***Examining the Historical and Biblical Evidence for the Time of Messiah’s Birth***
The Dubiousness of December 25 as the Time of Messiah’s Birth
Part 2: The Biblical Record Speaks
The Birth of Messiah During Sukkot
No Room in the Inn
The Manger Scene
The Shepherds in the Fields
The Wise Men from the East
“The Season of Our Joy”
Calculating the Time of Messiah’s Birth
Some Historical Support for Messiah’s Birth at the Feast of Tabernacles
While the accounts of Messiah’s humble birth in Matthew and Luke are well known, few have taken notice of the fact that the fourth gospel (that attributed to John) contains a birth of Messiah narrative. In fact, though Matthew and Luke give many of the details about where and how Messiah was born and the circumstances which brought it about, only in the 4th gospel is the time of his birth revealed with clarity. But “John” does not explicitly state the time and season of his birth. Instead, like he does throughout his account of the life of Messiah, the 4th gospel frames the time of Messiah’s birth in a deeply meaningful and well-known calendar event with theological implications.
The 4th gospel first describes in no uncertain terms the identity of the man born in Bethlehem. He uses terms like “beginning” and “light and darkness” and “life” to bring to the reader’s mind the images and pictures of Genesis chapter one in which Messiah is depicted as the Creator of the universe. Then he introduces another image familiar to his readers – the word “tabernacle.” To a people who annually celebrated Elohim’s presence among them in the Feast of Tabernacles, the 4th gospel describes Messiah’s birth:
the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1:14, NIV).
The phrase, “made his dwelling” is actually a translation of the Greek word, skay-no-o, which means “to tabernacle.” Skay-no-o translates into Greek the Hebrew word, succah, which means “tabernacle,” or “temporary shelter.” Young’s Literal Translation accurately renders this verse:
And the Word became flesh, and did tabernacle among us.
What could be the truth John wants his readers to understand? By utilizing a technical term attached to the Feast of Tabernacles to describe Messiah’s birth, John is implicitly documenting the time of Messiah’s birth to be in conjunction with that Feast. It’s as if he is saying, “in fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles, Messiah has come to earth to tabernacle in human flesh.”
The Birth of Messiah During Sukkot
Along with a growing list of biblical scholars, Samuele Bacchiochi has reached the same conclusion and suggests that Tabernacles is uniquely the appropriate day for Messiah to have been born:
It is noteworthy that important events of the plan of salvation are consistently fulfilled on the Holy Days that prefigured them. Christ died on the Cross at the time when the Passover lamb was sacrificed (John 19:14). Christ arose at the time of the waving of the sheaf of barley as the first fruits of the coming harvest (1 Cor 15:23). The outpouring of the first fruits of God’s Holy Spirit took place “when the day of Pentecost was fully come” (Acts 2:1, KJV). By the same token, Christ could well have been born at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, since the feast typifies God’s First Coming to dwell among us through the incarnation of His Son and His Second Coming to dwell with His people (Rev 21:3) throughout eternity (The Date and Meaning of Christmas).
At the expected time which the prophetic word predicted (Daniel 9:25 “after sixty-nine ‘sevens'”), and at the right place (Micah 5:2 in Bethehem in Ephrata), on the right day (the Festival of Succoth or Tabernacles), in the appropriate setting (in a succah, a tabernacle or temporary dwelling), where Passover lambs were raised in the city of David the shepherd, a Son was born to a virgin of the lineage of David. At an angel’s command, He was named Yahushua, meaning “Yahu saves (helps).” Elohim had come to tabernacle with us in a succah of humanity.
The Scriptures provide for us a wealth of corroborating evidence confirming our thesis that the Mashiakh (Messiah) was born during the festival season of Succoth (Tabernacles). In fact, I believe that He was born on Tishri 15, which is the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles and that on the “eighth day,” which is the Great Day, the baby Yahushua was circumcised! Let’s take a look at some of that evidence.
No Room in the Inn
We are told in Scripture that Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem, the place of his family roots. And
while they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2:6,7).
The influx of people for the census has long been the accepted explanation for the lack of rooms in the nearby places of lodging. And for good reason. The Scriptures are explicit about the command of Caesar Augustus to conduct a census. But there may have been an additional, unspoken reason why it was so difficult to find a room at that time.
