It is New Year’s Eve and everywhere throughout the world celebrations are planned as the New Year 2011 is upon us. You can be sure that large signs will flash “2011!!!” and “Happy New Year!” But why is New Year’s January 1st and why do we call this 2011? Time, and our understanding of our place in it are mysterious and historically complex, but many answers to how we designate time in the western world are very Catholic and Christian. And, although most consider New Years to be a very secular holiday I would like to explore the religious roots as well, for they are many. I blogged on this a bit last year so you may find some of these reflections familiar but I have also updated them a bit to reflect some of the comments you made last year. So let’s just reflect a bit on time which is so significant for us tonight and tomorrow.
Why is this year designated 2011? It is clear that the world and human history stretch back much farther than that 2,010 years. What we are announcing this year is that it is 2011 Anno Domini(usually abbreviated A.D. and meaning “the year of the Lord). What this most clearly means is that it is 2,011 years since the Birthof Jesus Christ. Christ at his birth and through his passion, death and resurrection ushered in a new era for the world. The Christian West acknowledged this fact quite radically by resetting the calendars. As far as we know, the AD system was developed by a monk named Dionysius Exiguus in Rome in 525, as an outcome of his work on calculating the date of Easter. It was especially at the time of Charlemagne (8thCentury) that the AD dating system become widespread in Western Europe. However, the calculations as to the exact year of Christ’s birth were not perfect and today, by surveying history and the data of Scripture it now seems rather more certain that Christ was born closer to what we call today 6 B.C! Nevertheless the current dating system remains a reference to Jesus Christ. Even the most secular of people calculate their place in time by Jesus Christ. Every letter that is dated, every check that is written, every appointment that is made is swept up into the life of Christ! Let us hope that the ACLU or some militant atheist group will want to tamper with the calendar. It is already a fact that many secularists and scholars who want to avoid “offending” by referencing Christ in any way and have begun to abandon the BC/AD system in favor of a BCE/CE system (Before the Common Era/Common Era). Well, even if they want to try and call it something else that “2011” still has Christ for its reference point.
- But if 2011 is a reference to the Birth of Christ why do our dates change on January 1st and not December 25th? There are likely two things at work here. It would seem that the Ancient Romans had fixed what we call today January 1st at the first Day of their New Year. But this still leaves the question as to why Christian Europe when setting the calculation of the year to Christ’s Birth did not also switch New Years day to December 25th. The answer to this seems rooted in what we discussed yesterday regarding the Christmas octave. Most people think that Christmas Day is one day called December 25th. That is not accurate. It is the Catholic practice that we celebrate the “Octave” of Christmas. (We do the same thing with Easter). So important is this feast that we celebrate it for eight whole days (Dec 25,26,27,28,29,30,31, Jan 1). But the “Octave” is really considered one long day. Upon the completion of this long day, on January 1 the Birth”day” of Christ is complete and our calendars advance to the next year. Hence it is fortunate that the Ancient Roman practice of January 1 and the Christian notion of the Octave both coincide to have New Years day on January 1. January 1st is really the completion of Christmas Day, marking another Birthday of Christ and thus the year advances.
- So there are strong Catholic Christian components for the celebration of New Years and in the Date we write on every check and how we understand our place in time. Surely we owe the Jews as well for our seven day weeks for it is the Old Testament that records the 7 days of creation, though interestingly enough many ancient cultures seem also to have a seven day cycle. It almost seems written in human nature. The sun of course gives us the length of our days and the years. The moon gives us our months for “month” is just a mispronunciation of moon – as in, “what “moonth” are we in?”
- Now to be sure there ARE other designations out there a to what year we are in. For the Jews whole celebrate their New Year (Rosh Hashana) in September it is the year 5771. The Chinese reckon this year as 4708, 4707, or 4647 depending on what system they use. Arabic reckoning makes this the year 1432 (AH). They start their count based on the number of years since Muhammad completed his journey to Medina. Despite the existence of these and other systems, it is the Christocentric date that really unites the world, it’s the common point of reference.
Some one once said that Jesus is Lord of History since history is “his-story”
An interesting calendar matter places Jesus in the US Constitution. It is usually claimed by secularists that God is nowhere mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. Actually He is, right at the very end there is a clear reference to Jesus:
Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth. In Witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names:
Notice, “the year of OUR Lord.” Not even just “the year of THE Lord.” That would offend secularists enough, but they went further and described 1787 as the year of “our” Lord. Some will say, “Well that’s just how they talked then.” But that is just the point. The Founding Fathers did not hesitate to use this expression because they did not have the idea that the public square had to be a “religion-free zone.” The Constitution does not provide freedom FROM religion, it provides freedom FOR religion.
I wish you a very blessed and happy Year of our Lord 2010!
When I was a kid I used to love these Moody Bible Institute films on faith and science. I spliced a couple of excerpts here from the one on the Mystery of Time. Please consider watching this 5 minute video. I don’t think you’ll regret that you did. It really spells out the mystery of time which we focus on today.