The Day of Atonement, Passover, and Epiphany may seem like three strange Feast to be linked together when talking about the birth of Jesus. Bear with me as I explain their connection.
I know it is a good thing that God is a “God Who hides Himself” and did not give us exact dates for everything that occurred. “He concealed things” so we could search them out. Luke or Matthew could have given us “better” timestamps but Holy Spirit stopped them. But Luke did give us some very important calendar dates.
Jewish timekeeping is different than Western thought, it was started by God in the Garden. (another post on time) The Biblical day starts in the evening and goes to daylight. This thought is consistent in the Bible as there are many examples of things going from dark to light. The Jewish religious month is lunar-based; they would add an extra month when needed to keep them in line with the revolution of the earth. In the Book of Leviticus, the major feasts are set in this framework of months.
Day of Atonement
This important day, for the Jews, of fasting, prayer, and repentance is explained in Leviticus 16. In Leviticus 23: 26 its time is given as the tenth day of the seventh month. In Luke we find Zachariah, John’s father, doing the offering of incense behind the Veil in the Second Temple. Luke 1: 23 had him finish “his time of service” before going home. This possibly was until the end of the month, so he was with Elizabeth in the eighth month. She stayed secluded for five months. (I am not trying to do days or exact times, those belong to God!)
Luke 1:26 has the “sixth month” for Mary’s visit with Gabriel. That should be the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, which makes it the first month of the Jewish year, the month of Passover! The Father is a God of order. It would seem fitting to “birth” Jesus in Mary at Passover. That would put Jesus’ “coming out party” with the angels and shepherds in the December/January time frame (Julian Calendar) of the month of Tevet. (see the calendar below)
From ancient times (before the fourth century) the 6th of January has carried special importance in the Church! Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Testament to Freedom, pgs. 504-5 talks about Epiphany. I read it in a compilation called God is in the Manger. On page 90, he talks about four events associated with that date – the birth of Jesus, His baptism, the wedding of Cana, and the arrival of the Magi. Traditions are frequently built on fact. Some of these I will not try to defend or deny, but it sure is interesting. (Again, I am not trying to be dogmatic in writing this.)
Tevet is the Jewish tenth month. The root of the word comes from tov or nine. The meaning of the word is “good”. If you look in Psalm 119: 65 – 72, the ninth section of that acrostic psalm you will find the idea of good four times in the NIV. (I did an alternative to how Psalm 119 is written.)
Matthew, in his telling of the Christmas story, injects that the Wise Men had seen the star two years earlier (Herod killed the babies two and under.). He gives no timestamp, but if it was on Jesus’ birthday (Passover) when they found Him, it would fit.
Okay, I will go out on a limb here, because I know the Father is a God of order! Jesus’ return with Mary and Joseph from Egypt should have been at the same time as the Exodus (Passover). I will inch a little further out and say that Jesus’ baptism with John coincided with the anniversary of the “baptism” of the people in the Red Sea.
For you scholars out there, in Joy To The World by Scott Hahn on page 162, he has a small discussion about Epiphany and gives references. To be honest, I have read his book several times and do not remember ever seeing this discussion. (Rereading is never a problem.) I like the way the times and feast fit together, and it gives me a reason to reflect on Epiphany. One day in Heaven I will have to ask how close I was to being correct.