A little deeper probing into the narrative raises a question which we have been remiss to ask. We have been skimming the surface of the text, but have failed to put ourselves in their shoes. We might want to ponder the events which took place and ask a few questions: Why would Joseph take his wife on a long journey when she was near her time of delivery? Surely this trip could have been taken earlier when she was more mobile, or later after she recovered from birthing her child. So why did Joseph choose this unlikely time to make his full term wife travel such a long distance? Furthermore, why did the Romans choose this particular time to take a census of Israel?
Amazingly, there is a compelling reason why Joseph would have subjected his full-term wife to such a rigorous journey. Elohim required it! Joseph, along with all other Elohim fearing men, was required to go! And Mary, a righteous Jewish woman, wanted to be there, too! You see, Elohim required his people to make the journey to Jerusalem three times a year:
Celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress. Be joyful at your Feast– you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. For seven days celebrate the Feast to Yahuwah your Elohim at the place Yahuwah will choose. For Yahuwah your Elohim will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete. Three times a year all your men must appear before Yahuwah your Elohim at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. No man should appear before Yahuwah empty-handed: Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way Yahuwah your Elohim has blessed you (Deuteronomy:16:13-17).
During the Feast of Sukkot, Elohim required that all male Jews come to Jerusalem. And Bet Lechem (Bethlehem), the place where Yahushua was born, is only about four miles from Jerusalem. For this reason, the city of Jerusalem and all the surrounding towns and villages would be overcrowded with people. This would explain why Mary and Joseph could not find lodging in Bethlehem (Luke 2:7). Bacchiochi concurs:
The overcrowded conditions at the time of Messiah’s birth (“there was no place for them in the inn”—Luke 2:7) could be related not only to the census taken by the Romans at that time, but also to the many pilgrims that overrun the area especially during the Feast of Tabernacles. (Samuele Bacchiochi, The Date and Meaning of Christmas).
The Roman governor knew that the best strategy for keeping peace with the inhabitants of Judea would be to allow them to travel to their home towns for the census at a convenient time for them to travel, which for those who called Jerusalem and its environs their home, would be during one of the annual pilgrimages. Joseph and Mary wanted to be in Jerusalem during this most exciting season of the year – the Feast of Tabernacles, even if it meant that she would be traveling when she was full-term! The festival of Tabernacles was a time of great joy and celebration. And while they were near Jerusalem, they could take care of the business of the census by taking a short detour to Bethlehem!
The Manger Scene
How many Christians erect a Nativity Scene under their Christmas tree? This usually consists of some sort of barn, figurines of Joseph, Mary, the baby Yahushua, a few angels, some shepherds and sheep, three wise men, and perhaps some other assorted animals. Yet, this very depiction of the night of Messiah’s birth is a testimony to what should be obvious to any one who studies the Word of Elohim. For if we properly understood the customs of the Jews during the time of Messiah, there would be no question that the manger scene and the props in this barnyard picture depict the Feast of Tabernacles as the occasion for the birth of Messiah.
The Scriptural account of his birth informs us that Mary
wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger (Luke 2:7).
this will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger (Luke 2:12).
There are several details of the manger scene which suggest that Mary gave birth to her firstborn son during the Feast of Tabernacles. The cloths used to wrap the baby, the feeding trough he was laid in, and the “barn” or “cave” itself!
First, let’s consider the swaddling cloths. In the verses cited above, the babe was wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. The Greek, evsparga,nwsen, here translated, “wrapped in cloths” or “wrapped in swaddling cloths” depicts the act of taking strips of cloth and covering a newborn baby. These strips of cloth were used by women of the Old Testament times for bundling their newborns:
On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths (Greek LXX, evsparganw,qhj,, Ezekiel 16:4).
But the swaddling cloths had a second common usage which was well known to Jews of the time. These strips of cloths served as wicks to light the 16 vats of oil within the court of the women during the Festival of Tabernacles (Eddie Chumney, The Seven Festivals of the Messiah). So, swaddling cloths which were used for newborn babies and also served an important function during the festival of Succot, would be readily available at this time for Mary to wrap her baby in.
Secondly, let’s take note that the baby Yahushua was laid in a manger. The word manger is the Greek word phatn’e. It is the same word translated as “stall” in Luke 13:15, where Yahushua answered the Pharisees, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall (Gr. phatn’e) and lead it out to give it water?” It is obvious that both of these passages are referring to the shelter where animals are kept.
One of the Hebrew words for the shelter where animals are kept is the term succah. We are told in Genesis 33:17 that
Jacob, however, went to Succoth, where he built a place for himself and made shelters (Hebrew, succoth, which is the plural of succah) for his livestock. That is why the place is called Succoth.
