Calendars of the Ancient Near East

Access ancient Jewish, Babylonian, Assyrian, and Roman calendars to better understand the Bible

The two primary parameters that shape human thinking, regardless of culture, antiquity, or language, are space and time…spacetime for the physicists among us. It is difficult to understand any communication without a common understanding of these parameters. Such simple phrases as “See you tomorrow” require both parties to have a similar understanding of “tomorrow”.

The Bible records over 4,000 of history, from the earliest human settlements from Mesopotamia to Arabia to the cosmopolitan Roman Empire. It thus covers dozens of cultures, nations, and tribes, each with their own understanding of space and time. The Quran doesn’t do this, and neither do the Vedas, the Tripitaka, or any Sutra. The Bible stands alone – no other book is like it.

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Calendars, Cultures, and Politics

People follow calendars, but they also create and use them to advance their personal and political agendas.

In the absolute sense, time is dictated by the rhythms of nature as determined by the Creator. In the past it was viewed as the distance in history (as opposed to geography) between events. In that mindset, the idea of saving time was ludicrous. Time progressed at its own rate and rhythm and man could do nothing to change those realities. Ancients often wanted tasks to be quick and efficient just like moderns do, and for many of the same reasons, to maximize the duration of pleasant experiences and minimize that of unpleasant ones. However, in the ancient mind time was not like money, which could be stored. It had to be used.

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Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 1

Christmas Tree

Genesis 1:1, 11-12, 24‑31; Genesis 3:22-24

Hang your tree up today.

Plant life forms the basis of life on earth; providing oxygen, food, shade, building materials, fabrics, and fuel. Plants also remove waste products, including carbon dioxide, and other human and animal waste. Life on earth would be impossible without plants.

Trees are the largest and often considered the most noble of the plants. Evergreen trees such as spruce, pine, and fir, seem to live through all seasons. Trees have long been symbols of the life sustaining power of God. Our reading today reminds us of their fundamental role in Creation, finding ultimate expression in the Tree of Life.

Christmas is the celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, to earth. Jesus is the Creator of all things and the source of physical life. He is the perfect sacrifice for our sins and the fountain of living water providing eternal life for those who believe.

Do you know where the first Christmas tree came from? There are many theories, some reaching as far back as Saint Boniface (born 7th century, died 5 June 754). Trees had long been important in pagan worship in Northern Europe. Donar’s (Thor’s) Oak, located in the state of Hesse, was considered sacred by many in Germany. In a challenge to the pagan deities, Boniface began to chop down the oak, and suddenly a strong wind blew it over. When Boniface was not struck dead by the Germanic gods, the people rejected them and accepted Christianity.   They continued using trees in services, but rather than worshipping spirits in the trees they worshipped the One who made the trees.  

Another story tells us that one evening Martin Luther was walking home through a forest in Germany. As he looked up through the trees he saw a host of twinkling stars in the dark sky. He thought about the Star of Bethlehem. As he gazed at the stars framed so beautifully by the branches of the fir trees, Luther was filled with awe. He wished that he could take that lovely scene home to his family so he cut down a small fir tree, took it inside his house, and decorated it with tiny flickering candles.

Green is associated with life and living things. The shoots and signs of growth in spring remind us of the color green. The evergreen Christmas tree speaks of life that will never end.

As you put up your Christmas tree today. read of Saint Boniface and Martin Luther. Turn out the lights and sit in the dark quietly. Light a candle and have the Scripture read. First the passage in Genesis and then John 12:44‑50. Sing softly the German Christmas carol “O Christmas Tree.” Think about the gift of God, Jesus Christ, which has made our own everlasting life possible.

O Christmas Tree

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!
In beauty green will always grow
Through summer sun and winter snow.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
How lovely are your branches!

 

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
You are the tree most loved!
How often you give us delight
In brightly shining Christmas light!
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
You are the tree most loved!

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
Your beauty green will teach me
That hope and love will ever be
The way to joy and peace for me.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas tree,
Your beauty green will teach me.

O Tannenbaum

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter!
Du grünst nicht nur
zur Sommerzeit,
Nein auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter!

