I really don’t like New Year’s Eve; the reasons are complicated.
Partly it’s the arbitrary nature of the whole thing. For some unknown-to-me reason, we’ve decided that December is the last month of the year and January is the first. Why? Apparently, during the middle-ages in Western Europe, New Year was variously celebrated at the beginning and end of March, the beginning and end of September, and on the moveable feast of Easter. All of which goes to show that it really could be any day we fancy. In the words of the wise-beyond-her-years, Brigitta Von Trapp: “It doesn’t really mean anything.”
A change of one year to another, from one month to another, from one day to another, from one hour to another, from one minute to another, from one second to another is simply that. And yet, the clock changes from 23:59 to 00:00, and the world goes bananas. And I just don’t quite get it.
But, partly it’s that I do really get it. Despite thinking it’s stupid, I feel the significance of that moment, and all that it implies.
It’s about looking back on the year that has gone and evaluating, critiquing and scoring it. Was it a good year? Were you successful? Did you achieve all that you wanted? Did you tick off any goals? Reach any milestones? Were you kind? Were you happy? Were you loved?
And it’s about looking forward to the year that is coming, trying to work out whether it will be any better, but having to deal with the fact that you don’t know and you can’t know. Anything might happen this year. Good stuff. Bad stuff. And there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Time is ticking on, second by second, minute by minute, and we’re all just swept along with it.
When I was little I used to be afraid of a number of different things, many of them in category of ‘transportation’. Boats, fast cars on bumpy roads, and rollercoaster rides were top of the list. I would be terrified and demand that I wanted to get off, even when that really wasn’t a reasonable possibility. On learning that the world that we are existing on is also moving and spinning, I had to try not to think about those facts too hard, in case that caused me to freak out and demand that earth also stop and let me off.
I’m not worried about the movement of the world anymore. I don’t think.
But there is something terrifying about the movement of time. The fact that it just ticks on and sweeps us with us. We can’t stop it. We can’t opt out. Time is moving on and it is taking us with it, whether we like it or not.
And yet, this year I’m trying to embrace that unknownness. I don’t love it, but I can bear with it because of knowing the one who does know.
The lactose-intolerance-inducing cheesy statement is, nevertheless, true: I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.
My favourite song of this Christmas has been from Kate Rusby’s new album, Angels and Men: Let The Bells Ring
The picture she paints is a beautiful one. Standing on the seashore watching the sun rise on New Year’s Day, and taking the chance to send the old year away and welcome in a new one.
The chorus goes like this:
Let the bells ring, here my arms are open wide // Send the old year out on the rolling tide // Let the sun rise, there is nothing now I fear // Let the sun rise on a happy new year.
The beauty of the sun rising is something pretty special. Despite the fact that it happens every day, it’s a sight that causes us to stop and look. Sunsets can stun us into silence, or shake us into speech. How is it that something so ordinary can also be so significant?
Because we live in a world created by a God who loves us and uses the physical things of this world (like a giant balls of gas, and orbits and revolutions and other fun astrophysics things) to teach us and remind us of who he is and what he’s like. And when we see the sun appear to rise every day, it reminds us of the wonder of Christ rising from the dead and bringing light and life to the world.
So sayeth the wise Jonathan Edwards (as inspired by Malachi 4 and Luke 1):
Christ rising from the grave with joy and glory, was like the sun rising after a long night of darkness, appearing in joyful light to enlighten the world. … Now the gospel-sun is risen in his glory, and with healing in his wings, that those who fear God s name, may go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.”
Jonathan Edwards, Works, Vol.1, p586
What a beautiful true thing.
In summary: embracing unknownness and looking for the sunrise.