Approaching Chinese New Year with reflections from Matthew
Posted on 24 Jan 2020 by Daniel Lu
Brace yourselves… Chinese New Year, or CNY for short, is coming soon!
I’m not sure how you feel about CNY, but for me, it’s a holiday I look forward to every year because of what it means for me: family, friends, angpaos (red envelopes/packets or 红包 hongbao) and mostly… family and friends.
It’s the time of year where I usually (but not always) fly home to meet my family, extended family and old friends (and even teachers) from school and we’ll have a great time of laughter and joy reminiscing favorite moments in the past and catching up on how everyone’s doing.
Sadly, however, I won’t have the privilege to head home due to some prior commitments but I thought I’d dedicate a post to CNY 2020 by applying some of the lessons I’ve learnt from the book of Matthew (click here to listen to our Matthew sermon series) onto the key elements of CNY.
1) Prosperity – It’s truly only found in Christ
Prosperity has to be one of the first things that comes to mind to every Chinese person when it comes to CNY. This is when angpaos are given as a sign/show of prosperity in the family and angpaos are (happily) received by children and singles as an acceptance of the blessing given for the new year.
Yet Matthew helpfully reminds us that true prosperity has already come to us in the person of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who came to save his people from their sins (Matt 1:21), and true blessing is only found in following him, in being like the Son, in being like the Father.
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The characteristics of a true disciple as described in verses 3-10 are all personally embodied and exemplified by Jesus, the beloved Son of God himself (see especially Matt 4:1-11; 26:36-46) and in the Sermon on the Mount he is giving his hearty congratulations to all those who have given up their lives to follow him (Matt 5:1-2). The word “blessed”, or perhaps better translated “happy” (Greek word: Makarios) refers not just to a psychological state of happiness (since verse 4 talks about mourning, which connotes sadness), but it is a word used to congratulate someone because of the happy situation they are in, even if they don’t feel happy because of the suffering and persecution they are enduring now. Yet they are in a happy situation, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven, and they shall be comforted.
How is it that the kingdom can be said to be presently theirs and yet be something they will have in the future? Because the kingdom of God has already come in the rule of Jesus the king. Jesus has already come to bring God’s rule (Matt 4:17) for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. The kingdom has come and is working in their lives to bring them in conformity to the likeness of the Son (Matt 5-7; cf. Romans 8:29) and will lead them eventually into the kingdom in its consummated/completed form (Matt 25:31-46; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:24-28). True blessing and prosperity then, is in being like the Son, in being reviled and persecuted like the Son, for the glory of God and the good of our neighbors (cf. Matt 5:38-48; 9:36-10:42; 28:18-20).
As Christians then, let us see CNY as a chance to give the true blessing that is Christ and His words to our family and friends. Let us give them the true wealth that they need – true wealth that will bring them into a happy situation even in a state of poverty, mourning, sickness and death.
2) Family and Friends – our true family is in Christ and His church alone
CNY is a time where we head home to meet and spend time with family and old friends, and often times it can feel like your blood family and childhood friends are your true companions because of the good times you’ve had with them and the joy and comfort they still give to you. But let us remember Jesus’ words in Matt 12:48-50:
“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”
“Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
These words do not mean that we are not to cherish our earthly relationships like our blood family or friends, but it reminds us again where our true family lies, which is the church – the heavenly and the local one. As much as we may enjoy bai nian (拜年 or house visiting), eating CNY snacks and reminiscing old memories with friends and families, we must not forget our duty to love and serve our brothers and sisters in Christ and to encourage them onto love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25). That may look like visiting a local church in whichever town you’re in with the hopes of edifying and encouraging brothers and sisters in Christ you may or may not know yet, or it may look like you going to the local church you’ve already committed to in hopes to love and serve them, but whichever it is, remember your loyalty to Christ and His church. Remember to meet them up all the more as you see the Day approaching. Remember your brothers and sisters who may be struggling with their non-Christian families at home (especially since they may be asked to perform Chinese rituals and will then be ridiculed or persecuted by family and friends), remember to encourage them to stay faithful to Christ, and remember to embolden them to do the mission of Christ, with the confidence that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him, and he is with us always, to the end of the age (Matt 28:18-20).
Prayer: Heavenly Father, may you remind us again what you’ve taught us in the book of Matthew what true prosperity and true relationships are. May you give us the courage and wisdom to evangelize our non-Christian family and friends, and may you also give us the clarity to keep in mind where our true family lies, and how we should love and build them up especially in this season where many of them will be back in their hometowns to love and serve their family and friends.