The suggested conclusion of this mini word study is not a subtle one. Mary and Joseph were in an animal shelter when Messiah was born. Yahushua was born in a succah! But not merely because there were no vacancies in the motels. In Elohim’s plan for the birth of His Son, the crowded conditions were merely a tool in the hands of the Creator to produce a proper birth place for the Messiah. He had to be born in a succah on the day when all of Elohim’s people were living in succahs, because he had come to fulfill all righteousness. His coming to succah (tabernacle) with men in human flesh (a fleshly succah) was intentionally pictured by his birth in a succah on the first day of the Feast of Succoth.
The Shepherds in the Fields
Next, let’s consider the shepherds abiding in the fields at night. Is this statement consistent with the time of year of Tabernacles? We are told in Scripture that
there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. (Luke 2:8)
We discussed earlier that this scene most certainly could not have taken place on December 25th. It is simply too cold in the winter months for shepherds to be staying out in the fields at night to watch the flock. But could this have taken place during the Feast of Tabernacles?
Not only is this possible, but it is most probable. Just as Jacob, in the passage cited above, built succahs in the fields for himself and the animals, shepherds during the time of Messiah who stayed out in the fields with the animals typically erected succahs in the field to sleep in at night. What better time of year to stay in a succah at night with the animals than during the Feast of Succoth?
The Wise Men from the East
Yet another evidence that Messiah was born at Succoth is a study of the identity of the Magi from the east:
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh (Matthew 2:1-11).
The land of the East is Babylon (see Genesis 29:1 and Judges 6:3), where the largest Jewish population was at the time of the birth of Yahushua. These Jews were descendants from the captivity when King Nebuchadnezzar defeated Israel and took the Jews to Babylon to serve him. The wise men in Matthew 2:1 were rabbis. The rabbis, also called sages, are known in Hebrew as chakamim, which means wise men. The word in Matthew 2:1 in Greek is magos, which is translated into English as “Magi.” Magos in Greek is a transliteration of the Hebrew word ravmag. Ravmag comes from the Hebrew root word rav, which means “rabbi.”
It should also be noted that the Greek word magos can also mean “scientist, counselor, scholar, or teacher.” The rabbis were scholars or teachers of the Jewish law. Yahushua was referred to as “Rabbi,” or “Teacher” in John 1:38,47,49; 3:2. So we can see that the wise men were Jewish rabbis coming from Babylon to witness the birth of Yahushua.
A question we can ask of the text is, “What made the rabbis make the journey from Babylon to Bethlehem to witness the birth of Yahushua?” The answer is given in Matthew 2:2:
…we have seen His star in the east…
One of the requirements during the time of Sukkot was to build an outside temporary shelter and live in it during this festival season. This shelter or sukkah was traditionally built with an opening in the roof so the people could see the stars in heaven. This is another reason for why the rabbis would be looking for, and thus seeing, the star in the sky when it appeared.
In addition, there was a prophecy in the book of Numbers informing us that
…a star shall come forth from Jacob…” (Numbers 24:17 NAS).
It is curious that the wise men from the east saw this star. One has to wonder whether it was the regular practice of rabbis to watch the stars, or whether this was a special occasion for watching the stars. Bacchiochi again assures us that
watching the stars was associated especially with the Feast of Tabernacles. In fact, the roof of the booth was built with leafy branches carefully spaced so that they would screen out the sunlight without blocking the visibility of the stars. The people watched for the stars at night during the feast because of the prophecy “a star shall come out of Jacob” (Num 24:17). It is possible that it was during the Feast of Tabernacles, the special season of star watching, that the wise men saw the Messianic star and “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matt 2:10). (Bacchiocchi, The Date and Meaning of Christmas)
Furthermore, in Matthew 2:2, the rabbis saw the star from the East. Salvation was seen by the Jewish people as coming from the East. The tribe of Judah, from which Messiah descended (see Revelation 5:5), was positioned on the east side of the tabernacle of Moses in the wilderness. Thus, the star started out in the East and came to stop over the place where the newborn Messiah was laying.
“The Season of Our Joy”
Yet another compelling evidence that Messiah was born during Tabernacles is that two of the nicknames of the Feast of Succoth are “the season of our joy” and “the feast of the nations.” With this in mind, in Luke 2:10 it is written, “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy (Sukkot is called the ‘season of our joy’), which shall be to all people (Sukkot is known as ‘the feast of the nations’).” So, we can see from this that the terminology the angel used to announce the birth of Yahushua were themes and messages associated with the Feast of Sukkot.
