Time's Running Out
“And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer” (Rev. 10:6).
The Bible teaches us that our lives are fragile and our time is short.“The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Psa. 90:10). We should be humbled by this, and strive to use time wisely (Psa. 90:12; Eph. 5:16), since we have none to spare.
We who are Christians are greatly blessed to know that the Lord is with us always – to the end of the age (Matt. 28:19-20 ), and will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). But the unsaved have no such promises.
David, in troubled times, looked heavenward and said, “My times are in thy hand” (Psa. 31:15). As believers we can echo these words every day of the year. Our sovereign God cares for us, and our times are in His hands, as William Freeman Lloyd (1791-1853) expressed in this lovely hymn.
Our times are in Thy hand;
O God, we wish them there;
Our lives, our souls, our all, we leave
Entirely to Thy care.
Our times are in Thy hand:
Whatever they may be;
Pleasing or painful, dark or bright,
As best may seem to Thee.
Our times are in Thy hand;
Why should we doubt or fear?
A father’s hand will never cause
His child a needless tear.
Our times are in Thy hand;
Jesus, the Crucified,
Whose hand our many sins have pierced,
Is now our guard and guide.
Our times are in Thy hand;
We’ll always trust to Thee,
Till we possess the promised crown,
And all Thy glory see.
The Lord’s mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:23) and His faithfulness to us is great. Surely we should say “Ebenezer” (1 S. 7:12) and give thanks daily. However, there is no instruction or example in Scripture of New Year celebrations. The watch-night services and other gatherings are extra-biblical arrangements made to provide a “Christian alternative” to a custom of worldly origin. Of course it is always good to meet together for prayer, but we shouldn’t put it on the calendar to have a special evening because the world does. Why should we set aside a day instituted by Caesar in celebration in January to honor Janus, the Roman god of change and beginnings, or celebrate a declaration made by Pope Gregory XIII?
The apostle Peter wrote, “the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer” (1 Pet. 4:7). Surely he wasn’t thinking of “New Year’s Eve”, the end of the year, but rather the end of all things. Why do some people desire a watch-night service when they do not regularly attend the assembly prayer meetings? Cannot we pray weekly, thanking the Lord for His faithfulness and trusting Him to guide us in coming days?
When the apostle Paul admonished the Galatians, “Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” (Gal. 4:10-11), he referred to Christians who judaized and kept the Jewish holy days and festivals. This being true, certainly there is no merit in keeping the world’s days and festivals! What are they celebrating really? One more year lived in sin and self-will. One more year without repenting, bending the knee and trusting the Lord Jesus Christ! One year closer to divine judgment and a lost eternity. Well might we lament with Jeremiah the lost condition of the world around us. He looked at unrepentant Jerusalem and cried: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved” (Jer. 8:20).
The Babylonians were famous for their banquets and parties. Historians trace the tradition of New-Year’s celebrations to them, about 2,000 years before Christ. We would do well to remember where the prophet Daniel was on the night of the great feast in Babylon during Belshazzar's brief reign. He wasn’t drinking and making merry and celebrating. When the handwriting appeared on the wall they had to call for him to come. Apparently he was alone at home. “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful” (Psa. 1:1).
Every day we are one day closer to the coming of the Lord. Hopefully we remember this daily as believers, and weekly as we assemble to keep the Lord’s Supper and show forth the Lord’s death till He come (1 Cor. 11:26). We read three times in Revelation 22 the Lord’s promise; “I come quickly,” and surely repetition is for emphasis! Time is running out and opportunities will soon be gone. Do we have unfinished business for the Lord? – His Word not yet read? – His commands not obeyed? – testimony or warnings not given to others? – May we use the time wisely, before it runs out.
The following articles were not authored by Christians, but shed light on the origin of New Year’s festivities.
