|by Jared L. Olar|
When I was a high school student in Frau Helen Hickersberger's German language class, I was first introduced to ``Advent Calendars.''Every November the students in German Club would sell them as a fundraiser. For anyone else who currently may be as oblivious to Advent Calendars as I was as a teenager, let me explain that these ``calendars'' are actually glorified boxes of candy. On these calendars, each of the days of the Christmas season during the month of December is actually a door or window-on each successive day of the Advent Season, one is permitted to open the appropriate window and eat the candy hidden behind it. It is one of the ways the Christmas traditions have been reinforced for young children. It is not unlike the ancient Jewish custom of teaching children about the Torah by having them write Hebrew characters using honey, and then allowing the children to lick their writing lesson off their slates (Psa.119:103). In order to hand on a tradition to the next generation, one must create positiveemotions, memories, and associations with the tradition. This sort of thing was also done in the Worldwide Church of God, only for the holy festivals of God described in Leviticus 23 rather than for those that were introduced in the centuries after the dawn of Christianity.
Having been born and raised in the fellowship of the WCG, I have uncountable positive associations of the holy days of our liturgical calendar, but Christmas celebrations and everything connected to them are foreign to me. This is why I did not hear of Advent Calendars until I was in high school. In fact, I did not even know what ``the Advent Season'' was, nor what ``advent'' meant. Given our church's roots in seventh-day adventist traditions, naturally I learned the meaning of ``the Second Advent'' well before I had ever heard the word ``advent'' associated with Christmas. (For the sake of clarity, advent is derived from the Latin word meaning ``coming'' or ``arrival.'')
As the fall festival season approaches, many of us in the WCG, along with many other Christians, will be preparing to express our faith and hope in theSecond Advent of Jesus Christ, our Savior and soon coming King. In particular, we will focus upon the typological significance of Rosh ha-Shanah-also known as the Feast of Trumpets (Lev. 23:24)-as it points to the prophetic seven trumpets of the Book of Revelation, to Christ's return (Matt. 24:30-31), to the Resurrection of the Saints (I Cor. 15:51-52), to the promised regathering of the physical Tribes of Israel to their land (Isa. 27:12-13), and to God's judgment of sinful nations (Joel 2:1-2).
But in this article I would like to focus the attention of our readers upon an aspect of the Feast of Trumpets-and of the fall festival season in general-which has been neglected in the liturgical customs of theChurches of God. A good argument can be made that Jesus came into thisworld during the fall festival season in the month of Tishri. I wish to expand upon this theme, and show reasons for my conviction that we should celebrate the Advent Season during the first half of the month of Tishri, perhaps even on the Feast of Trumpets itself.
|In Which Season of the Year Was Jesus Born?|
First, I will explain the argument that God sent His Son into the world on or near the Feast of Trumpets. Most members of the Churches of God should recall that we were aware of the impossibility of Jesus' birth having occurred any time during winter-certainly not on December 25 (or January 6 in the Eastern Orthodox rite). But more than that, we offered arguments and indications that Jesus was born during the autumn. A trace relic of this viewwas our substitution of the word ``autumn'' for that of ``lilies''in The Battle Hymn of the Republic, as in:
As an aside, this textual emendation was wholly unnecessary, inasmuch as the actual lyrics here are a statement that Jesus was resurrected (thus, ``re-born'') during the springtime, not that Mary gave birth to Him surrounded by lilies. First of all, the lily is traditionally associated withresurrection, with the new life and rejuvenation of the first season of the year. It is also a heraldic symbol of the dynasty of David, of whom Jesus is the chief scion. Second, when Jesus was born, He had no glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me-that glory came following His resurrection, and it will transfigure us following our own resurrection. Also, Jesus was certainly not resurrected in the autumn. Considering all of these things, the unemended text of this hymn is far superior to our misguided re-write. If there is ever a fourth edition of the hymnal of the WCG, we shall have to correct our mistake.
But did Mary give birth in the autumn? I believe she did. Our arguments in favor of this position were first put forward by Dr. Ernest Martin, a former evangelist of the WCG, in his article ``When Was Christ Born?'' ( The Plain Truth, December 1961), which was reprinted in different forums several times.