The Feast of Tabernacles was the ideal time for the birth of Yahushua because it was called “the season of our joy.” The emphasis on the joyfulness of the feast is found in the instructions given in Deuteronomy 16:13-14:
You shall keep the feast of booths seven days, when you make your ingathering from your threshing floor and your wine press. You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your manservant and your maidservant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns.
In contrast to the Feasts of Trumpets and Atonement which were a time of introspection and repentance, the Feast of Booths was a time of rejoicing. The festive atmosphere reflected the Israelites’ thankfulness for both material and spiritual blessings. The explicit reason for rejoicing is given in Deuteronomy 16:15: “because the Lord your Elohim will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.” It is not surprising that the rabbis called the feast “The Season of our Joy.”
Ellen White notes that the reason for rejoicing was more than just the bounties of the harvest. She writes:
“The feast was to be preeminently an occasion for rejoicing. It occurred just after the great Day of Atonement, when the assurance had been given that their iniquity should be remembered no more. At peace with Elohim, they now came before Him to acknowledge His goodness and praise Him for His mercy. The labor of harvest being ended, and the toils of the new year not yet begun, the people were free from care, and could give themselves up to the sacred, joyous influences of the hour.”
The reason for the rejoicing was not only because of the material blessings of the harvest gathered in, but also because of the spiritual blessing of Elohim’s protection and abiding presence. The foliage of the booths during which the Israelites lived for seven days during the Feast, reminded them that Elohim will protect the faithful remnant during the time of trouble by sheltering them with the cloud by day and the flaming fire by night: “It will be for a shade (saccath) by day from the heat, and for a refuge and shelter from the storm and the rain” (Is 4:6). In this context, the cloud and fire of Elohim’s presence function as a protecting booth over His people.
Being the season of rejoicing for the blessings of the harvest and of Elohim’s protective presence, the Feast of Tabernacles provided the ideal setting for the birth of Yahushua—the One who came to dwell among His people in person. The themes of rejoicing relate perfectly to the terminology used by the angel to announce Messiah’s birth: “Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people” (Luke 2:10). As “the season of our joy,” the Feast of Tabernacles provided the ideal settings for breaking “the good news of a great joy” for all the people, since the feast was also a celebration for all the nations (Zech 14:16).
Calculating the Time of Messiah’s Birth
The final biblical “proof” that Yahushua was born at the Feast of Tabernacles is to put to use the information Scripture provides us to calculate the precise time of that birth. Consider the following way of calculating the time of his birth. This method takes the raw data regarding the time when we are told that the division of Abijah was on duty at the temple and does a calculation on this raw data The birth of John narrative informs us that
in the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron…. Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before Elohim… (Luke 1:5-8).
Zechariah was serving in the temple at the time prescribed for the division he was in. But when was that prescribed time? The Bible tells us precisely when that was. King David brought some order to the duties of the priests. He divided them into 24 courses or groups for a more systematic way of scheduling them for duty:
These were the divisions of the sons of Aaron: The sons of Aaron were Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar….. With the help of Zadok a descendant of Eleazar and Ahimelech a descendant of Ithamar, David separated them into divisions for their appointed order of ministering…. They divided them impartially by drawing lots, for there were officials of the sanctuary and officials of Elohim among the descendants of both Eleazar and Ithamar. The scribe Shemaiah son of Nethanel, a Levite, recorded their names in the presence of the king and of the officials…. The first lot fell to Jehoiarib… the seventh to Hakkoz, the eighth to Abijah, the ninth to Jeshua…. This was their appointed order of ministering when they entered the temple of Yahuwah, according to the regulations prescribed for them by their forefather Aaron, as Yahuwah, the Elohim of Israel, had commanded him (1 Chronicles 24:1-24).
Each course would serve in the Temple for a period of 1 week, starting with the first Sabbath of the year (Month of Nisan). During the 3 annual pilgrimages, when all of Israel had to gather in Jerusalem, all the priests would serve together, then resume the group rotation the following week. This is because all males were required to go to Jerusalem as specified in Deuteronomy 16:16. The 3 annual pilgrimages were during the week of Passover (Pesach), for the festival of Pentecost (Shavuot) and for the festival of Tabernacles (Sukkot).
