Today I had the opportunity to hear our Karen refugee cleaning lady, a woman by the name of Noimea, singing “Joy to the World.” Normally, this song is sung by nominal Christians in late November and December to celebrate the birth of Tammuz. However, given the fact that yesterday was the Day of Trumpets, which was the time of year when Jesus Christ was born, it was entirely appropriate for our cleaning lady (who is a Sabbath keeper, along with her family in the refugee camp) to sing that song in honor of the day of Christ’s birth.
How did she know what many others did not? She happened to be familiar with her Bible. In Luke 1:5 we learn that Zecharias, the father of John the Baptist, was of the order of Abijah. In 1 Chronicles 24:10 we learn that Abijah was the eighth order of the lot–and all priests served on the weeks of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles, the three missionary feasts. So, a priest in the order of Abijah like Zacharias would have served their week, and then served at the Pentecost with the whole priesthood. This would have been in May/June, and within a few weeks after Pentecost, probably June/July, Zecharias would have returned home and gotten his barren wife Elizabeth pregnant to fulfill the prophecy delivered by the archangel Gabriel. At this point the clock starts ticking for the conception of Jesus Christ, which occurred in the sixth month after the conception of John the Baptist, which would have put the conception of Jesus Christ (not his birth) in late December or early January.
This would have made it dangerous for Mary to travel too far, since winter in Judea is their rainy season, where the weather is cold and miserable. Nonetheless, Mary went in the winter to the hill country of Judea where she stayed three months, until the spring (it would have been March/April by this point, just before the Passover). Then Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist shortly before Passover herself, give or take a couple of weeks, and Jesus Christ was born six months later, at the time of the Feast of Trumpets. The Romans were cruel, but they wanted to make sure they counted people at times when they could profit from it in taxes–and the Fall harvest, which was going on at the time of the Feast of Trumpets, shortly before the Feast of Tabernacles when Jews would have traveled together to Jerusalem anyway, was a good time for a census. The middle of winter, when it was miserable and cold and when sheep were in winter quarters and shepherds were not out in the pasture, was not a good time to make hundreds of thousands of people travel to one-horse towns like Bethlehem. Even the Romans were smarter than that.
So, I chuckled to myself and joked around with the cleaning lady when she sang “Joy To The World” to herself. For though it might seem a little bit unusual to sing such a song on such a day, to those who are aware it makes perfect sense. After all, if one wishes to honor the birth of Jesus Christ, why not do so at the season when He was actually born, rather than several months after His birthday. If one is going to keep birthdays, one at least ought to keep them correctly. No one is pleased when people celebrate their birthday three months late every year, after all.