25 December is a day when Christians around the world celebrate the coming of God in the person of Jesus Christ (with the exception of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which observes Christmas on 7 January).
However, 25 December had played a significant role in Jewish history before the advent (pun intended) of Christmas.
I am currently reading through Craig G. Bartholomew’s new book, Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Framework for Hearing God in Scripture (Baker Academic, 2015). I was reminded of the significance of 25 December when reading a section on the history of Judaism during the Second Temple period. Bartholomew says this (pages 162-163):
Under Syrian rule, Antiochus Epiphanes’s desecration of the temple on December 25, 167 BC, forced the issue of identity to the fore. Some refused to submit to Antiochus’s actions and died rather than submit. Others who escaped looked to Yahweh to act in a new and decisive way to vanquish his enemies. Judas Maccabeus and his companions organized a revolt and drove out Antiochus, so that three years to the day after its desecration, the temple was reconsecrated (December 25, 164 BC)…However, the ambiguity of the years that followed created the same sort of puzzle as had the “return from exile.” God had acted, but it seemed as though another great intervention must still come.
Indeed. Bartholomew does not go on to explore the significance of this in light of the date of the church’s celebration of Jesus’ coming, 25 December. First the desecration of the temple, then the reconsecration of the temple, and finally the arrival of the One who embodied in his own person what every previous temple was a mere symbol of (the book of Hebrews suggests this and much more). Jesus was God’s Temple par excellence. “The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking about the temple of his body.” (John 2.20-21)
Without pursuing it further here, let me suggest that we begin to think about the relation of Jesus’ birth (and the day we celebrate it) to the larger matrix of temple theology. I believe there is sufficient historical precedence for doing so.