As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, we immerse ourselves in those holy texts which foretell the coming of the Christ, then those who lead up to his conception and birth. Today in our Gospel we read the Canticle of St Zechariah - a wonderful expression of the hope of the people of Israel, and a hymn of joy as that hope is about to be fulfilled in the birth of the Messiah.
It is also a time for us to look over the many traditions associated with the feast - there are so many, and they are so rich. One of the traditions, we are told, is the date of Christmas itself. For the last fifty years or so, perhaps more, we have been told that the 25th December is not the date of Christ's actual birth. I remember in Scripture class being told that the date was worked out from the supposed date of the Lord's death, which early Christians believed to have been the on 25th March. In the fashion of the ancient Jews, the early Christians took it that a prophet died on the day he was conceived, hence they took it that Jesus was conceived on the 25th March and born nine months later on the 25th December. But it was all just pious tradition we were told. We don't know when he was born; indeed, as some Christian theologians might even tell us - he might not have been born at all!
The other argument they used for the choice of the 25th December was that Christians were Christianising the Roman feast of the Sun god which fell in mid-winter.
Well, as some of you know, there has been some work done on the question of the Lord's birth and the date, and it seems there is evidence that suggests that the early Christians believed that the 25th December was the actual birthday of the Lord. I will hand you over to Taylor Marshall who has all the evidence, and it is compelling. Reading over it I am surprised that modern Scripture scholars can just dismiss all of it to maintain what is in reality nothing more than what I call, constructed doubts.
Thankfully the arguments from constructed doubt are being challenged and exposed for what many of them are: a effort to undermine faith and make the teachings of Christianity relative. Scholarship must also take account of tradition, and indeed common sense. And the latter has been missing from a lot of scholarship in recent years. One of the things totally ignored in recent Scriptural research is human relationships: it seems that no one talked to anyone else, that the Apostles and disciples were not actually interested in the Lord's life, they didn't talk to Our Lady or anyone else, and so the accounts we have are all merely symbolic. Taylor in that article reminds us that the early Christians would have asked questions of Our Lady and those who knew Jesus.
Christmas is about the birth of Christ, the wonder of the Incarnation. As we celebrate it this year, we give thanks for the gift of such wonder, a wonder that will bring us to the truth; a wonder that will not allow us dismiss the traditions, but embrace them. Yes, we seek the truth, but in a manner which is founded on faith and not on constructed doubt. Yes, yes, I hear you say, constructed doubt is sophisticated, it gives you credibility in the halls of academe and among the elite. But to be honest, are we not all called to be children? After all, Jesus was born a baby in a stable, that's the model for the Christian life.