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Millennial Madness

I can't stand it a day longer! If I don't say something, I'm going to explode. Call me crazy if you must. Ignore me if you wish. But whatever you do, don't tell me it's the new millennium! It's not! It isn't even the end of the century. In fact, it isn't even the end of the decade! I'll tell you what it is. It's a world gone nuts, doing everything they can to find some special meaning in the fact that now we have to write 00 on our checks instead of 99. I'm sorry, folks, but there's nothing magical about zeros over against nines. Or it's the lunatic fringe of professing 'Christendom' getting all excited and worked up over the 'fact' (!) that this marks the 2,000th birthday of Jesus. Not! Or it's terrorists looking for an excuse (as if they ever needed one before) to blow up whatever they can and fill the hearts of everyone else with fear. Or it's the entrepreneurs of the world capitalizing on new millennium hysteria to sell anything and everything that people are silly enough to buy. Even my favorite daily newspaper, USA Today, is advertising its New Millennium Special Edition, "sure to be a collector's item" they tell us. "Get yours now!"


Are you ready for some simple facts? I hope so.


(1) Even though it's not the new millennium, for heaven's sake let's spell the word correctly. It's got two "l's" and two "n's". It's not "milennium" or "millenium", it's "millennium". That also holds for "millennial". OK, OK, so I'm a little picky about spelling. But shouldn't we all be? [I'll probably live to regret this first point if someone finds a spelling error in this article!]


(2) Hear me well: there is absolutely no significance whatsoever, none, zippo, zero, nada, in the number 2,000. It means nothing theologically. It means nothing spiritually or biblically. God doesn't look at that number on our calendar any differently than he looks at any other number. It doesn't signal or herald the beginning of anything! Nothing! Well, it does mean that on our calendar a new year has begun. But that's all. Period.


(3) This is not the 2,000th birthday of Jesus. Even if it were, so what? Why is that a more important birthday than 1,435 or 3,274? If you wanted to celebrate the 2,000th birthday of Jesus you missed it by about 4 years. It probably occurred in around 1995 or 1996. Understanding a few simple facts about our calendar and ancient history will help us see this.


You've probably never heard of "Scythia," but that was the name given by the Greeks and Romans to the lands between the Black Sea and the Volga basin. In 465 a.d. a man was born there by the name of "Dionysius", the ancient form of Dennis. In order to distinguish himself from all the other Dennis's of his day, he took the additional name of "Exiguus", which means "small" or "insignificant". Dennis the Small, as we shall affectionately call him, became a monk. At the age of 35 he traveled to Rome and soon became one of the most influential figures in world history. If you've ever wondered who created our calendar, the one that everybody has gone nuts over these past few weeks and months because of the arrival of the year 2,000, it was Dennis. But bless his heart, he got it wrong! Certainly we should honor Dennis/Dionysius for his desire to structure history and the way we mark time by the coming of Jesus. Jesus is, after all, the Lord of history. But the fact remains, he got it wrong!


In the first place, Herod the Great, the king who was responsible for the slaughter of the innocent male children in his ill-fated attempt to kill the baby Jesus, was himself born in 73 b.c. He was named king of Judea by the Roman Senate in 40 b.c. In his final years he suffered from paranoia, as well as sin! He murdered his wife and at least two of his sons. By all accounts, Herod died in 4 b.c. Therefore, Jesus must have been born sometime in either 5 b.c. or 4 b.c., according to the reckoning of the calendar that Dennis the Small created. What that means, as noted earlier, is that if you wanted to celebrate the 2,000th birthday of Jesus, you're 4-5 years late! Sorry.


Another point to remember is that when Dennis proposed his calendar for the western world he didn't designate January 1st as New Year's Day. Neither did he select December 25th. Rather, he went back nine months from Christmas to the day when Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary. New Year's Day for Dennis, therefore, was March 25th, known to the church ever since as the Feast of Annunciation. It is called that because the angel Gabriel "announced" to Mary that she was to be the mother of the Messiah (see Luke 1). In fact, March 25th was observed as New Year's Day for nearly 1,000 years until Pope Gregory XIII changed the calendar in 1582 to make it January 1st.


Although our (so-called Gregorian) calendar is now the standard civil calendar used throughout the world, a variety of religious groups have adopted their own. For example, our year 2000 on the Christian calendar is the year 5760/5761 in the Hebrew calendar, 1420/1421 in the Islamic calendar, 4698 in the Chinese calendar (the Year of the Dragon!), 1716 in the Coptic calendar, and 2544 in the Buddhist calendar!


The point of all this is simply that Dennis the Small got it wrong by at least 4 years and we've been following his lead ever since. Now back to our relevant facts.


(4) Let me say this as clearly as I can: the transition in our calendar from December 31, 1999, to January 1, 2000, has nothing whatsoever to do with biblical prophecy. Nothing. To use the words of a well-known (but now deceased) TV comedian, "It doesn't mean Jack squat!" January 1, 2000, is purely a man-made (mistakenly made, at that) date that looks neat, but means nothing. It's just one day like all other days. It has about as much significance as the change on your car's odometer from 99,999 miles to 100,000. We all get excited and tell the kids to watch it turn, but it doesn't mean "Jack squat". That 100,000th mile is no more meaningful than the 143rd mile, except that you might have to start thinking about buying a new car soon.