 

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!
Wie oft hat nicht zur Weihnachtszeit
Ein Baum von dir mich hoch erfreut!
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!

O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!
Dein Kleid will michwas lehren:
Die Hoffnung und Beständigkeit
Gibt Trost und Kraft zu jeder Zeit.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum!
Das soll dein Kleid mich lehren.

 

Advent Tree Family Devotions – Getting Started

Advent Devotional Tree ornaments 1 Advent Devotional Tree ornaments 2

Celebration #1 – The Advent Calendar

The season of Advent begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas and continues until Christmas Day. Traditionally, Advent calendars have had windows to open which mark the days between December 1 and Christmas Day.

This Advent calendar is based upon the idea of marking the days between those dates and using Christmas symbols to help us remember some of the significant events in the Christmas story and the history of our Lord’s life.

It is also based upon the idea of making a devotional calendar as a family to make this time of sharing each day a special part of the family’s celebration of Christmas.

These Advent decorations are historic symbols and are commonly used on Christmas trees. They were first designed and used by the earliest Christians and were found on jewelry, utensils, in the catacombs and in buildings. They are symbols used by the early church and by the church today to show the peoples’ faith in Jesus Christ. This faith is evident to all who view the symbols. They are always made in gold and white to symbolize majesty and purity.

We hope that as you make and use your Christmas Advent calendar, you and your family will more fully experience and enjoy Christmas, and create memories that will endure for generations. As we were created in God’s image to be creative, let your ability find full expression as you create your decorations together.

Each day there is a Bible reading and a devotional reading.  On most days, a Christmas carol follows the readings.  It is not necessary to read every Bible passage or sing every verse listed, but only as many as time and inclination allows.  Share the opportunity to read the Bible, read the devotion, and lead the carol, among family and friends.  Consider using these in church or in Bible studies. 

Our family enjoys sharing the devotions around a table or in a living room bright with Christmas lights and candles.  Sometimes we have egg nog or hot cocoa with Christmas cookies.  

The Advent Calendar and Symbols

There are several ways to make the Advent calendar. You may use paper, felt or other fabrics or materials, and adorn your decorations with sequins, beads and pearls and other trimmings.

Steps to follow:

1. Enlarge the tree pattern onto newspaper or a paper bag.  Cut your tree from green felt, construction paper, or some other material.

2.  Choose an appropriate neutral color for the background if you wish to make your tree and calendar into a banner.  Otherwise you will need to hang the tree from the top to the wall.

3. Using white and gold paper or felt, trace around the patterns or cut them right from the book and use them as a pattern.

4. When you are finished with the decorations, if you choose felt, decorate with sequins, beads and other trim as desired. Make them as fancy or ornate as possible for this is part of the symbolism.

5. If you make your decorations from paper, draw in some of the details as for example on the grapes, shell, etc.

6. There are two ways to attach the decorations to the tree. You can use velcro or snaps (for the felt only). Glue the velcro dots to the back of the decoration and to appropriate places on your tree (the ends of the branches and along a trim line (either imaginary or one you have glued on) Rickrack works great for this.

7. You will need 23 envelopes. Number these and put the appropriate decoration in each one.

8. Each day read one of more of the Scripture passages given, and then read the devotion.  Afterward, remove the decoration from the envelope, and attach it to the tree.

9. On Christmas Day the devotion to read does not include putting a decoration on the tree, but rather refers back to several that have already been affixed to the tree.

10. On Day 1, hang the tree and begin the observance. On all the other days, attach the decoration to the tree.

11. You may make all the decorations in advance or make them one at a time, each day, as your family chooses. If you choose to make them each day, be sure to allow enough time to complete the each one before reading the devotion. It is a good idea to have the patterns cut out in advance.

Supplies you will need – paper, pencil, scissors, eraser, large piece of green felt or construction paper 12 x 18″, large piece of white and gold paper or felt, velcro snaps (if using felt and velcro is not desired) glue sequins, beads, pearls, etc. needle and thread, rickrack and/or other gold trims, small silk flowers (for felt decorations), piece of ¼ or 1/8″ doweling to hang tree if a banner is made.