My first reaction to the celebration of New Year is to retreat into the role my family describe as “Grumpy Old Man”. As a morning person I dislike the effort to keep awake well past my bedtime in order to simply watch some figures change on a clock — and I resent the expectation that I should do so with a show of bonhomie. I bemoan the way that New Year so quickly takes over from Christmas in the entertainment schedules that determine our popular culture; though I recognise that it allows broadcasters and journalists to put their compilation pieces together before December 25th, and go home to their families. Climbing fully onto my GOM soapbox I suspect that New Year bears blame for pushing the celebration of Christmas into Advent.
So is there anything positive I want to say about this commemoration? Well, yes there is. And it comes in the form of a plea that (as the current adage goes) we do what it says on the tin and let New Year’s celebrations be primarily a celebration in anticipation of the year to come.
Liturgically we make that point by beginning our year on the day when the church remembers the Circumcision of Christ. Efforts to re-brand the feast as “The Naming of Jesus” simply miss the point. Christ is not the last person whose circumcision gets recorded in the bible; that honour goes to Timothy. But he is the last whose circumcision is recorded as other than a piece of political expediency. Just as by his death he will destroy death, so with his circumcision the scripture looks back at the tradition into which he has been born, in order to move beyond it. Our challenge is not to forget the past, but it is also to try not to live in it either.
In different times the church will express this “future weighted balance” in different ways. In my own diocese of Worcester part of it is through our strategic plan, Looking to the Future. It isn’t a clever title, it doesn’t mean to be, but it does seek to determine an orientation towards the church we are, by God’s lead, becoming, rather than what we may formerly have been.
Back in our BC (before children) era Sue and I enjoyed long distance walking holidays. On a trek of well over a hundred miles the landmarks and staging posts became important. Be they natural, like rivers and mountain tops, or of human construction, towns and motorways, they punctuated the journey. They provided space to rest, to look back, and to look ahead. They were the places where we ate and drank, both to replenish our bodies after exertion and to build up energy for the next stage. There was a balance between what had gone before and what was to come, but the tilting of that balance was always towards the way ahead, and the ultimate destination that lay there. New Year is such a staging post, and it calls us to glance both forward and back, but then to set our feet firmly on the path ahead.
So amid all the other ideas you may have about New Year Resolutions let me suggest one more. When you catch yourself looking back in 2004, do so first in thankfulness for the good, then briefly in penitence for the bad. And then take that remembrance and let it strengthen you to face the year ahead, and embrace the new that it will bring.