Sunday, January 8
“The Year of Our Lord 2017”
Here is a brief summary of how we got our year number: Some time around the year we call “A.D. 525”— that is, close to 1,500 years ago— a monk in Rome named Dionysius Exiguus (Dennis Little) obeyed an order from the Pope to calculate how many years had passed since Jesus was born. He must have worked hard, figuring the lengths of the reigns of various Roman Emperors and other historical events. Finally, he arrived at an answer: “Jesus was born five hundred and twenty five years ago.”
It took a few hundred more years before this new way of naming each year became the norm in the Christian world. We began to use the abbreviation “A.D.” for the Latin expression Anno Domini, which means “the Year of Our Lord.” So, this year is called “A.D. 2017.”
Modern historians have come to understand that Little Dionysius was off by a few years in his calculations. Based on Matthew 2, we know that Jesus was born before King Herod ‘The Great’ died, and we now know that Herod died in the year which our system would number as “4 B.C.” (Before Christ). Thus, if we really want to say which Year of Our Lord we are entering— precisely how many years have passed since Jesus was actually born—, we might have to call this, ‘A.D. 2021’ or ‘A.D. 2022’ !
But, spiritually speaking, every year belongs to God. And Jesus Christ is the Judge over all people and everything that we do during all years. As Peter told his new friends in the home of the Roman centurion Cornelius, “he is the One ordained by God as Judge of the living and the dead.” (Acts 10:42)
On January 1st at Bethel, we took part in a service in which we renewed our covenant with God. One element of the service was committing to be God’s obedient, faithful servants. We said, “Let me be Your servant, under Your command. I will no longer be my own. I will give up myself to Your will in all things.”
The Bible speaks a lot about being servants of God. In our reading this week from Isaiah 42, we have the first of Isaiah’s famous prophecies about God calling His “servant.”
“Here is My servant, whom I uphold,
My chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put My spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations....
“I am the LORD,
I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness."
Isaiah 42:1, 6-7
Over the past two thousand years, Christians have looked through these words of God’s calling and seen Jesus Christ. Certainly, Jesus Christ fulfills these words. They are clearly echoed by the voice of God over Jesus’ baptism: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) These words speak to us of our Savior who sets us free from sin and who heals us.
When Isaiah originally gave this prophecy, hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, he may have been picturing his nation, the descendants of Jacob, as “the servant of the LORD.” Isaiah saw God calling them home from the places where they had suffered exile, to return and once again give glory to God by being obedient.
When we confront these words of God’s calling, now, in the year we call “A.D. 2017,” can we see them as God calling us to servanthood ?
If we take seriously Jesus’ commands to his followers, we know that he wants us to continue and expand his work. “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”
And the same gospel according to Matthew which tells us about the visit of the magi to the baby Jesus, and about how Jesus was baptized, also gives us the Great Commission: after Jesus was raised from the dead, he told his followers, “Go... and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
God’s servants in A.D. 2017 have work to do !