Sunday, January 1, 2023

Curious celebration. . .

It is a curious thing that New Years is a holiday that is uncomfortable in its own skin.  The focus is decidedly upon the loss of the past than it is the embrace of the future.  This is shown in part by the inevitable New Year's Resolution -- an inherent acknowledgement that something is wrong that needs to be fixed.  What must be repaired is not simply something out there but something in me -- my way of thinking, speaking, and doing.  So the resolution is our embrace of what is wrong and our confession of it. The failure of it all lies in that we are the ones who are left with the mess to clean up and the work to repair what is broken.

So if you are looking to me for some justification or encouragement on the resolutions to lose weight, exercise more, drink less, eat less, work harder at your goals, and such, you will be disappointed.  If I had wanted a religion to fit the melancholy of New Years, I would have loved to live in the law.  For the law is much more adept at the critique of me than of the help to remedy what is critiqued.  How sad if this is the only thing we get out of the changing of the year!  But to the rescue of the rather old view of a new year comes the Gospel.  It is Christ and Christ alone who can release us from the burden of our past to embrace the future.

The gift of a New Year is positive only because with that which is new comes the release from the past -- from the chains of our failure and the dead end of countless resolutions to do better.  The start of the New Year is, for the Christian at least, the triumph of absolution against the pain of a confession which admits finally what we have spent a goodly part of the year past trying to hide or deny.  That is why this year, starting 2023 on the Lord's Day, is so remarkably profound in my eyes.  At least it offers a better celebration than sleeping off the hangover of last night.

Even before the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar, most nations of Europe and their colonies officially adopted 1 January as New Year's Day -- going back all the way to as early as 1564! Now we routinely celebrate the day with everything from a Polar Bear plunge into icy water to a parade and some sport in an important match up of teams.  I rather sing.  Here is Paul Gerhardt's New Year's text to muse upon and maybe learn to sing.  A truncated version was in our old hymnal but, sadly, did not make it into the current one.

1 Now let us come before Him, With song and prayer adore Him,
Who to our life hath given All needed strength from heaven.

2 The stream of years is flowing, And we are onward going,
From old to new surviving And by His mercy thriving.
3 In woe we often languish And pass through times of anguish
Of wars and trepidation Alarming ev'ry nation

4 As mothers watch are keeping O’er children who are sleeping,
Their fear and grief assuaging, When angry storms are raging,

5 So God His own is shielding And help to them is yielding.
When need and woe distress them, His loving arms caress them.

6 O Thou who dost not slumber, Remove what would encumber
Our work, which prospers never Unless Thou bless it ever.

7 Our song to Thee ascendeth, Whose mercy never endeth;
Our thanks to Thee we render, Who art our strong Defender.

8 O God of mercy, hear us; Our Father, be Thou near us;
Mid crosses and in sadness Be Thou our Fount of gladness.

9 To all who bow before Thee And for Thy grace implore Thee,
Oh, grant Thy benediction And patience in affliction.

10 With richest blessings crown us, In all our ways, Lord, own us;
Give grace, who grace bestowest To all, e’en to the lowest.

11 Be Thou a Helper speedy To all the poor and needy,
To all forlorn a Father; Thine erring children gather.

12 Be with the sick and ailing, Their Comforter unfailing;
Dispelling grief and sadness, Oh, give them joy and gladness!

13 Above all else, Lord, send us Thy Spirit to attend us, Within our hearts abiding,
To heav’n our footsteps guiding. Lord, Thy New Year’s blessing!

14 All this Thy hand bestoweth, Thou Life, whence our life floweth.
To all Thy name confessing Grant, Lord, Thy New Year's blessing!

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