We can thank Dionysius Exoguus for our New Year’s Eve celebrations this evening—or we can blame him for the noise that will interrupt our sleep come midnight. Dionysius was the sixth century character who created the codifying system for historical dates that is the basis for our current calendar. He did it by coining what has now become two very controversial letters: A. and D. They stand for Anno Domini, meaning ‘year of the Lord’ and they divide all of history into before and after the event that marked the human birth of a baby named Jesus of Nazareth.
Why is the phrase Anno Domini so controversial?
When Jesus had barely begun His ministry of traveling through the region of the Jordan Rift Valley—the land of Israel and its surrounding territory—He made a stop in His hometown of Nazareth. There He made a statement that divided His listeners into two camps: the few who would respect and follow Him, and the majority who would be infuriated by His bold effrontery and seek to destroy Him.
He had stopped in at the synagogue in Nazareth because it was the Sabbath day. He was a born and bred Jew and He had spent His boyhood and early adulthood in this synagogue on Sabbath days. But today would be different.
We’re told Jesus stood up, volunteering to read the day’s selection of Scripture, and was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus would have memorized that and many other scrolls as a boy. That was the norm for His culture. He knew the exact passage His heavenly Father intended Him to read that day, and He skimmed through the thousands of words until He found it:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,” He began to read, “because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Then He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. All would have been well if He had left it at that. The status quo would have been maintained. The people would have left the synagogue that day no different than before coming. Their lives would have hidden the same superficiality they had come to accept as the norm for life. “Prisoners” would have meant political prisoners—the Jews knew first-hand about that. The “poor”, the “blind” and the “oppressed” would only have described physical ailments. The “year of the Lord’s favour” would have been a hope for some future return to the glory days of Solomon’s wealthy empire.
But as Jesus sat down, the service did not continue its routine flow as usual. “The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him,” we’re told.
“Today,” Jesus explained, “this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
‘Yes!’ thought the people. ‘Perhaps this man will successfully throw off the fetters of the oppressing Roman Empire! Surely that would be an act descriptive of the year of the Lord’s favour!’
But Jesus could not leave well enough alone. He knew better. This people were—all people are—under an oppression much worse than political or physical in nature. We are in bondage to our own rebellion against our Creator, God. It would take nothing less than an act of God—the perfect life and sacrificial death of Jesus, God in the flesh—to bring freedom from this oppression. But Jesus knew many if not most people would reject His freedom-making work. The year of the Lord’s favour would be spurned. He bluntly told them so.
Anno Domini is offensive and controversial because we struggle against God’s rightful sovereignty over our lives. Yes, yours and mine. We want to live our lives our own way. We balk against being harnessed to a lord. Yet Jesus knew only through Him would freedom from the messes we make of our lives be available to us—at least, to the few who will accept the year of the Lord’s favour.
As we say farewell to 2015 and enter a New Year, it only takes a ‘yes’ to Jesus to begin and continue a journey into a year full of the Lord’s favour. The year is the Lord’s—we know deep down it’s not ours to grasp—and He offers His favour to those who submit their lives to Him. His invitation is open. His favour is for all who accept that Jesus fulfills the role of rescuer from our worst oppression. It is Anno Domini, the Year of the Lord.
(Photo Credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AThe_Great_Isaiah_Scroll_MS_A_(1QIsa)_-_Google_Art_Project-x4-y0.jpg)