out to you in return.” Even so, you give because you find happiness in giving: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—Luke 6:38; Acts 20:35.
Practice giving the year around. It helps others. It gives you happiness. It pleases Jesus far more than setting aside a worldly holiday in his name for exchanging presents. And it wins the approval of Jehovah, who will repay the cheerful giver with peace under God’s kingdom by Christ.
a For the Scriptural evidence of a three-and-a-half-year ministry, see Aid to Bible Understanding, p. 921.