In our circles, we have often considered the importance of having our times and seasons defined in relation to Jesus Christ. The only alternative to this is to have them defined in reference to someone or something else, and this is obviously an unacceptable alternative to all faithful Christians. Jesus Christ really has been established as the king of all heaven and earth. Older businesses will oftentimes flag the fact of their establishment with a statement like Est. 1894. The dating of Christmas 2018 tells us the same kind of thing, which is that the new heavens and the new earth are under construction, and have been for just over 2,000 years.
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this”(Is. 9: 6-7).
Summary of the Text:
There are many things to note in this glorious text, and it is right that we are reminded of them on many Christmas cards. The message of Christmas is politically incendiary, when you think about it, and it is not for nothing that secularists are trying hard to get us to forget Jesus with their new dating system of C.E. (Common Era) and B.C.E. (Before Common Era), and seasonal conifers instead of Christmas trees. Nice try, but we aren’t buying any.
We were not given a son who aspired to have the government be on His shoulder, and good luck to Him. The result of His coming is promised just as surely as His coming was, and that result was that the “government shall be upon his shoulder.” According to the prophecy, this government will be established in fact (as it was 2,000 years ago), and the growth and increase of that government will necessarily be inexorable. “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.” Another way of saying this is that there will be no stopping it. His government will not be manifested all at once because the prophecy describes it as needing to be ordered and established with judgment and justice. That is done gradually. But this necessarily will happen, and we have the assurance that God is zealous to accomplish this.
And so this is Christmas—a cornerstone in the building of a new humanity, a new heaven and a new earth.
A moment’s reflection should reveal that the new calendar system was not instituted by Herod the Great just after the wise men got away, or by Caesar Augustus. So when did this happen?And who did it? Anyone who has read Herodotus knows that the Scythians were a rough bunch, a reputation that may be reflected in the New Testament (Col.3:11). But by the 5th century, there was a thriving Christian church in Scythia, and at that time there was a Scythian monk named Dennis. The ancient form of that name would have been Dionysus. Because that name was so common then, he took the nickname of Exiguus. And so you are now introduced to Dennis the Insignificant, who, as the providence of God would have it, was one of the most significant figures of church history. He moved to Rome around 500 A.D. and he was the one who proposed that the calendar system be changed to date everything from the birth of Jesus Christ.
In his calendar, the New Year was the 25th of March (the Feast of the Annunciation), ninth months before Christmas. After all, that is when the Incarnation happened. So for a thousand years, the Christian New Year was March 25, and it was not moved to January 1 until Pope Gregory XIII reformed the calendar once more in 1582. But one of the things that was not changed was the central idea of dating from the life of Christ.
And of course, we now know that Jesus was born in 4 B.C. and not four years later. We know this because the death of Herod the Great, who tried to kill Jesus in His infancy, died in 4 B.C. But Dennis didn’t know that particular fact, and besides, the issue is symbol, not simple reenactment.
Symbols and Failed Symbols:
Several centuries before Dionysus, the emperor Diocletian revealed himself as a serious megalomaniac by trying to change the dating system to count from the year he became emperor. The Jewish false Messiah, Simeon Bar-Kochba, did the same thing. The devotees of the French Revolution attempted the same trick, dating the events of the whole world from 1792. But of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. But these various ambitious clowns at least knew how important this issue is—which is more than we can say about many contemporary Christians.The Anti-Christian Liberties Union (ACLU) knows that getting Christmas trees off public property is well worth fighting about.
“Merry Christmas” as Insurrection:
How do we define our lives? More than this, how do we define our lives as a people? Far from retreating into a minimalist celebration, or no celebration at all, we as Christians must take far greater advantage of the opportunity we have in all of this. Now the Lord Jesus is on His throne.And His government will continue to increase. But He works through instruments, and one of His central instruments for establishing His kingdom on earth is the faith of His people. That faith needs to shape how we shop,sing, save, and speak.
And, returning to our text, as we fan out into the world to tell them the full message of the gospel, remember that all that will be accomplished will be done through the zeal of the Lord of hosts. It will be His zeal that does this thing.
An earlier version of this message was preached in 2004.