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The Ancient Origins of New Year’s Celebrations
Festivals and celebrations marking the beginning of the calendar have been around for thousands of years. While some festivities were simply a chance to drink and be merry, many other New Year celebrations were linked to agricultural or astronomical events. In Egypt, for instance, the year began with the annual flooding of the Nile, which coincided with the rising of the star Sirius. The Phoenicians and Persians began their new year with the spring equinox, and the Greeks celebrated it on the winter solstice. The first day of the Chinese New Year, meanwhile, occurred with the second new moon after the winter solstice.
The Celebration of Akitu in Babylon
The earliest recorded New Year’s festivity dates back some 4,000 years to ancient Babylon, and was deeply intertwined with religion and mythology. For the Babylonians of ancient Mesopotamia, the first new moon following the vernal equinox—the day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness—heralded the start of a new year and represented the rebirth of the natural world. They marked the occasion with a massive religious festival called Akitu (derived from the Sumerian word for barley, which was cut in the spring) that involved a different ritual on each of its 11 days. During the Akitu, statues of the gods were paraded through the city streets, and rites were enacted to symbolize their victory over the forces of chaos. Through these rituals the Babylonians believed the world was symbolically cleansed and recreated by the gods in preparation for the new year and the return of spring. In addition to the new year, Atiku celebrated the mythical victory of the Babylonian sky god Marduk over the evil sea goddess Tiamat and served an important political purpose: it was during this time that a new king was crowned or that the current ruler’s divine mandate was renewed. One fascinating aspect of the Akitu involved a kind of ritual humiliation endured by the Babylonian king. This peculiar tradition saw the king brought before a statue of the god Marduk, stripped of his royal regalia, slapped and dragged by his ears in the hope of making him cry. If royal tears were shed, it was seen as a sign that Marduk was satisfied and had symbolically extended the king’s rule.
Ancient Roman Celebration of Janus
The Roman New Year also originally corresponded with the vernal equinox. The early Roman calendar consisted of 10 months and 304 days, with each new year beginning at the vernal equinox. According to tradition, the calendar was created by Romulus, the founder of Rome, in the eighth century B.C. However, over the centuries, the calendar fell out of sync with the sun, and in 46 B.C. the emperor Julius Caesar decided to solve the problem by consulting with the most prominent astronomers and mathematicians of his time. He introduced the Julian calendar, a solar-based calendar which closely resembles the more modern Gregorian calendar that most countries around the world use today.
As part of his reform, Caesar instituted January 1 as the first day of the year, partly to honour the month’s namesake: Janus, the Roman god of change and beginnings, whose two faces allowed him to look back into the past and forward into the future. This idea became tied to the concept of transition from one year to the next.
Romans would celebrate January 1st by offering sacrifices to Janus in the hope of gaining good fortune for the New Year, decorating their homes with laurel branches and attending raucous parties. This day was seen as setting the stage for the next twelve months, and it was common for friends and neighbours to make a positive start to the year by exchanging well wishes and gifts of figs and honey with one another.
Middle Ages: January 1st Abolished
In medieval Europe, however, the celebrations accompanying the New Year were considered pagan and unchristian-like, and in 567 AD the Council of Tours abolished January 1st as the beginning of the year, replacing it with days carrying more religious significance, such as December 25th or March 25th, the Feast of the Annunciation, also called “Lady Day”.
The date of January 1st was also given Christian significance and became known as the Feast of the Circumcision, considered to be the eighth day of Christ's life counting from December 25th and following the Jewish tradition of circumcision eight days after birth on which the child is formally given his or her name. However, the date of December 25th for the birth of Jesus is debatable .
Gregorian Calendar: January 1st Restored
In 1582, after reform of the Gregorian calendar, Pope Gregory XIII re-established January 1st as New Year’s Day. Although most Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendar almost immediately, it was only gradually adopted among Protestant countries. The British, for example, did not adopt the reformed calendar until 1752. Until then, the British Empire, and their American colonies, still celebrated the New Year in March.
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New Year Festival
Authored by: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica
Encyclopaedia Britannica's editors oversee subject areas in which they have extensive knowledge, whether from years of experience gained by working on that content or via study for an advanced degree....
