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2000 Years Since...What?

The turn of the millennium offers us Christians an unusual opportunity that we won’t see again.
by Paul L. Maier

Next Jan. 1 will be part of the year 5760 if you are Jewish, the year 1420 if you are Muslim, or the Year of the Dragon if Chinese. For most of us, however, this will be the great, round-numbered year 2000.

Since only one generation in 33 is given the privilege of witnessing so rare a milestone, this should be a major event for us all. As a lad in the Depression ‘30s, when life spans were shorter, I wondered if I would live long enough to share the thrill of seeing in the great new millennium. It seems I will, but the "thrill" now appears less exciting, for reasons of dating and focus.

For one thing, we will celebrate 12 months too early. Since there was no year zero, this coming Jan. 1 actually starts the last year of the 20th century. The true 21st century doesn’t begin until Jan. 1, 2001. But, quibble, quibble: this coming New Year’s Eve will doubtless see far more celebration than next year’s.

The other problem, focus, is far more serious.

In my youthful idealism, I had predicted that Christians would see the year 2000 as a magnificent opportunity to tell the world the reason for the great milestone: God’s revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ took place 20 centuries ago. What has happened instead is an international obsession over the Y2K problem, the "millennium computer bug’’, and dire threats about the damage it will inflict.

For months, survivalist sects have been storing up supplies in their mountain aeries, while equally alarmist "prophecy freaks" and their doomsday cults are predicting the end of the world. What they call "The Jerusalem Syndrome" is plaguing Jewish authorities, millennialist bands moving onto the Mount of Olives so that they can be the first to welcome the returning Christ, according to predictions from their bearded gurus, who are dressing in Jesus clothes along with their feckless followers.

Is this any way to welcome in the Year 2000? We ought to return the focus where it belongs.

Since "2000" will be on everyone’s lips, letters, checks, calendars and computers, Christians over the coming months should seize on this great opportunity to remind everyone of the reason for the 2000, and why our calendar is anchored as it is. A shocking number of people can’t even explain the "A.D." in 2000 or know that this means "in the year of the Lord", much less who that Lord is.

If ever there were a time to tell the world, this would be it!

Our church body has embarked on an evangelistic-outreach emphasis titled "Tell the Good News about Jesus." This special issue of The Lutheran Witness is tied into that emphasis and dedicated to the theme, "2, 000 Years Since What?"

The next article very briefly offers some tips on using this rare opportunity to talk to friends, neighbors, anyone, about what happened 2, 000 years ago. Then three more articles will show that Christianity is rooted in historical facts, not fantasy, and that there is a solid historical basis for our beliefs about Jesus. Our hope is that this evidence will prove helpful in our Christian witness, and provide a better way to celebrate the Year of our Lord 2000.

Dr. Paul L. Maier is professor of Ancient History and chaplain at Western Michigan University-Kalamazoo, MI.

Reprinted with permission from The Lutheran Witness magazine (October, 1999).

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