by Lenny Cacchio
More than one hundred years ago the scholar E. W. Bullinger published his Companion Bible, popular for its scholarly appendices and insights. From internal Scriptural evidence, Bullinger makes the case that Jesus could not have been born in December. More than likely his birth was in the fall of the year, specifically during the High Holy Day season at the Feast of Tabernacles.
His complex but understandable explanation is a little too involved to explain here, but if Bullinger is right, the theological typology of the birth of Christ can lend a special hope and comfort to a world in need.
To the Israelites the Feast of Tabernacles depicted their forty years of wandering in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. During the feast they lived in "booths", or "tabernacles", which were temporary dwelling places. This was to show that they were strangers and pilgrims in the wilderness and that their permanent home awaited them elsewhere. (See Leviticus 23:34-43). In synagogues today the book of Ecclesiastes is read during the Feast of Tabernacles, for that book laments the temporary nature of life in the flesh and the futility of life without God. Both Peter and Paul referred to our physical bodies as tabernacles, or temporary dwellings (II Corinthians 5:1-4, II Peter 2:13-14).
Anyone with just a passing acquaintance with Christian theology knows that the death and resurrection of Christ are central to salvation. I agree with that. But in addition to that, Jesus' first coming has a rich connection with this ancient festival, and the typology overflows with encouragement in what might seem like hopeless times.
In John's gospel we read that "the Word became flesh and dwelt [or 'tabernacled'] among us" (John 1:14), the point being that this one who was the Word from the beginning actually emptied himself of his immortality and became a man. He took on a temporary nature and became a stranger and pilgrim. It's a noble thing to put one's life at risk for another, but it is love without limit to risk one's eternal life for those who are undeserving. That is precisely what the Word did. He emptied himself and became subject to the same aches, pains, and temptations that we have and risked his immortality to do so.
Put differently, Jesus understands whatever you are going through because he has been there. Have you been lonely, tempted, or afraid? Have you been wracked with pain or hungry beyond measure? Have your friends betrayed you? Have you suffered through imprisonment? Have you felt forsaken by God? Have there been times when your family didn't believe in you? Have you been hounded by your enemies or sycophants, have no where to sleep, or so beset upon that you have no time to eat? Because Jesus chose to tabernacle with us, he understands it all, for in the days of his flesh he experienced all those trials and more.
The writer of Hebrews says, "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:15-16 NKJV)
Jesus was born, but too much richness is lost by misunderstanding the context of his birth. He tabernacled among us! He understands our struggles in a way that comes only through experience. He can sympathize with our weaknesses. That's a wonderful message of hope.