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For many centuries the church believed that Jesus was born on the night of December 24/25 just before the start of the year 1 A.D. They were off by about a year and three months, since he was born September 29, 2 B.C. This was the feast of Trumpets, Rosh Hoshana—not only the start of a new year, but also a new age.
The magi arrived three months later on December 24/25, giving the “new-born king” gifts. The magi then went home by another route, instead of reporting to King Herod. At the same time, Joseph took his wife and child to Egypt for their protection. Jesus was three months old at the time, the same age that Moses was taken into the house of Pharaoh for his protection (Exodus 2:2).
In the fourth century, Saint Nicolas of Ephesus began leaving little gifts on the door steps of poor people on the night of December 24/25, following the example of the Magi who gave Jesus gifts on that date. Other people soon followed his example, and out of this developed the Christmas traditions. It was not long before December 25 also came to be seen as the actual date of Jesus’ birth, although in reality it was only the time that the Magi had arrived about three months after His birth.
It is unfortunate that Jesus’ birth is celebrated on the day that the magi arrived, because it opens up the celebration to criticism. Further, the standard display of Saint Nicolas (i.e., Santa Claus) is far from an accurate portrait of the kind, humble man in the fourth century. The addition of other traditions used by pagans have turned the original scene into a day that little resembles the original biblical scene.
In more recent decades, Christmas has been secularized to the point where most of the songs are now mere weather reports about snow and flying reindeer, led by one called Rudolph.
Yet there is still a basic truth that we may remember, if we know the original story. One of the most important truths is found in the message of the angels about “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14). This message is a core revelation about Christ’s method of establishing His Kingdom on the earth. As the Prince of Peace, prophesied in Isaiah 9:6, His ability was declared, not as a great warrior who could conquer the world by force, but as a peaceful Messiah who conquers by love and by the sword of the Spirit.
The Jews did not want such a peaceful Messiah, for their concern was in regaining independence from Rome and smashing all their enemies by the power of God. Other religions, too, most notably Islam in the seventh century, sent out armies to conquer the world by force of arms. Even Christianity itself succumbed to the lure of the force of arms after it lost their spiritual sword.
None of these fulfilled the ideal of the Messiah or His will. After all, it is only when one loses the sword of the Spirit that force of arms becomes necessary. Such forceful methods may seem to work, but they can never establish the Kingdom of God. They can only establish fleshly religious kingdoms, empowered by the arm of flesh.
Such religious people sincerely want peace—but only after they have killed all enemies, destroyed all other religions, and forcibly subdued all men to their religious ideals. In such wars, it is said that “he who is most ruthless wins.” It is always peace through war. The problem is that the wars never cease. There are always more enemies to fight. And even when everyone subscribes to the same religion, there are divisions within the religion itself. And so the reasons for war are endless.
Until the conquest of the world is done by spiritual swords by those who are in agreement with the Prince of Peace, there will never be peace on earth. We can never burn enough dissenters, bomb enough infidels, or brainwash enough people to bring the Kingdom of God to earth. Because carnal methods have dominated history, we have yet to see the Kingdom of God established on the scale prophesied in Scripture. Jesus said in Matthew 11:12,
12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.
The best we have seen is where the power of God was manifested—mostly during Jesus’ ministry of healing, where he set captives free from their captivity. How did He do this? It was by the peaceable methods of healing and casting out demons. Matthew 12:28 says,
28 But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
At some point in history, the Kingdom will spread from human hearts to the land itself, and whole nations will become part of the Kingdom on a grand scale. This means the Spirit of God will be poured out upon “all flesh” (Joel 2:28 KJV), for it is only by the Spirit that all things will be subjected to the rule of the Prince of Peace. It will not be done through Old Covenant means, which were seen in Joshua’s conquest of Canaan.
Under the Old Covenant, the power of God was used to win wars to kill Canaanites. But under the New Covenant, the Great Commission is what conquers the world. “Death to infidels” is replaced by “baptize them.” It is a different form of death—a death that identifies with Christ’s death on the cross, so that we may also identify with His resurrection life.
This is all inherent in the angelic message of “peace on earth.”