There’s nothing quite like spending New Year’s Eve and Day in Israel. Offices, shops, schools and even the streets teem with business as usual. Knowing the world’s secular year changes by a digit each January 1, Israeli society nevertheless revolves more around the Biblical than Gregorian calendar. It’s unusually refreshing.
The Biblical calendar is lunar based, as were most ancient calendars. God identifies the new year on that calendar as Nisan 1 (Exodus 12). But after Israel’s exile, and to coincide with the Babylonian calendar, a secular new year began to be observed on the Feast of Trumpets. As a result the day is now known as Rosh HaShanah (“Head of the Year”). Rosh HaShanah, however, does not coincide with God’s appointed new year.
The ancient Romans had their own calendar, which by New Testament times developed into the solar based Julian calendar. In the Julian calendar, months and days of the year are named after pagan deities and legendary demigods. Those same names are used around the world today.
In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII adjusted the Julian calendar to ensure Christians would always celebrate Easter on the date set by the Church Council of Nicea. The Council of Nicea had intentionally separated Easter from Passover, Unleavened Bread and First Fruits in 325. Their stated purpose was to distance the Church from any Jewish observance or practice.* Disconnecting Messiah’s resurrection from the spring feasts, which at that time were still observed by churchgoing Messianic Jews and some Gentile converts, would help accomplish their goal. From this perspective, it might be said the core reason for today’s calendar is to intentionally disengage from God’s calendar.
Perhaps that is why, like me, you might feel a slight twinge of sadness at the well meaning phrase, “Happy New Year”. The expression reminds me of how very few will acknowledge YHVH as Head of the next twelve months. Instead, too many will welcome January 1 in an alcohol induced stupor or as sad victims of drunk driving – if they survive a drunk driving episode at all.
In light of historic and present new year realities, how can you and I live authentically for Messiah in this world – but not be of it? Personally, I depend on God’s grace to temper that small, sad “Happy New Year” twinge with a sincere blessing back of “Happy, Holy New Year.” Usually I add an appropriate word about His love. Not because I believe January 1 is in fact His holy new year. And not to acknowledge pagan deities or the severance of biblically Jewish roots of Christianity. But I do believe the release of Holy Spirit blessing over people is greater and can break the enemy’s yoke.
Romans 14:5 offers important guidance relevant to the secular new year: “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” In that spirit, many churches gather on December 31 to dedicate the new year to God. To be sure, these worship gatherings do not take place on the Biblical New Year. However, offering the world’s new year to YHVH can certainly serve Kingdom purposes and amount to effective spiritual warfare.
An often overlooked Scripture also encourages me this time of year. Acts 28 describes Paul’s final journey to Rome. Luke, the author of Acts, makes special note that one of the ships they boarded was “an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux” (Acts 28:11). Castor and Pollux were worshiped as the sons of Zeus. No other ship is described in Acts, which could suggest the apostolic travelers had some concern about sailing on a vessel dedicated to idols. Whether or not they did, the takeaway point is they boarded the ship without a fuss – and without sin. They probably told everyone aboard the good news of salvation. Their actions help show us how to live joyful and holy lives in this world, but not be of it. Meanwhile, we look forward to the day when God’s calendar governs the earth, ushering in glorious, global blessing!
* Eusebius. “Life of Constantine (Book III)”, 337 AD.