Datafile: CalendarsBy Nathan Mates
Although angels heralded the birth of Jesus Christ [Luke 2:8-15], most of the world's population took no notice. There were no huge public gatherings counting down the seconds until midnight, Times Square didn't have a huge ball dropping, nor were there cartoons of young and old characters to ring in the year. Quite simply, almost nobody noticed the birth of Jesus except for a few parties involved-- Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, King Herod, and some magi.
The main emphasis of Jesus's ministry would come some 30 years later as he left his job helping his father, Joseph, in the family occupation (carpentry), and preached, healed, and ultimately died on the cross, rising again three days later. Most in the early church felt the same way, concentrating more on Jesus's teachings, death and resurrection than the precise day he was born-- there is no record of anyone celebrating 'Christmas' (as it would come to be called) in the New Testament, but the Lord's Supper is remembered throughout the New Testament. [See Acts 2:42, 1 Corinthians 10:16, 1 Corinthians 11:23-34]
It wasn't until centuries later that someone planned a calendar around Jesus's life. See http://astro.nmsu.edu/~lhuber/leaphist.html for more detail on calendars, but a sixth-century monk named Dionysius Exiguus (aka 'Dennis the Short', which may refer to physical height or humility) tried to calculate a calendar based around Jesus's birth. Time was split between 'BC'-- Before Christ, and 'AD' (Latin: Anno Domini, aka in the year of the Lord). As the concept of 'zero' had not made it into the numbering system, January 1, 1 AD was the start of the AD era. A second before midnight, January 1, 1AD was December 31, 1BC.
The problem was that although this system was adopted and used, it was based in incorrect math. Most scholars believe that Jesus was really born about 4-6 years before 1AD. This is partly based on doing the calculations of the Romans emperors better than Dionysius Exiguus, and also Luke's comment "(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)" [Luke 2:2] Quirinius was in office from 6-4BC, and then 6-9AD, and the previous time period fits better with the records.
Further, the traditional date of December 25 for a birthday is possibly wrong. All the Bible has to say about the date is as follows: "And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night." [Luke 2:8] This may be a reference to the season when lambs were born-- March/April, or it may be simply to guard against thieves.
Many have focused on the end of this calendar year as something special, something to be partied over, or something to be feared. Like people watching an odometer, people have become fixated on the triple-zero on the year, and consider that the millennium. While I consider this really something of an irrelevant issue in the big picture, I will be pedantic and say that 1/1/2000 is not the change of the millennium. Others (Hi mom!) disagree.
First off, if Jesus was really born sometime 4-6BC, then 2000 years past then happened several years ago, without much notice by anyone. But, as we're stuck with the (incorrect) date of January 1, 1AD, do the math from there. What is one day past that date? January 2, 1AD. What is one year past that date? January 1, 2AD. 5 years past that date? January 1, 6AD. 10 years past? January 1, 11AD. 50 years past? January 1, 51AD. 100 years past? January 1, 101AD. Notice the pattern yet? 1000 years past is January 1, 1001AD, and 2000 years past that date is January 1, 2001AD. Simple math.
But, the public appears fixated on the end of this year as the changeover, which is mathematically incorrect. Some unsaved programmer friends I've talked with about this event had this reaction: "Party twice! Once on 12/31/1999 and once on 12/31/2000" As 12/31/1999 falls on a Friday, I feel that the biggest problems we'll have as a society will be that a lot of people may not be sober until the following Monday.
It is a sign of the times [2 Timothy 3:1-5] that most of this world has taken a significant event-- the son of God taking on human form and being born-- and turned it into an excuse to party. As is said every Christmas, "Jesus is the reason for the season." How true that is for the end of this year, and yet the most important questions tend to be buried by the world. The question that should be asked is not what your plans are for one particular evening, but how's your relationship with God? That's the message that should be spread this season.