Before I continue, let me make clear that we may not after all be able to pinpoint the exact year of Jesus birth. We know that Jesus came to be born inBethlehem as prophesied because Joseph and Mary had gone there to be registered for the taxation census of Augustus Caesar (Luke 2:1-7), but thereis some doubt about the year that Augustus made his decree. Furthermore, there is no proof that this Empire-wide registration was accomplished in the same year of the decree. Given what we know about the limits of ancient technology, to coordinate such a massive census throughout so vast a section of the earth in those days almost certainly would have taken several years. Knowing these things, we have no reason to believe that the inhabitants of the holy land were all registered in the same year of the decree, whatever year that was. Therefore, relying on historical sources alone (Dan. 9 may well help narrow things down), we may never be completely certain of the year of Jesus' birth. But for our purposes, we are concerned only with the season of the year in which Jesus was most likely born, not the specific year. What can we discover about this issue? For that, we must go to the first chapters of the Gospel of Luke.
Luke tells us that John the Baptist was conceived not long after the priest Zechariah finished his designated time of Temple service. Because he was descended from Aaron's descendant Abijah (Luke 1:5, 8-9; I Chron. 24:10; Neh.12:4,17), each year Zechariah was assigned to serve in the Temple sometime in early summer and again in late autumn. John the Baptist was very likely conceived not long after Zechariah finished his duties in Jerusalem, so his conception can be narrowed down either to mid-June or else to late October. If it was June, then John the Baptist would have been born in the month of Nisan. Since Jesus was conceived three months before John was born, this would mean that Jesus was born in the month of Tishri. However, if John was conceived in late October (or early November), then he would have been born in late summer or early fall-perhaps the month of Tishri itself-which would place the birth of Jesus in the month of Nisan. Therefore we can be absolutely confident that Jesus was born either in the spring or in the fall, and we can definitively rule out the summer and winter months.
But there are two other things which may indicate the autumn as the season of Christ's birth: First, because the first day of Tishri was the civil New Yearfor the Jews, taxes and tribute were commonly collected around that very season. It is therefore reasonable to suppose that Joseph and Mary decided tokill two birds with one stone-make the autumn pilgrimage for the fall festivals and register for the taxation which had been decreed by Augustus Caesar. If it were near or during the pilgrimage month of Tishri, this would certainly explain why ``there was no room in the inn.'' Second, Jesus is believed to have had a ministry which lasted about three-and-a-half years. Luke tells us that when Jesus began His ministry, He was about to turn thirty years of age (Luke 3:23). Since He died in the springtime month of Nisan, a three-and-a-half-year ministry would have to have commenced close to or during the fall-which means His birthday must have been during that season. But these things are indications only, not conclusive evidence.
Beyond that, historical sources and human reason can scarcely go. But human reason guided by faith may well be able to take us much further. A study of the typology of the holy festivals which God instituted for His People might be able to tip the scales in favor of one of the two possible seasons.
|The Typology of the Fall Feasts|
First, it is understood by many Christians that the holy days of the seventh month are heavy laden with significance for the End Times. As mentioned earlier, the trumpets of Rosh ha-Shanah are linked to the seven trumpets of the Book of Revelation. In addition, the Yom Kippur ritual of the two goats-one for the Eternal and the other for Azazel (Satan)-is understood by many Christians as a type of the prophesied binding of Satan during the Millennium(Lev. 16:8-10, 20-22; Rev. 20:1-3). Finally, the eight days of Sukkoth are understood by Jew and Christian alike to anticipate the future earthly reign of Messiah, when the earth will be restored to an Edenic state (Isa. 25:6-8; Zech. 14:16). Thus, we see that these holy days are about the coming of the Messiah and His work of atonement to prepare His People to share in His victory over the Evil One in His Kingdom. Through the indwelling of the holy Spirit-Christ in us-the Church now can enjoy a foretaste of tomorrow's world (Col. 1:13, 27). And collectively we,Jew as well as Christian, long for the day when this reality will be enjoyed by all nations.
