Luke 2:20 Commentary - Whedon's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments
20. Glorifying and praising God This conduct on the part of the returning shepherds indicates that the supposition is true that they piously waited for the hope of Israel, the Messiah.
CHRISTMAS, the NATIVITY, the anniversary of our Saviour’s birth, has been for ages celebrated by all Christendom upon the 25th of December. The accuracy of this date is a matter of interesting inquiry.
1. Upon grounds of tradition the authority for it is very slight. The Eastern Church, within whose bosom the locality of that sacred birth is centrally included, knew nothing of the date for centuries, and really celebrated the Lord’s birth on the 6th of January, the day of the Epiphany. (See note on Luk 3:22.) The fixing of the day of Christmas was really done at Rome, and was transmitted from thence over the Eastern Church. The authority for the selection of that day was the government record of the taxing, or census of Cyrenius, said to be in the imperial archives at Rome. But the authenticity of these records is too untenable to allow any weight to the argument.
2. Probably a main argument with the ancient Church for the nativity in December was based upon the assumption that Zacharias was high priest, and that the annunciation was made to him on the great day of atonement, which was in September. For, reckoning from September, nine months would bring us to the birth of John in June; and Jesus, being six months younger than John, (in all fifteen months,) must have been born in December. But the supposition that Zacharias was high priest is now by all admitted to be baseless.
3. But, after all that has been said, the negative argument drawn from the climate is unanswered. Mr. Andrews does indeed show from Barclay and others that there are often periods about Christmas which are the loveliest in the whole year. But Mr. Barclay’s meteorological tables show the average in inches of rain-fall through seven years to be as follows: November, 2 inches; December, 14; January, 13; February, 16; March, 8; April, 1; and May, 1. Average range of the thermometer through five years, November, 67; December, 53.3; January, 49.6; February, 52.1. So that December is within a trifle of being the severest month of the year.
4 . But it must be specially noted that the strongest negative argument is not drawn from the flocks in the field. The gravelling question is this: Would the government select midwinter for a registration of all Palestine, including northern Galilee as well as southern Judea, which would compel a general journeying of the inhabitants often from nearly one end to the other? Let any one read Dr. Thomson’s account of a winter travel in Palestine, vol. i, pp. 329-332, and he will perhaps shudder to send the virgin from Nazareth to Bethlehem in December. Our own conclusion is, that the fixing the birth of Christ in December is unsustained by tradition and invalidated from Scripture.
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Whedon's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments
Daniel D. Whedon (1808-1885) was a prominent university professor, theologian, and author. He served as Professor of Ancient Languages at Wesleyan University in Connecticut; as Professor of Rhetoric at the University of Michigan; and as editor of the Methodist Quarterly Review from 1856 to1884. He authored numerous books including Commentary on the New Testament (New York: Carlton & Porter, 1860); Commentary on the Old Testament (New York: Nelson & Phillips, 1873); What is Arminianism? (Toronto: W. Briggs, 1879); and Essays, Reviews, and Discourses (New York: Phillips & Hunt, 1887).