We know exactly when they served by this reasoning: A biblical year consists of twelve lunar months, of 29.5 days, which total 354 days. This is eleven days less than a solar year, of 365 days. This comes to about 51 weeks in a year. Because of the influx of people during the 3 annual pilgrimages, all the priests served during these times. That left 48 weeks to be covered. By a simple calculation, the 24 courses each were assigned 2 weeks per year to serve alone. So, they were assigned a week at the beginning of the year and a week at the end of the year. Each course, therefore, served for one week twice a year, and three weeks a year they all served. Each course, therefore, served a total of five weeks during the year.
Since Zechariah belonged to the 8th group, his division would be in the Temple during the 10th week of the year. Between the first and the eighth week of the year, two of the three pilgrimages intervened when all twenty-four courses served. The eighth course would, therefore, serve during the tenth week having allowed for the week of Passover and the festival of Pentecost, which both occur during the first nine weeks of the year. So Zechariah served in the temple during the week beginning with the second Sabbath of Sivan (approximately Sivan 12-18).
In Luke 1:9-10, we see that Zechariah is burning incense. This is done in the room of the temple known as the Holy Place. As the incense (which represents the prayers of Elohim’s people, see Psalm 141:2; Revelation 8:3-4) is being burned by the priests in the temple, 18 special prayers are prayed. These 18 prayers would be prayed every day in the temple. One of these prayers is that Elijah would come. This is important because it was understood by the people, as Elohim established, that Elijah would precede the coming of the Messiah as stated in Malachi 4:5.
These 18 special prayers would be prayed twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. In Luke 1:11-13, the angel appeared on the right side of the altar and told Zechariah that his prayer was heard and John the Baptist would be born. John the Baptist was not literally Elijah, but was of the spirit of power of Elijah (Luke 1:17).
When he completed his week of service, he returned home. Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist after Zechariah had finished his Temple service. So, she would have become pregnant after the third Sabbath of Sivan (approximately Sivan 19-25). If you go forward forty weeks, for a normal pregnancy, we see that John the Baptist was born on Passover. We would expect that this pregnancy would be perfectly normal because this is the mark of Elohim’s handiwork – perfection!
In Luke 1:26 during the sixth month of Elisabeth’s pregnancy, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her she was to be with child. So, since John the Baptist was conceived in the eleventh week, the third Sabbath week of Sivan, then Yahushua would have been conceived six months later in the month of Kislev. This should have been around the twenty-fifth of Kislev, otherwise known as Chanukah. During the time of the first century, Chanukah was known as the second Sukkot. During the time of Chanukah, all of the Sukkot prayers are prayed once again. Mary’s dialogue with the angel Gabriel is found in the Sukkot liturgy today.
If you calculate from the twenty-fifth of Kislev and add 40 weeks for Mary’s pregnancy, this will bring you to around the time of the festival of Sukkot, or Tishrei 15. So it is very reasonable to see that on Tishri 15, the first day of the Festival of Tabernacles, Messiah was born in Bethlehem. And on Tishrei 22, known as Shemini Atzeret or the eighth day, Yahushua was circumcised in perfect fulfillment of the Law (Luke 2:22-23; Leviticus 12:1-3). For he himself had testified that he had to fulfill all righteousness (see Matthew 3:15).
Some Historical Support for Messiah’s Birth at the Feast of Tabernacles
(Note: The entire section below is almost verbatim from Bacchiocchi’s The Date and Meaning of Christmas, with the exception of a few minor grammatical edits.)
The connection between Messiah’s birth and the Feast of Tabernacles proposed above, may at first appear astonishing, but it has been proposed not only by modern authors but also by early Christian Fathers. In his classic study The Bible and Liturgy, Jean Daniélou discusses the connection between the Feast of Tabernacles and that of the Nativity in the writings of some Church Fathers. He notes, for example, that in his Sermon on the Nativity, Gregory of Nazianzus (A. D. 329-389) connects the Feast of the Nativity of December 25th with the Feast of Tabernacle:
The subject of today’s feast (25th December) is the true Feast of Tabernacles. Indeed, in this feast, the human tabernacle was built up by Him who put on human nature because of us. Our tabernacles, which were struck down by death, are raised up again by Him Who built our dwelling from the beginning. Therefore, harmonizing our voices with that of David, let us also sing the Psalm: ‘Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord’ [Ps 118:26. This verse was sung during the procession of the Feast of Tabernacles]. How does He come? Not in a boat or in a chariot. But He comes into human existence by the immaculate Virgin. It is He, Our Lord, who has appeared to make the solemn feast day in thick branches of foliage up to the horns of the altar.