Second, our late Pastor-General, Mr. Joseph Tkach, Sr., has explained to us in special festival sermons how the sukkah (``booth'' or ``tabernacle'') in which Israelites are commanded to dwell during the eight days of the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:42-43) has been identified in Rabbinic tradition as asymbol of the human body. Our bodies are truly ``temporary dwellings'' or tents (II Cor. 5:1), for in this life we who serve Him and keep His commandments are pilgrims on the way to the holy city. This symbolism meshes perfectly with the association of the season with Messiah's coming, atoning work, and glorious reign in the future Millennial Kingdom-for if the Messiah is to reign over all nations, then it is first in our bodies, in our hearts and minds, that our Savior and King must establish His reign.
At this point allow me this brief aside: It is an indispensable truth that there can be no New Eden on earth unless the human heart is transformed. Thatgrain of the mustard seed which Jesus said is to grow into the largest plant in the garden (Matt. 13:31-32) is planted in the human heart . Brothers and Sisters in Christ, if we ever hope to see the kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ (Rev. 11:15), then the seed must start growing today-in your heart, in my heart, and in the heart of whomever the Father shall call.
Third, consider that the month of Tishri, though the seventh month of the sacred Hebrew calendar, has long been the first month of the civil Hebrew year. This is why the Feast of Trumpets is more commonly known among the Jewsas Rosh ha-Shanah (``Chief/Head of the Year''). A birthdate of the Messiah on or about the first day of the seventh month would be especially fitting, as His nativity heralded a new age for all mankind, both Jew and Gentile, just as a new year in a sense brings in a new age.
Furthermore, ancient Jewish tradition asserts that the first Sabbath in humanhistory (Gen. 2:1-3), when all things were first made and were therefore new,was the first day of the seventh month. Whether this tradition is true is beside the point, because it is certainly a useful tradition. How appropriate indeed it would be for Christ Jesus the New Creation to have begun His life on the same day that the Jews traditionally commemorated that first Sabbath of Creation Week. And how fitting it would be that the One who is our true rest and eternal Sabbath would start His sojourn among us on the very annual sabbath which commemorates the time that God rested from His labors so long ago.
When we consider these beautiful, holy truths of God's word, it becomes evident that the advent of our Savior by the virgin Mary and the holy Spirit is nothing less than a fulfillment of the fall festival season. Even as the spring festivals portray the atoning work of Jesus for His Church, so is this atoning work recapitulated in the autumn. The difference is that this recapitulation has direct consequences for the general human population, unlike the spring holy days, which are limited in their meaning to the Church (though surely having implications for the rest of the world). But before we can ever arrive at the Second Advent, we must have the First Advent. And before the angel can bind the Devil and lock him in the Abyss, the Messiah must first demonstrate His superiority over the Evil One (Matt. 4:10-11). And before we can dwell with Him in the future, He must first dwell in our bodies, our sukkoth, today.
And before He can dwell in our bodies today, He must take on His ownfleshly tabernacle, so that He who is without sin might destroy using His own body the sin which infects our bodies (Rom. 8:3-4). The awesome reality of God's grace is that when God pours out His Spirit on the new Christian convert, God is once more incarnated here on earth. Jesus was the pioneer, because only Immanu-El (``the-God-who-is-with-us'') could possibly openthe way to salvation for the helpless and desperate human race. What we cannot possibly accomplish He will do for us, and in us, and even in spite of us, by performing the inexpressible mystery of the Incarnation in each and every Christian. So we see that the One who came in the flesh so long ago still comes in the flesh, in a manner of speaking, whenever a soul is rescued from the ways of Eternal Death and brought into the ways of Eternal Life. And even more, He is coming again, and His reward is with Him.
