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In Luke 2, we get a narration of events surrounding the birth of Jesus. The angels announce the Nativity to the shepherds who are watching over the sheep in fields, mentioning the Town of David as the location and the time of the Nativity as ' today '( Lk 2:11) In Biblical times when the concept of 24-hours' day was not in vogue, day and night were separately counted (Mtt 12:40). The shepherds go to Bethlehem to see the Child (Lk 2:15 ) and return after spreading the news (Lk 2:17-2O) implying that they stayed put in Bethlehem much through the day. It is therefore, possible that Jesus was born in day- time, the news was disclosed to the shepherds after sundown, they set out to Bethlehem early next morning and retuned during the day. But then, Christmas is celebrated in Vigil Service between 24 th and 25 th December, implying that Jesus was born at midnight. The practice perhaps owes its origin more to tradition than to scriptural narratives. My question, therefore , is : Was Jesus actually born at midnight ? Inputs from scholars of any denomination are welcome.

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    Is the intended implication of the midnight service that Jesus was born at midnight? I always just assumed it was to celebrate the date at the earliest possible time Jun 13, 2023 at 3:27
  • Well, the hymns and texts of prayers also mention night , as in 'Silent Night, Holy Night....' Jun 13, 2023 at 3:33

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Neither Matthew nor Luke give the time, but He was probably born at night.

The Jews measured a day from sundown to sundown, so "today" is the period from the last sundown to the next sundown.

The announcement is given to the shepherds at night:

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. (Luke 2:8)

The angel says He will be born "this day" (i.e. between last sundown and next sundown):

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11)

They went quickly:

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. (Luke 2:15-16)

The hills outside of Bethlehem are only a few miles from the (likely) site of Jesus' birth. The shepherds are told during the night that the Savior is/was born "this day", they decide to set out right away, and when the shepherds arrive a short time later, Jesus has already been born. And since He's lying in a manger, not in His mother's arms, the shepherds didn't arrive moments after the birth, but more likely several hours later.

Unless we really stretch the meaning of "haste", the shepherds are there before dawn or very shortly thereafter, and Jesus is already a few hours old.

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  • HTTR, Luke 1:39 says " In those days, Mary went in haste ....to visit Elizabeth". So, the use of haste to express an immediate reaction, may not be measured in minutes or hours , and could stretch to days together. Jun 13, 2023 at 5:29
  • HTTR, you seem to suggest that Nativity was announced to the shepherds in advance. Can you elaborate ? Jun 13, 2023 at 5:35
  • @KadalikattJosephSibichan to visit Elisabeth, Mary had to travel nearly 100 miles. To visit the babe in the manger, the shepherds probably traveled less than 5 miles. Quickly making preparations for a 100 mile journey would take considerably longer than quickly making preparations to travel 5. I added 1 more verse to my answer for clarity. Jun 13, 2023 at 5:35
  • @KadalikattJosephSibichan I used is/was because the angel doesn't say if Jesus has been born already this day, or He will be born this day. I think it more likely that He had already been born when the angelic announcement was given. Jun 13, 2023 at 5:38
  • Thanks. I stand corrected. As for the determining the start and end of the day, there are different schools of thought. Going by Genesis Ch 1, the day ended with sunrise. However, Jn 19:38 indicates that Day of Sabbath commenced with sundown of the immediately preceding day. Jun 13, 2023 at 6:11

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