The Chinese New Year is not only a festival of reunion, joy, blessing, and warmth for the Chinese people, but also a great time for Chinese Christians in China and overseas to actively share their faith with their fellow countrymen.
Every year when the lunar new year comes, many Chinese Christians send images containing words of blessing and a Bible verse or two on WeChat and other social media to wish their friends and relatives a happy new year, and also to give a positive testimony for Christian faith.
I paid special attention to which Bible verses appear most often in these memes, and found that in 2022 the most frequently used are the blessing verses of Psalm 65:11 and Numbers 6:24-26.
Yet there are many other Bible verses that can be connected to Chinese New Year celebrations. In addition to using these Bible verses in images of blessing, Christians can also meditate on these verses during the Chinese New Year to reflect on the meaning of God’s grace, peace, new year, and reunion.
I also cannot help thinking about our global Christian brothers and sisters; perhaps the Chinese enthusiasm for sharing the gospel and Bible verses for the lunar new year can also be applied to their celebrations of January 1 on the Western calendar.
Below are my meditations upon select Bible verses for the lunar new year. I hope that they can serve as examples for non-Chinese Christians to see how Bible verses can be used for evangelism and devotional use during secular observances of the new year:
1) Psalm 65:11
“You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance.”
The word bounty in this verse means “good things” in the original Hebrew, which directly refers to the yield of the earth. “Carts overflowing with abundance” is a symbolic picture that refers to the fullness of the harvest of the land. Agricultural work was a very important part of the life of the people of Israel, and God’s blessing of the land meant that God was closely related to their lives and work.
For the Chinese people, the Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner is a symbol of the year’s abundance: It is not only a table full of food, but also the reunion of family; not only the abundance of materials, but also the emotional satisfaction of relationships. That is the Chinese understanding of abundance that is deeply planted in Chinese people’s hearts. Going home for the Chinese New Year is the true expression of this longing. As Christians, we are also eager to go home during the Chinese New Year holiday to reunite with our families and to enjoy a table full of food. We believe that God is as real as sunshine and air, and that he cares for our life and work throughout the year, bringing us satisfaction and joy with various benefits.
But God’s blessings are not only in material things and human relationships. They are also in a real relationship with God, which is what the first few verses in Psalm 65 talk about: the prayers from the depth of our hearts are always heard by God, our sins are forgiven, and our souls have a place to return to (Ps. 65:1-5).
For the Chinese, the new year celebration feasts always include fish, because fish in Chinese (yu) shares the same pronunciation as surplus (so “nian nian you yu,” or “having fish every year,” means having extra abundance every year). It reflects a deep desire to be blessed. But in Christ we receive more blessings and grace from God than the visible material things and relationship with other people. We should be more thankful for the joy of the holiday because of Christ.
2) Numbers 6:22-27
The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.’ So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.’”
The most important part of Chinese New Year celebrations is undoubtedly going home. Home is the place for us to return and take rest. During the Spring Festival (i.e., Chinese New Year), home is associated with happiness, celebration, and peace. It can be said that the Chinese New Year holds the ideals and expectations of the Chinese people for life. In biblical language, all of this is expressed as shalom (peace). Shalom is the deepest longing and pursuit of the traditional Israelites’ lives, as well as their greeting when they met each other.
The Numbers 6 passage is the blessing of the high priest of the Old Testament to the Israelites. It is the most beautiful blessing that the chosen people of the Old Testament could receive. This blessing begins with God’s blessing and ends with God’s peace. It is filled with the abundance of God’s presence and caring.
The Hebrew word shalom is rich in connotation and means completion, harmony and peace, health and strength, and blessings and benefits. These are also the deepest longings of the Chinese people during the Spring Festival holiday.
This passage is also a familiar blessing to us New Testament Christians. We know that this peace ordained by God was fulfilled in Christ Jesus. Paul says: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ…; he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3, 9).
The Chinese people have a wonderful vision of the Chinese New Year: home, blessings, joy, and peace. But the real shalom, the blessing that represents the ultimate fullness of our existence, can only be obtained by connecting to the One who is the Creator of life. The good news is that this shalom has been given in Christ and will be complete in the future in Christ.
3) Exodus 12:1-2,11
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year…. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover….”
For the Chinese people, the Chinese New Year marks the beginning of the year. As the old Chinese saying goes, “The year’s plan lies in spring.” In natural terms, spring is the season when everything revives and grows, when people sow their seeds in anticipation of future harvests.
