The timing of the annunciation

Tomorrow is the feast of the Annunciation, and it falls exactly nine months before Christmas. Those familiar with the standard theories on the origin of Christmas being on December 25 may be surprised to know that this theory (i.e., Christmas supplanted a pagan feast) has another theory challenging it, which I find more persuasive.

The theory is simple: the rabbis often spoke of the Passover/Pesach as having been the date on which almost every significant event in the history of the universe took place or would take place, from the Creation to the coming Day of the Lord. Now the early Christians knew that the Passover was the day in which the crucifixion happened, and the time of the Passover was when Jesus rose from the dead, so they also believed that the very important day on which the Word was conceived in human form by Mary’s yes would happen to be on the Passover.

By some process of working backward, they figured out that this particular Passover when the annunciation began on March 25. Just add a perfect nine-month pregnancy (for God is perfect) and you get December 25!

When I learned of this years ago, it taught me two things. First, we have underestimated how important the discourse of continuity to Judaism was to Christians. Second, there are always ways to counter the polemic about the feast of Christmas (and indeed anything of that ilk) with good scholarship.

The feast of the Annunciation reminds us that indeed God saves us, but it takes our cooperation and commitment to make this salvation happen in our lives. Mary committed herself, and that is why she is blessed among women.


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