Most of us learned in high school that nature abhors a vacuum. When a vacuum is created, it takes concerted effort to keep it a vacuum because nothing always tends to fill up with something. The principle is unexceptionable, but we still can be surprised from time to time at the ways in which the principle is fulfilled.
Prior to the Reformation, the church calendar was clogged with saints’ days. The simplistic approach that led to this “overachieving” assumes that if one thing is good, then two of them must be better, and neglects the truth that if everything is special, nothing is. If every day, or virtually every day, is set apart for a special celebration, then it is not long before special celebrations are ordinary. When this happens, the stage is set for reaction.
At the Reformation, there were varying degrees of reaction. Some of the more radical among the Protestants wanted to ban all special days, with the exception of the weekly observance of the Lord’s Day. Some among the Anabaptists wanted to do away even with that. The Continental Reformers had a more moderate approach, wanting to eliminate most of the existing traffic jam but keep what were called the “five evangelical feast days.” Not surprisingly, even these can be reckoned differently. These days were Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost. Or, if Good Friday and Easter were considered as part of the same festival, Trinity Sunday could follow Pentecost. There were other differences as well—John Calvin wanted to move any Christmas observance to a Sunday. However, even with the variations and confusion, there was agreement that the church calendar needed to lose some serious weight.
Still, there was significant opposition among the Reformed to having the year defined by any such days at all. But the “definition” of a year is inescapable. As long as we have to live through them, we will set boundaries and mile markers within them, and we will order our lives accordingly. This will be either a system of defining our days that honors Christ, or it will be a system that wants to make no reference to Him. Those who bridle at the use of anno Domini in conjunction with dates are not hypersensitive nonbelievers—they know what many conservative Christians do not know, which is that the one who defines time is the Lord of time.