Spring Festival is a time with warmth for people to reunite with their families, celebrate the harvest, and wish each other a happy new year. People sowed seeds of hope and blessings in the Spring Festival. That was a simple sentiment of the common people in ancient agrarian societies, but it helped raise a hard-working nation.
In the Old Testament, however, God wanted his redeemed people of Israel to mark the beginning of the year with Passover. The Passover was a reminder of God’s power to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. Since then, the Israelites organized their lives no longer according to the natural time, but according to the revealed Word of God. This change shaped a grateful and trusting people.
In the history of the church, Christians used to mark the beginning of the year not with the first month on the Gregorian calendar, but with the season of Advent. Advent begins four Sundays before the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day, and the church has about four weeks to prepare for the birth of the Lord Jesus. During Advent, we contemplate the brokenness and hopelessness of our lives and surroundings, and we wait patiently for the fulfillment of God’s promises in His beloved Son as the hope of the world. This gesture shows that the church of the Lord Jesus remains a waiting community.
4) Deut. 31:7-8
Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
It is really exciting to think about going home for the New Year. But for many people it can also be nerve-wracking. When you are past the presumptive age of marriage and still single (especially if you were a female Christian), going back home will be met with all kinds of inquiries and even disguised condemnations, as well as many invitations to blind dates. Or perhaps the year has not been a good year at work for you and your performance has been mediocre, so it would be stressful to attend class reunions. Or your marriage may be facing a crisis, and it would be hard to face parents and relatives and friends.
You may feel that the wounds from going home for Spring Festival in the past have not yet healed, and you still have a lot of fear: There is always a generation gap in communication with parents, and the conversation may not be on good terms; the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship may be on thin ice; siblings may quarrel, and have grudges against each other, etc. It usually appears to be okay when we are far away from each other, but the Spring Festival gathering is likely to uncover the hurt.
Looking at these stresses and wounds alone can make people choose to escape and simply not want to go home for the Chinese New Year. We may go home with reluctance in our hearts. But we need a shift in our perspective, and we need encouragement and strength from God. This passage is Moses’ exhortation to Joshua, who succeeded him, before he died. It was a great and difficult task to continue the work of Moses and lead God’s people. Joshua’s heart was filled with fear. Moses had only one encouragement: Do not be afraid!
Moses gave Joshua three tips to overcome his fear: God had given the promise of the land; God went before him; God would be with him.
Christians need to go home with the assurance that God has gone to our homes ahead of us, that he is already at work in our homes. Therefore, when we go home, we may be surprised to find the marks of God’s grace. Even if not, we know that he will be with us in all our difficulties. We can overcome our fears and return home with love and courage.
5) Hebrews 12:14
Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
The Chinese people have always valued the wisdom of “harmony is the most precious,” especially during Spring Festival, the most festive and auspicious time of the year. When I was a child, in our small village during the Chinese New Year holiday even those who had grudges against each other and did not speak to each other would greet and wish each other a happy new year politely with a smile on their faces.
Jesus is called the “Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6), and he came to this world to reconcile people to God. He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matt. 5:9). Paul says that God has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciling people (2 Cor. 5:18). Christians are called to be peacemakers.
But for many Christians, going home for the Chinese New Year is a time of experiencing conflict and fighting for the truth. Sometimes it is old classmates who judge us; sometimes it is friends who ridicule us for holding on to our inner conscience; sometimes it is family members who do not understand our faith and oppose our choices; sometimes it is even the powerful traditional customs of local idolatry that challenge our courage to hold on to our faith.
In the midst of conflict and warfare, we may be motivated to fight the good fight for the truth, but sometimes we can become belligerent and insensitive towards our friends and relatives. The writer of Hebrews exhorts Christians to “make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy” (Heb. 12:14). We generally emphasize holiness in the latter part of the verse, but harmony is also important to God. The book of Hebrews was written at a time of great persecution for the church, and the pursuit of harmony is even more difficult in such a situation.
“Make every effort” is translated as “strive” in The New Chinese Translation. God wants us to do everything in our power and wisdom to seek harmony with all people, even when facing an unfriendly situation.
This Spring Festival, let’s do our best to be God’s children of peace.
Pastor Jeshurun Lin graduated from Calvin Theological Seminary (CTS) with Master’s degrees in divinity and theology. He is a columnist for Reframe Ministries and is engaged in media mission and theological education in Beijing.
Part of this article is excerpted from A Better Home: Chinese Holidays Devotional, published by Reframe Ministries.