Christmas: In the deep mid-winter?
I've just received the latest mailing from Doug Greenwold of Preserving Bible Times
(whose superb videos from a helicopter I enjoy using to show classes and church groups something of the layout of the land).
Doug's "Contextual Reflections" emails often provide a neat reminder of the importance of geography or culture to reading between the lines of biblical texts. For this post I'll not focus on the main point of his Christmas message, they were largely not news to me, though could provide useful details for many a Christmas sermon. I'll mention a detail that's topical for us in the Southern Hemisphere, as we gear up for Christmas, singing carols about deep mid-winter and snow, while the weather, at last, starts to behave as if summer is on the way, and heaters get replaced by fans (or for the fortunate air conditioners ;)
The first Christmas was likely in summer!
Remember those shepherds "abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night
"? Do you remember also Jesus' talk of sheepfolds (in John 10)? The habit, at least in areas near a village, was to pen sheep at night.
So, why were the shepherds "keeping watch over their flock
" "in the fields
" at night? The peasant farmers round Bethlehem ("house of bread") would hardly want sheep trampling their fields of grain! (Few fields were fenced or walled in those parts.)
However, after the harvest, things were different, sheep ate the stubble and, following digestion, their excretions fertilised the fields. At that season, sheep in the fields makes sense. Harvest would be in summertime. If there were sheep in the fields near Bethlehem at night then it seems likely that God ordained the first Christmas for summertime.
This is rather nice for complexed Southern Christians, who somehow feel that roaring fires, yule logs, snow and the rest of the traditional European festival are a necessary part of the season! (Barbara's choir just held their carol service, it is timed so that they can sing by candlelight at the close of the service ;)[PS: Bite my Bible has a post claiming erroneous calculations by an Aussie astronomer are behind thoughts of a summer Christmas Jesus was a Gemini? they ask, while (by implication) answering "No!" - I think they are wrong Bite my Bible is too cautious by half ;) ]
Labels: bible, christmas, geography, Luke