December 27, 2010

An Old New Year's Tradition

No, I’m not planning on writing an article about champagne, Auld Lang Syne, or New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. Believe it or not, there are a few New Year’s traditions that are even older than Dick Clark! Specifically, I’m thinking of one that comes from the Bible.

I know, I know … the people of biblical times were working on a different calendar than we are – different months, different dates, and so on. In fact, they celebrated the New Year in the spring, rather than in the dead of winter (which makes far more sense, to me by the way!). But, nevertheless, the ancient Hebrews, like ourselves, had a day on which they recognized the beginning of a brand new year. And God gave them a tradition which, although our dates are different, we would do well to make a New Year’s custom of our own.

Did you ever notice that, when God brought His people out of their slavery in Egypt, He re-worked their calendar? That’s what we’re told in Exodus 12.2: “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you.” In other words: ‘What I am about to do for you is so significant that I’m going to completely change the way you think about days and months and years. You are going to begin to date your calendars, not first of all by the heavenly bodies, as by the time when the Heavenly King came down to deliver you from your slavery.’ That is the point in Exodus 12.2. God changed the calendar so that the New Year fell right around the anniversary of the Exodus. And, thus, the New Year became, for the Jewish people, a constant reminder of how God had saved them from their enslavement.

And, fittingly, their most high and holy holiday – Passover – was to be celebrated in that very first month of the year! This was the day on which an unblemished lamb was sacrificed in each Jewish home in order to remind them of how God had rescued them that night in Egypt, by the blood of an unblemished lamb. That night, back in Egypt, when the angel of death was passing through the land of Egypt, taking the life of each firstborn male, the blood of a lamb on a family’s doorpost caused the angel to ‘pass over’ that home and spare the child. The lamb died so that the child might live! And, I say fittingly, God placed the commemoration of that night right in the beginning of the New Year!

So then (and here’s the point) – if the Hebrews were to ring in the New Year by commemorating God’s deliverance by the blood of the lamb, wouldn’t we also do well to ring in our New Year by remembering “precious blood” (1 Peter 1.19), “as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ”?

In effect – by shifting the calendar around to commemorate the Exodus; and by placing the most important religious festival in the Bible (a picture of the gospel!) in the first month of the year … what God seems to have been saying to the Israelites was something like this: ‘Celebrate the New Year by remembering the blood shed for you!’ And the application for us is, perhaps, something similar: Ring in the new year, not so much by asking: “Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?” but by asking: “Should the blood of the Lamb be forgot and never brought to mind?” Or, as William Rees, the Welsh hymn-writer put it:
Who His love shall not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten,
throughout heav’n’s eternal days!
There’s a New Year’s song for you! And, O, how important that we remember that God has given us times and seasons and months and dates for a purpose – so that we would have mile-markers along the way to remind us of times gone by, and to cause us to reflect, and resolve, and take stock, and so on. And, in the biblical pattern, the first month of the year was a time of special remembrance of salvation purchased with precious blood. And, if the Hebrews could ring in the year with the blood of lambs, how much more should we remember, in these days, “the blood of Christ”?

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