In the last sentence, Gregory alludes to the ancient Jewish custom of erecting a canopy over the altar during the Feast of Tabernacles by tying branches to the four horns of the altar. For Gregory, this ceremony finds its fulfillment in the Incarnation. Commenting on this text, Daniélou writes: “The coming of Christ, His birth, thus is seen to be the inauguration of the true Feast of Tabernacles. Here appears a new harmony: the scenai [Greek for ‘the tent’], the human dwelling at the beginning, have been struck by sin. . . . Christ comes to raise them up, to restore human nature, to inaugurate the true Feast of Tabernacles prefigured in Jewish liturgy. And the beginning of this Scenopegia [Feast of Tabernacles] is the Incarnation itself in which, according to St. John, Christ built the tabernacles of His own Body (John 1:14). It does indeed seem as if it were this term of St. John which makes the connection between the feast of the scenai [Tabernacles] and the feast of the Birth of Christ.”
What contributed to make the connection between the birth of Yahushua and the Feast of Tabernacles, was not only John’s representation of the Incarnation as Messiah pitching His tent among us, but also the Messianic understanding of Psalm 118:26-27, a psalm that was sung by the Jews during the processions of the Feast of Tabernacles and that was used by the Fathers to link the two feasts. The Psalm announces “He who comes in the name of the Lord” (Ps 118:26)—a clear allusion to the coming of the Messiah—in the context of the Feast of Tabernacles: “The Lord is Elohim, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar!” (Ps 118:27).
Church Fathers saw in these passages a representation of the coming of the Messiah through the typology of the Feast of Tabernacles. Gregory of Nissa (about A. D. 330-395) remarks that “The prophet David tells us that the God of the universe, the Lord of the world has appeared to us to constitute the solemn Feast in the thick branches of foliage.” “The thick branches of foliage” refer to the Feast of Tabernacles which was celebrated in booths made of leafy branches. The booths are seen as foreshadowing the Incarnation which made it possible for Messiah to indwell among us. Daniélou finds that traces of the patristic connection between the Feast of Tabernacles and that of the Nativity still survive in the current use of the Messianic verses 23, 28, 29 of Psalm 118 during “the Gradual of the Second Mass of Christmas” celebrated in Catholic Churches. He concludes: “It is indeed at Christmas that the eschatological tabernacle was built for the first time, when the Word ‘established His dwelling amongst us’ and the unity of men and angels was restored when the an-gels visited the shepherds.”
Unfortunately, the connection between Messiah’s birth and the Feast of Tabernacles was gradually lost as the pagan symbology of the sun displaced the Biblical typology of the Feast of Tabernacles. The attempt of the Fathers to connect the Feast of Tabernacles with Christmas was not successful because the two feasts differ in origin, meaning, and authority. By adopting the date of December 25th, which was the pagan feast of the birthday of the Invincible Sun (dies natalis Solis Invicti), the Christological meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles was gradually lost—as indicated by the fact that today nobody thinks of Christmas as being the antitypical fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles, when Messiah became flesh and tabernacled with us, in order to accomplish His redemptive plan to tabernacle with us throughout eternity in the world to come.
There is nothing wrong with celebrating the birth of the Messiah. In fact, through the annual celebrations of the Biblical festivals, the coming of Messiah to earth and his ultimate plan of reclaiming earth as his own, is to be repeatedly celebrated and rehearsed by all of Elohim’s people. The “right” reason for celebrating any holiday, and particularly the birth of Messiah, would be to remember what our Heavenly Father has done in the past and what he will do in the future for us.
The tabernacle in the wilderness is where Elohim met face to face with his people. Elohim met another time with his people on the occasion of the birth of his Son. And he will meet with his people yet again in the future, face to face, at the time of the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles – when he ushers in his kingdom of righteousness.
The festivals of Elohim in the Old Testament Scriptures were given to his people for the very purpose of celebrating the great historical events of redemption. The feast of Tabernacles was intended to be a time of excitement and celebration of the historical reality that Elohim has come and is coming to live in a human body with his redeemed people. The evidence of Scripture is that this is precisely the time when Messiah was born, and it is precisely the time when Messiah will return again to “tabernacle with men.”
Can there really be any lingering doubt as to the Bible’s message to us here? Let’s celebrate our Creator’s promise to tabernacle with men during the real season of Messiah’s birth. Let’s celebrate His incarnation during the Feast of Tabernacles!
David M Rogers