Now that we understand these things, it should be clear that the symbolism which God in His unsearchable wisdom has associated with the fall festivals points to the coming of the Messiah. The spring festivals clearly pointto the atoning death of Christ our Passover, to the life-giving exaltation of the first of the firstfruits, to the process of cleansing which God's People experience through the indwelling of the Sinless One, and to the actions of the holy Spirit by which the commandments of the New Covenant come to be written on the hearts of those who fear the Lord. But none of the spring- festival symbolism points to the birth of the Messiah. Therefore, when this typological evidence is placed alongside what we can tell from the historical evidence which has survived from the time of Jesus' birth, we are led to conclude that God almost certainly sent His Son into the world during the fall festival season.
|Celebrating the First Advent in a New Way|
Yet even if it turns out that Jesus was not born during the autumn, the typology which we have studied here shows how truly fitting it would be to celebrate the First Coming of the Messiah during the first weeks of Tishri, especially on or near the Feast of Trumpets. In fact, this is what some of our congregations and individual members have already begun to do. For instance, last Feast of Trumpets the congregation of the WCGwhich meets in Champaign, Illinois, commemorated the First Advent of our Savior along with our traditional focus and emphasis on the much longed-for Second Advent.
The WCG congregation which meets in Springfield, Illinois, did a similar thing: on the weekly Sabbath immediately following the Feast of Trumpets ( Shabbat T'shuvah), they sang Isaac Watts' classic hymn Joy to the World!. I will here reproduce the lyrics of this hymn in full:
|``Joy to the world! the Lord is come: Let earth receive her King;|
|Let every heart prepare Him room, And heaven and nature sing.|
|``Joy to the world! the Savior reigns: Let men their songs employ;|
|While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains, Repeat the sounding joy.|
|``No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground;|
|He comes to make His blessings flow, Far as the curse is found.|
|``He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove|
|The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love. Amen.''|
This hymn was selected for their worship services because it has traditionally been associated with Christmas, which celebrates the First Advent. However, this association turns out to be a complete misapprehensionof Watts' intent. The subject of this hymn is not the First Advent, but rather is the Second Advent and its consequences during the Millennial reignof Christ on earth. But in a way, the confusion which led Christendom to transform this hymn into a Christmas carol of sorts is not entirely unwelcome, for now this hymn is able to serve as a perfect illustration of the dual nature of the fall festival season. This dual nature was formerly overlooked by the WCG but last autumn was driven home in the minds of the Springfield congregation with the help of this hymn.
|A Less Than Modest Proposal|
As I stated above, it is my conviction that Christians inside and outside of the fellowship of the WCG would greatly benefit from a celebration of the First Advent during the month of Tishri. Of course it would be too much to ask that-or even dream of a day when-the traditional winter solstice festivities would be replaced by the commemoration of the birth of the Messiah on or near Rosh ha-Shanah. It is instead my hope that Christians who follow the liturgical calendar developed within the tradition of Gentile Christianity might gradually be introduced to an alternative and far older liturgical calendar.
We Christians who worship the Messiah Jesus within the framework of the old calendar which God gave to the tribes of Israel ought to be willing to acceptthe invitations of our brethren to join them from time to time in their Gentile Christian worship. True, their calendric traditions are several centuries younger than the Hebrew Christian traditions, but are all the same still quite ancient, and ought to be respected for that reason alone. And they ought to be willing to accept our invitations to join us from time to time at our Christian festivals. In this way, those like myself-who might reach the age of fifteen and still not know what an Advent Calendar is-would begin to learn about Christian traditions which are (and probably always will be) foreign to them. And those Gentile Christians would also get the opportunity to learn of different ways, and to rediscover the roots of Christianity.
If in time such Christians decide to shift their Nativity festivities to the autumn-and away from the season of materialism and greed (which is idolatry, Paul says in Eph. 5:3)-I would happily join with them in singing Silent Night, or O Come All Ye Faithful, or any other of the uncountable precious and holy songs of the Advent Season. Such a commemoration would be very fitting, either from the standpoint of fall festival typology or from that of historical accuracy. It would also, incidentally, be a powerful witness to the House of Judah. However, at the least I hope I have made a persuasive case for Christians who worship Christ within the Hebrew calendric tradition to begin (if they have not already begun) to celebrate the Advent Season-the one which points both to His nativity and to His return!