New Year festival, any of the social, cultural, and religious observances worldwide that celebrate the beginning of the new year. Such festivals are among the oldest and the most universally observed.
The earliest known record of a New Year festival dates from about 2000 bce [before common era] in Mesopotamia, where in Babylonia the new year (Akitu) began with the new moon after the spring equinox (mid-March) and in Assyria with the new moon nearest the autumn equinox (mid-September). For the Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Persians the year began with the autumn equinox (September 21), and for the early Greeks it began with the winter solstice (December 21). On the Roman republican calendar the year began on March 1, but after 153 bce the official date was January 1, which was continued in the Julian calendar of 46 bce.
In early medieval times most of Christian Europe regarded March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, as the beginning of the new year, although New Year’s Day was observed on December 25 in Anglo-Saxon England. William the Conqueror decreed that the year begin on January 1, but England later joined the rest of Christendom and adopted March 25. The Gregorian calendar, adopted in 1582 by the Roman Catholic Church, restored January 1 as New Year’s Day, and most European countries gradually followed suit: Scotland, in 1660; Germany and Denmark, about 1700; England, in 1752; and Russia, in 1918.
Those religions and cultures using a lunar calendar have continued to observe the beginning of the year on days other than January 1. In the Jewish religious calendar, for example, the year begins on Rosh Hashana, the first day of the month of Tishri, which falls between September 6 and October 5. The Muslim calendar normally has 354 days in each year, with the new year beginning with the month of Muharram. The Chinese New Year is celebrated officially for a month beginning in late January or early February. Other Asian cultures celebrate the day at various times of the year. In southern India the Tamil celebrate the new year at the winter solstice; Tibetans observe the day in February; and in Thailand the day is celebrated in March or April. The Japanese have a three-day celebration January 1–3.
Many of the customs of New Year festivals note the passing of time with both regret and anticipation. The baby as a symbol of the new year dates to the ancient Greeks, with an old man representing the year that has passed. The Romans derived the name for the month of January from their god Janus, who had two faces, one looking backward and the other forward. The practice of making resolutions to rid oneself of bad habits and to adopt better ones also dates to ancient times. In the West, particularly in English-speaking countries, the nostalgic Scottish ballad “Auld Lang Syne,” revised by the poet Robert Burns, is often sung on New Year’s Eve.
Symbolic foods are often part of the festivities. Many Europeans, for example, eat cabbage or other greens to ensure prosperity in the coming year, while people in the American South favour black-eyed peas for good luck. Throughout Asia special foods such as dumplings, noodles, and rice cakes are eaten, and elaborate dishes feature ingredients whose names or appearance symbolize long life, happiness, wealth, and good fortune.
Because of the belief that what a person does on the first day of the year foretells what he will do for the remainder of the year, gatherings of friends and relatives have long been significant. The first guest to cross the threshold, or “first foot,” is significant and may bring good luck if of the right physical type, which varies with location. Public gatherings, as in Times Square in New York City or in Trafalgar Square in London, draw large crowds, and the countdown to the dropping of an electronic ball in Times Square to signify the exact moment at which the new year begins is televised worldwide. The first Rose Bowl Game was played in Pasadena, California, on January 1, 1902, and college football games have come to dominate American television on New Year’s Day. The Tournament of Roses parade, featuring floats constructed of live flowers, and the Mummers’ Parade in Philadelphia are popular New Year’s Day events.
Many people mark the new year with religious observances, as, for example, on Rosh Hashana. Buddhist monks are presented with gifts on the day, and Hindus make oblations to the gods. In Japan visits are sometimes made to Shinto shrines of tutelary deities or to Buddhist temples. Chinese make offerings to gods of the hearth and wealth and to ancestors.
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“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom. 12:1-2).
“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
“I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psa. 34:10).
“But this I say, brethren, the time is short” (1 Cor. 7:29).