Have you been writing 2017 and then correcting it to 2018 for the last few weeks? Eventually our brains accept that the counter has moved on one and we know for sure that we are in 2018. But what are we counting? 2018 since what? Well, of course, our calendar was designed to count the years since Jesus was born. Before that, various systems were in use counting the years of a particular emperor or king until someone suggested that we should count from Christ’s birth. A mistake of four or so years was made in the original calculation, and the idea took a few centuries to catch on, but now the whole world is able to work to this system (even if there are some local alternatives). Ancient history is ‘Before Christ’ and more recent things are ‘Anno Domini’ (‘In the Year of the Lord’).
Of late, there has been an increasing reluctance to tie everything to Jesus in this way. Is his birth the one event in history to measure all other dates against? Is this insensitive to those who are not Christian believers? But what other event in history would be acceptable as the world-wide marker of Year 1? (Perhaps when we leave the EU we should restart our calendar and count years ‘Post Brexit’ but I doubt that the idea will be welcomed everywhere.)
And so, increasingly, the labels BC and AD are replaced with BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (Common Era) as if we know what event our dates are based on but we don’t want to talk about it publicly. As others have pointed out it’s ironic that CE could just as easily stand for ‘Christ’s Empire’. For those with eyes to see, all those BCE and CE labels in museums and text books continue to speak about the world-shattering arrival of God’s Son as the all-conquering and just King over a new Empire.
The reign of this Royal Son “will endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations” (Psalm 72). Perhaps when we reach the year 20018 or 200018 no-one will care what letters we add because it will have become clear that no other ruler’s birth will ever be a candidate for the year from which to count all years.