Christianity and New Year’s Day
A: There’s no Biblical significance to this day. We inherited our date for beginning the new year from the Roman calendar. The Old Testament’s Hebrew calendar was based upon the lunar cycle, not the solar that we use while the early New Testament Church accommodated itself to whatever calendar was used in a particular area.
However, once the Church decided that the birth of Christ would be remembered on 25 December, the date certainly took on religious significance. The eighth day of Christmas falls on 1 January. Since Hebrew boy children were to be circumcised on their eighth day, we commemorate the Circumcision and Name of Jesus (see Luke 2:21). Both of these are important, the naming because He received the “Name that is above every name, (Philippians 2:9)” the name that was also His “job description,” since Jesus means “He saves.”
His birth in human flesh meant that our Lord was “born under the law (Galatians 4:4)” — that is, the general moral law to which all mankind was subject. His circumcision placed Him in the Abrahamic Covenant, making Him also subject to the Mosaic Law. As the “new Adam,” Jesus perfectly kept the law that our first parent transgressed and that is written into every person’s heart (cf. Romans 5:12-21).
As the “perfect Israel,” He never departed from the fullness of the law that was handed down through Moses to God’s chosen people at Sinai — the law against which Israel continually sinned. We see from various events in His life that Jesus “reenacted” major parts of Israel’s history, showing Himself as Israel’s Redeemer. His flight to Egypt with His parents to flee Herod and subsequent return paralleled Jacob’s family moving to Egypt during the famine and then being brought out in the Exodus. His baptism echoed the Red Sea crossing while the forty days of testing in the Wilderness remind us of the forty years Israel spent in the Wilderness before entering the Promised Land.
So yes, this day is quite significant to the Christian. It praises the saving name of Jesus, celebrates His perfect obedience to the entirety of God’s holy Law, and remembers the first token of His blood sacrifice that would be completed years later on the cross. Several hymns sing of some or all of these blessings. These include Jesus! Name of Wondrous Love, O Blessed Day When First Was Poured, To the Name of Our Salvation, and The Ancient Law Departs. Consider how these words confess His name:
Jesus! Name of wondrous love
Name all other names above,
Unto which must ev’ry knee
Bow in deep humility.
Note then how He took the weight of the Law upon Himself and fulfilled the covenant that God established:
The ancient Law departs,
And all its fears remove,
For Jesus makes with faithful hearts
A covenant of love.
Ponder finally upon His first blood sacrifice:
O blessèd day when first was poured
The blood of our redeeming Lord!
O blessèd day when Christ began
His saving work for sinful man!
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.
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