Those of us who celebrate the Eight Days of Christmas (Twelve Days in the western church) still are rejoicing in the coming of our Savior. At the same time our minds are oriented to a new civil year, calendars, and dates on those calendars. So it seemed a good time of year to share the results of my studies over the years on the chronology of Christ's coming into the world.
The dates have been determined in the following manner: First, Saint Luke tells us that John the Baptist was conceived after Zechariah's priestly service during the Course of Abijah. We know from the Qumran Calendar contained in the Dead Sea Scrolls the exact times at which each of the 12 priestly families ministered in the Temple of Jerusalem. (See 1 Paralipomenon / 1 Chronicles 24, 7-18). The family of Abijah, of which Zechariah was a descendant, was required to officiate on the days 8-14 of the third month, and on the days 24-30 of the eighth month. This latter period fell at about the end of our September. With good reason the Byzantine calendar celebrates John's conception on September 23, and his birth nine months later, on June 24. Beginning with this, it is clear that when Gabriel came to Mary "in the sixth month," (Luke 1: 26) this was late March. The Church has always held March 25 as the date of the Annunciation; the incarnation of Our Lord. Jesus' birth took place nine months later to the day - a sign of his divine perfection - on Sunday, December 25.
Why 5 B.C.? We know from Josephus' Antiquities and other sources that Herod the Great died in the year now computed as 4 B.C. Hence our Lord must have been born before that time. The exact year of the census mentioned by St. Luke remains uncertain. However, if we assume the birth of Our Lord to have been born in 5 B.C., it fits well with the following considerations: that Jesus' baptism was when he was "about thirty years old" (Luke 3: 23); that Jesus' earthly life was thirty-three years (a universal tradition); and that he died in A.D. 30, exactly 40 years before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
As for the year of Jesus' baptism, Saint Luke tells us that John began to preach and baptize "in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar" (Luke 3: 1). Tiberius began his joint rule with Augustus in the Fall of A.D. 12; hence the fifteenth year would be from the Fall of A.D. 26 to the Fall of A.D. 27. Jesus was baptized well after John had begun his work. Tradition designates January 6 as the date of the baptism of Christ. This would then be in January A.D. 28. The 40 days in the wilderness would take us to February 25. This leaves time for the calling of the first disciples and the wedding at Cana prior to the first Passover mentioned by St. John (2: 13).
Saint John refers to three Passovers as the time structure within which Jesus fulfilled his work (John 2: 13; 6: 4; 11: 55). Thus the first was of A.D. 28, the second of A.D. 29, and the third of A.D. 30, when Jesus, at age 33, suffered his Passion and rose from the dead.
Finally, it was a common belief of the Fathers of the Church that Our Lord Jesus Christ died on the same day that He was conceived, March 25. Assuming this to be the truth, all the events from Palm Sunday to Pentecost may be dated with certainty.
September 23, 6 B.C. -- John the Baptist conceived, after Zechariah sees the Archangel Gabriel while executing his priestly office in the Course of Abijah.
Friday, March 25, 5 B.C. -- Jesus conceived by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation.
April 2, 5 B.C. -- Mary arrives at the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth in Ain Karim "in the hill country of Judea." John the Baptist sanctified in the womb. Mary proclaims the Magnificat.
June 24, 5 B.C. -- John the Baptist born. Zechariah proclaims the Benedictus.
July 2, 5 B.C. -- Following John’s circumcision, Mary departs to her home in Nazareth.
Sunday, December 25, 5 B.C. -- Jesus is born of the Virgin Mary in the Cave of Bethlehem. Angelic host sings Gloria in Excelsis to shepherds.
Sunday, January 1, 4 B.C. -- The Eighth Day: Jesus is circumcised.
February 2, 4 B.C. -- Jesus' Presentation in the Temple. The Ancient Simeon proclaims Nunc Dimitis and prophesies to the Holy Virgin: "Thy own soul a sword shall pierce."
Unknown date, early in 4 B.C. -- the Magi arrive in Bethlehem and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews; upon their departure the Holy Family takes flight into Egypt, escaping the wrath of Herod. (Speculative date for the visit of the Magi: February 12, the 50th day after the Nativity, an anticipation of Pentecost.)
Unknown date, Spring of 4 B.C. -- Herod the Great dies. The Holy Family returns "out of Egypt" to Nazareth.
Passover, A.D. 9 -- Jesus, age 12, remains behind in Jerusalem; after three days Mary finds him in the Temple among the teachers.
January 6, A.D. 28 -- Jesus, age 31, is baptized by John in the Jordan. The Mystery of the Trinity is revealed. Jesus immediately goes into the Judean wilderness for 40 days.
March, A.D. 28 -- Jesus calls his first disciples; he performs his first miracle, changing water into wine at the wedding in Cana.
Passover, A.D. 28 -- Jesus appears in the Temple and cleanses it for the first time. He proclaims to Nicodemus the absolute necessity of Baptism for entrance into his Church, the Kingdom of God on earth (John 3: 3-5).
Passover, A.D. 29 -- Activity in Jerusalem uncertain. Shortly before this Passover, Jesus delivers the Bread of Life discourse on the Eucharist in the synagogue at Capharnaum (John 6)
Passover, A.D. 30 – The Passion Week:
Sunday, March 20 -- Jesus, age 33, enters Jerusalem in triumph. He cleanses the Temple for the second time.
Thursday night, March 24 -- Jesus institutes the Eucharist. He suffers his Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Friday, March 25 -- Jesus is crucified and dies for the sins of the world. He is buried in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb.
Saturday, March 26 -- Jesus' body rests in the tomb; his spirit descends into hell (the part known as Abraham’s bosom) to proclaim release to the Old Testament Faithful.
Sunday, March 27 -- Jesus rises in glory and appears to his Mother, the ointment-bearing women, and the disciples.
Thursday, May 5 -- Jesus ascends into heaven, having commanded the disciples to baptize and teach all nations. The Old Testament Faithful enter into heaven behind him.
Sunday, May 15 -- Pentecost. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to the disciples gathered in Solomon's Porch of the Temple. The Church, led by Peter, begins with a harvest of three thousand souls baptized.