Furthermore, there is absolutely nothing in the Bible to suggest that the time we refer to as the "inter-advent" age, i.e., the age or period between the two "advents" or comings of Jesus, would be two thousand years. I know of nothing in the Bible that leads me to believe that the year 2,000 will be any different from or any more special than any other year since our Lord lived on this earth. Maybe it will, maybe Jesus will come back to earth this year. But if he does, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that it is the year 2,000 on our western calendar. (Did you ever stop to ask yourself why God should be bound by the misguided calculations of a Scythian monk who lived in the 5th century?)


Unfortunately, not everyone has been able to grasp this point. N. T. Wright explains the reasoning many have used in trying to find something special about the year 2,000. Some, notes Wright, hold the view


"that creation will last for six thousand years, corresponding to the six days of creation, before giving way to a millennium which will be the equivalent of God's seventh-day rest. (This was sometimes argued with a neat literalistic use of an early Christian letter, 2 Peter, which looks back in turn to Psalm 90: a thousand years in God's sight, says the writer, are like a single day, and a single day like a thousand years.) Since, according to the massively learned Archbishop Ussher in the early seventeenth century, the world was created in 4004 BC, this would mean that the seventh period of a thousand years would be due to start in . . . 1996. I didn't notice. Did you? Well, they will say, maybe it was wrong by a year or two. Maybe it really will be in 2000? (The Millennium Myth, p. 17). [By the way, the idea that the world is only 6,000 years old is neither biblically nor scientifically viable. But I'll skip that for now. I'm probably in enough trouble with some of you already just for spoiling the excitement of these coming days.]


Wright goes on to point out that this is no joking matter. Tragically, there are sects and fringe groups who are probably planning outrageous and even deadly activities for January 1st. The authorities in Jerusalem are preparing for possible assaults on the Dome of the Rock and other ludicrous demonstrations by those who have invested spiritual significance in the year 2,000. Forgive me for sounding so cynical, but people, please: Get a life! Many others have stored up weapons, food, and water and have taken to the hills (literally), all convinced that either the rapture or the tribulation or social chaos or some such apocalyptic cataclysm is at hand. I trust you are not among them.


(5) So when does the "New Millennium" begin? It actually begins on January 1, 2001, at least, according to our calendar. Furthermore, the decade doesn't end until December 31, 2000. The century doesn't end until that same date. Truthfully speaking, all those annoying lists that tried to identify the best songs of the century, the greatest athletes of the century, the most significant events of the millennium, the best books, etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseam, will need to be redone one year from now to include any potential candidates that emerge in the year 2000.


There are two things that you must remember.


First, when Dennis (Dionysius) created his calendar, he didn't include a year Zero. He went straight from 1 b.c. (although he didn't call it that) to 1 a.d. The first Christian millennium began with the year 1 and ended with the last day of the year 1000. The second Christian millennium began with the year 1001 and will end with the last day of the year 2000. I'm planning on hosting a true, genuine, New Millennium party on December 31, 2000. But I doubt if anyone will come.


Second, it's not that hard to figure out using simple arithmetic. How many years are there in a century? Everyone knows there are 100 years in a century. Therefore, the year 1999 is the 99th year of this century. This means that the 100th or last year of this century is the year 2000. Don't be thrown off or misled by the numeral 2 in front of all those zeros. The year 1900 was the last year of the previous century, not the first year of the current century. The same is true of 1800, 1700, 1600, all the way back to 100, which was the last year of the first century, according to the reckoning of good old Dennis the Small. Thus, the first year of the next century, the first year of the next (new) millennium, is 2001. We've also still got one more year to go in the current decade.


Will anyone pay attention to these facts? No. I'm not that naive. What chances are there that my comments, or those of countless others who've made the same points, will be heeded or that the thousands of world-wide celebrations will be cancelled and re-scheduled for Dec. 31, 2000? Again, to use the words of that comedian: "The odds are Jack squat!" People are bound and determined to fall in line with the loudest voices in society. Every news broadcast I've seen or newspaper I've read or Top Ten list that's been published or church leader that has spoken insists that the new millennium, the new century, the new decade begins (or began, depending on when you read this) on January 1, 2000. But at least I've cleared my conscience and got it off my chest.


So what should Christians do on January 1, 2000? Well, I plan on watching the bowl games on TV. For those of you who aren't football fans, don't sell your possessions and run to the hills. Read your Bible. Spend time with your family. If nothing else, re-commit and re-dedicate your life to more zealous and passionate and devoted love for Jesus. The bottom line is, it's just another day in another year. Jesus may come back next week or he may not come back until January 1, 3000, or perhaps not even then. But he is coming back . . . sometime. So whatever you do, whether it's watching football or sleeping in or taking a walk or spending time with friends, do it all to the glory of God!