January 21, 2021
Imagine a person carving a piece of wood. As the carving takes shape, it becomes clear that it is an image of a person, or maybe an animal. Once the carving is complete, the person puts it up on a pedestal and bows down to it. They tell you that it is their god, and that it has the power to make their lives good or bad. What would you think? Wouldn’t you find it ridiculous that someone would attribute power to something they clearly made themselves?
In the book of Isaiah, God is not shy about making fun of people who bow down to something they themselves created:
Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill… From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me; you are my god.” …No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, “Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?” —Isaiah 44:16-19
It’s laughable, isn’t it? Who would be silly enough to think that something they invented would have any kind of spiritual power?
Right now we’re hearing a lot of people expressing relief that the year 2020 is over, and hope that for some reason, 2021 will have to be better. But did you ever stop to ask, why do we call it the year 2020? Who said that the year 2020 began last January 1st, and that it ended on December 31st? The answer is: we did.
We called it the year 2020 because a monk who lived in the 6th century (500+ years AFTER Jesus lived) calculated the year Jesus was born to be the year we now call AD 1. But he calculated wrong. He believed Jesus was born 753 years after the foundation of Rome, but he was off by several years. We know this because the Gospels tell us that Christ was born under Herod the great, who died in 4 B.C. So Jesus was actually born somewhere around 2025 years ago or so. The number 2020 doesn’t mean anything.
We start a new year on January 1st because the Roman emperor Julius Caesar decided we would. When he invented a calendar in 46 B.C., he started the year in January because that month is named after the Roman god Janus, who was believed to have two faces, one looking behind and one looking ahead. Before Caesar, many cultures started their years around the days we call March 21st (the vernal equinox), September 21st (the autumnal equinox), or December 21st (the winter solstice). All of these are a more logical time to begin a year than January 1st. January 1st is arbitrary. It doesn’t mean anything.
It was God who decided that the earth would complete a revolution around the sun every 365 ¼ days. But it was people who did the rest. We picked the day the year would start; we numbered the years. We decided that some months would be 30 days long, and some 31, and one 28 (because…?). We created a system. We carved it out with our own two hands. It is our invention.
When we treat the year 2020 as if it had some kind of personality, some kind of will or power over our lives, we are giving a lot of credit to something that is completely made up. We are being as silly as the person who carves a statue and then bows down to it. We live in a superstitious world, but as followers of Jesus Christ we can do better than superstition. We know (or we should) that the movements of the stars and planets have no power over us. In the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul expressed his concern for believers who had drifted from the truth of the Gospel and were falling back into pagan practices:
“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.”—Galatians 4:8-11
Paul knows that when believers start thinking that the calendar has power over them, they are forgetting about the power of the cross. In His death and resurrection, Jesus showed that He is completely superior to all the lesser powers of this world. Even sin and death are no match for him. This world bows down to gods of all shapes and sizes, but when we trust Jesus, we are no longer at the mercy of those other forces, either real spiritual powers or silly human superstitions. We are at Christ’s mercy. Our lives are defined by His grace, His wisdom, His goodness.
So here is the good news: at midnight on January 1st, 2021, absolutely nothing happened. There was no magical switch that was flipped at that moment. The quality of your life in this next year will not be determined by whether 2021 decides to be nicer to us than 2020, or some other such nonsense. You are in Christ’s hands. He is the One who made the earth and the sun and the stars, who formed you in your mother’s womb. He is the One who offered Himself on the cross to reconcile you to your Heavenly Father and purchase eternal life for you. He will be yours, and you will be His, long after we are done calculating our years based on the whims of Caesar and monks who are bad at math. And between now and then, we can trust Him for tomorrow, whatever the calendar says.