Wish all of you a blessed and blissful Chinese New Year (CNY). CNY, known also as Lunar New Year, is the most important festival among traditional Chinese festivals. During CNY, people will have reunion dinners with family members and visit relatives. It is a time of joy and renewal of family ties.
The CNY festival can be traced back to 4,000 years ago, to the time when Emperor Huang Ti introduced the first calendar. The Chinese calendar is based on the cycles of the moon.
Along the 4,000 years, CNY picked up a number of legends. One such legend is 年 (Nian), a ferocious beast, which the ancient Chinese believed, eats people and animals on New Year’s Eve. The fearful beast Nian can only be frightened away by firecrackers and the colour red. The idea of using the colour red to overcome the beast may have its roots in the earliest memory of a blood sacrifice – pointing to the blood of Christ. The Bible says, “They overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 12:11). As Christians, we know that Satan cannot be scared away by firecrackers and red-coloured objects! Only by the blood of Christ!
For unbelievers, there are a lot of do’s and don’ts during CNY. They see it from a superstitious viewpoint. They think by doing certain things, they can have good luck; and by avoiding certain things, they can be kept from bad luck. Christians should never have this kind of a mindset. Our life and fortune are under God’s sovereign control, and not by our own set of do’s and don’ts.
It is a habit of the Chinese to look for the auspicious. However, true auspiciousness is explained by the Chinese character 祥, which consists of 礻(God’s) and 羊 (Lamb). When John the Baptiser saw Jesus Christ, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God, when you have Him as your Saviour, all your sins are forgiven, and you will have true auspiciousness.
The Jews understood the words of John perfectly. They remembered how God had preserved the firstborn of their children and of their cattle during the first Passover. God commanded them to prepare a spotless lamb for every house. During Passover, every family will gather together to eat the Passover lamb (Exod 12:8). The lamb’s blood shall be put on the two side posts and on the upper door beam of the house. This is done so that they would be protected from the plague, “And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.” (Exod 12:13).
Traditionally, the Chinese have a similar practice. They will put 对联 (red-coloured couplets) on the two sides of the door, and at the top beam of the door. They do this to prevent the beast Nian from harming people and property on the night of New Year’s Eve. As Christians, we can share this truth to our Chinese relatives and friends, that it is the blood of the Lamb of God which is powerful to save us from sin and from Satan, “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:” (1 Pet 1:18–19).
Although no one is certain about it, some biblical scholars believe that CNY began after a remnant of the 12 tribes of Israel entered China. If this was the case, then it would explain the similarities between the Jews and the Chinese in their new year observances. It should draw our attention to the biblical record. In Deuteronomy 16:1–8, there are certain principles that the Jews must observe when they keep Passover. It is beneficial if we observe these biblical principles when celebrating CNY.
1st Principle: Keep unto the Lord
The Jews are told to keep the Passover unto the LORD (Deut 16:1). God instituted the Passover, which is a symbol of redemption, and in that ceremony the people exercised themselves in the pure worship of God. The Jews observe the Passover in the month of Abib or Nisan (March/April), which is the first month of the Jewish new year (Exod 12:2). It is to be kept for the purpose of remembering how the Lord redeemed them and brought them out of Egypt through His mighty hand. Passover must be kept unto the Lord.
CNY is different from the Jewish Passover. However, the principle of keeping it is applicable. When we celebrate CNY, we should keep it unto the Lord and for the Lord, not just for our own enjoyment and pleasure. CNY is not only a time of reunion and joy, but also a time to thank and praise the Lord. It is an appropriate time for family members to sit together to count the blessings received from God, and give thanks unto Him as we enjoy the reunion dinner, to thank Him for His redemption, and His care, protection, and provision throughout the entire year.
When unbelievers visit their relatives, they will say, “Gong Xi Fa Cai” (to make a lot of money), “Ji Xiang Ru Yi” (auspicious and all wishes come true). Christians should not follow the world’s pattern, but to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). We should rather greet each other with God’s blessings, and take this opportunity to share with them about God’s goodness, and the good news of the Gospel.
The Chinese have a long history of worshiping ancestors, especially during CNY. Christians should not be involved in such activities. God commands, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.... Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God” (Exod 20:3–5). We cannot serve two masters; neither can we worship God and idols at the same time.
2nd Principle: Sacrifice unto the Lord
During Passover, the Israelites were commanded to “sacrifice the passover unto the LORD thy God, of the flock and the herd” (Deut 16:2). In other words, they are to worship God with their substance and not appear before Him empty-handed (cf Deut 16:16).
CNY is a time of giving. During CNY, we give ang pows (red packets containing money) to children, parents, grandparents and others. It is good to show love and filial piety, and giving ang pows is acceptable as long as we understand them as gestures of love and appreciation. There should not be an unhealthy preoccupation with wealth.
When we give ang pows to others, do not forget to give to God. We should give a thanksgiving ang pow to the Lord, and express our gratitude toward Him. The Lord is surely pleased when we offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and love unto Him. Do not just expect blessings from God, but remember to give to Him. We can never give Him more than what we have received from Him.
Not only do we thank the Lord with our substance, we should also thank Him with our body and soul. We are exhorted to offer our “bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom 12:1). May we be filled with thanksgiving unto God. May we offer ourselves to serve Him in this new year.
3rd Principle: Follow after the Lord
The date, manner, and place of keeping the Passover are clearly revealed in God’s Word. The Israelites are not to keep it in any way or manner they wish, but strictly follow the will of the Lord as spelled out in His Word. In the Passover of the Lord, “Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread ... at the place which the LORD thy God shall choose to place his name in, there thou shalt sacrifice the passover at even” (Deut 16:3–6). “Six days thou shalt eat unleavened bread: and on the seventh day shall be a solemn assembly to the LORD thy God: thou shalt do no work therein” (Deut 16:8).
The climax of Passover is the worship of the Lord on the seventh day. During CNY, we should not forget to worship the Lord. Worship Him in the church (a solemn assembly), in the home, and in our personal life. Never neglect the worship of the Lord. It is our solemn duty unto Him. Worship Him throughout the year in sincerity and in truth. “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Cor 5:7–8).
CNY can be observed meaningfully and joyfully only when we observe it with God in our mind, with His Word as our guide, and with His glory as our purpose. May you truly have a blessed and joyous CNY!
[Credit: Front page drawing by Chun Hian.]
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