How Does the Messianic Community Celebrate Christmas?
By Rabbi Scott Sekulow
When I was asked to write about how a Jewish believer in Messiah celebrates Christmas, I thought about the different expressions of celebration. They range from those who put up trees, decorations to those that don’t because of the pagan influences. There are also different days to celebrate Yeshua’s (Jesus’ Hebrew name) birth. Do we follow the decree by Pope Julius I in the fourth century of December 25th or the Greek Orthodox Church which celebrates two weeks later?
So how does the Messianic Community celebrate the birth of Messiah? First, we take our clues from the Biblical Feasts. We believe Yeshua was born on Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) based on scripture, historical events and Jewish culture. More importantly, it is consistent with God using His Feasts as prophetic foreshadowing’s of upcoming events.
To date Messiah’s birth, we first turn to the birth of John the Baptist. We know Zacharias was ministering in the Temple when he receives the announcement of the birth of his son. Zacharias was a priest in the division of Abijah, ministering in the Temple during Sivan 12 to 18. Calculating a normal pregnancy at 40 weeks, John the Baptist’s birth was at Passover.
“…Elisabeth conceived, and she remained five months in seclusion…In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God … to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph” Luke 1:24,26
Mary visited Elizabeth when she was 6 month’s pregnant, putting Messiah’s conception at the time of Hanukkah (December). Calculating a normal pregnancy at 40 weeks, Messiah’s birth was at Sukkot (September/October). It has been taught that Mary and Joseph were required to go to Bethlehem to register for their taxes, and due to this there were not any accommodations. While it’s a beautiful story, but it’s the whole story.
First of all, when the decree was issued, citizens were given a full year during which to register. There was no reason thousands of Bethlehemites would come to their hometown all at once register. So why would Joseph bring his wife Mary all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register when her pregnancy was so far along?
There were three great feasts each year when the Jewish people were expected to make every effort to go to Jerusalem: Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot (Exodus 23:14). During these feasts, the population of Jerusalem would swell from about a hundred twenty thousand to something over two million people.
During Sukkot, every family was expected to live at least part of each day in their booth, called a sukkah, a temporary dwelling usually made out of palm and/or bamboo branches. These sukkot were available for overnight lodging and the homeowners would stock them with food. The food was placed on a food-tray attached to the inside wall of the Sukkah to keep it up off the ground. It was not a shelter for animals.
Bethlehem was a small village just about four miles south of Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph had apparently decided to register with the census-takers when they came up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. Evidently they intended to spend the night in Bethlehem, register in the morning, and then proceed to Jerusalem for the Feast. Since there were no vacancies, the innkeeper offered them shelter in his Sukkah. When the Baby was born, they laid Him on the food shelf to keep Him up off the damp ground. It is interesting to note that the origins of the word “manager” refer to “sukkot”.
Another clue that December is wrong timing for the birth is given by the Sheppard’s. Luke 2:8 tells us: “There were shepherds in the same country staying in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock.” By December in Israel it is quite cold, and the sheep would have been brought into the fold for the winter.
Since we have shown Yeshua was six months younger than John, it is easy to establish the time of His birth as September/October. The only reason Bethlehem would possibly be crowded at this time would be for Sukkot.
At Congregation Beth Adonai, we celebrate Messiah’s birth in conjunction with the Feast of Sukkot because we know Messiah dwelt (tabernacled) among us. Remember Yeshua is the reason for all the season.
The Feast of Tabernacles
The Apostle John uses a verb form of the same Greek word that is used to translate the Hebrew word for “booth” (sukkah) when he wrote, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt [tabernacled] among us.” (John 1:14) He tabernacled among us, and He will tabernacle among us again in the messianic future. The celebration of the Festival of Booths (Sukkot) celebrates the Messiah who once tabernacled among us, now tabernacles within us, and in the
future will again tabernacle among us.
The last appointment on God’s Leviticus 23 calendar is the Feast of Booths, a seven-day harvest celebration. The Hebrew name of the festival is Sukkot, a word that means “shelters, stables or huts.” These temporary, tent-like structures are often translated as “tabernacles” in our English Bibles. The festival is so named because Israel is commanded to annually build such dwelling places as a reminder of the post-exodus years when they lived in huts and booths, following God in the wilderness.1Sukkot is a time of joy and celebration, a time to celebrate the harvest and revel in God’s goodness.
Many beautiful traditions are attached to the annual Festival of Booths. For example, it is traditional to invite guests into one’s booth for a festive meal each night of Sukkot. Among the list of invitees are some auspicious names: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David. Each are specially invited to come into the booth and pull up a chair at the table. Obviously, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David are unlikely to actually
attend the meal, since they are all dead. That, however, is the point of the ritual. The Feast of Booths anticipates the Messianic Age, when the dead will be raised to life again and we will all sit at the table with the aforementioned in the kingdom of heaven.
When Messiah comes, He will bring in the final harvest of God’s kingdom and institute an age of peace and prosperity upon the earth. The prophets relate that day to the festival of Sukkot, a day when every man will sit beneath his own vine and fig tree.2 Isaiah 4:6 tells us that God will spread a tabernacle of glory over Jerusalem. According to the prophets, the Feast of Booths celebrates a time when all nations will ascend to Jerusalem bearing tribute to King Messiah and celebrating the festival. In that day, all nations will ascend to His throne in Jerusalem in order to celebrate the Festival of Booths (Tabernacles). Obviously, this is a very important festival for disciples of Messiah today.
Sukkot is the great festival, the culmination of all the appointed times. Sukkot is to the other festivals what the Sabbath is to the other six days of the week. As such it is a fitting foreshadowing of that great celebration of creation when the entire world will live in peace and brotherhood under the reign and rule of the righteous Messiah King. Just as the weekly Sabbath foreshadows the millennium, Sukkot also looks forward to that great age. Therefore, the festival of Sukkot, like all the festivals, foreshadows Messiah.
Commentary from FFOZ – First Fruits of Zion ~ ffoz.org
2. Micah 4:4; Zechariah 3:10