Happy New Year! Or, is it? The Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas, December 31, has readings from 1 John 2:18-21 and John 1:1-18, the first a little chilling, the second very heart-warming. Just like winter in the frozen north when you step into a warm house from the frigid outdoors. The readings for the next day, New Year’s Day, The Octave Day of Christmas, Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God (that title is so long that just typing it makes me feel as if my blog post is complete) is really about that warmth, blessings from God, extending from the Jewish people to the world at large on a cosmic scale. In the Orthodox Church January 1 is the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus, celebrated as such prior to 1960 by the Roman Church, which clearly draws out the Jewish birth and upbringing of Jesus. More than that, the day of circumcision is the day of Jesus receiving his name (Luke 2:21: “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb”), generally a momentous event for every Jewish child and particularly for Christians the day when Jesus receives “the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9).
Do we dare tie it all in to New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day festivals, in the midst of what is still liturgically the Christmas season? New Year’s celebrations are celebrated at different times in many different cultures according to their own peculiar calendars and means of reckoning, but January 1 is the date celebrated according to the Roman calendar since the time of Julius Caesar. The only way to tie it in to celebrations of the New Year is on a cosmic scale, for New Year’s celebrations are cyclical and the events surrounding the incarnation of Jesus and the apocalyptic end to which 1 John refers are decidedly linear, even though celebrated liturgically in a cyclical manner. The New Year is a chance to celebrate what has been given to us, to be thankful for all of the people in our lives, and to look forward to a New Year with resolve and hope – and dread at the thought of failed resolutions and lapsed gym memberships after only one or two tries at the treadmill.
The celebration of Jesus and of the coming end – yes, at its heart is hope and so we ought to celebrate God making all things new, even if travail is a part of its fulfillment – is the promise that there is more than just a treadmill to our lives, the same thing over and over. Sometimes it feels that way, that life is a treadmill, and I do appreciate much of the treadmill, frankly, the daily routines, the same people I love and talk to on a regular basis, the food I love, all of the things that can bring comfort, but if it was only a treadmill, that would be too much. This is where the cosmic scale comes in, the knowledge that there are wonders and mysteries in each of our lives and that God’s plan includes this wonder and mystery on scales of knowledge that we cannot always comprehend.
The mystery of the Incarnation is of what John writes:
“And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,the glory as of the Father’s only-begotten Son,
full of grace and truth” (John 1:14)
But this mystery started with an infant boy, whose mother took him to be circumcised on the eighth day and who named him Jesus. This mystery was the fulfillment of promises made long ago, as Paul writes:
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God” (Galatians 4:4-7)
So, this is why I do celebrate New Year’s Day. Each of our lives is blessed and given by God, each of us is a child of God, and each of our lives is a part of God’s plan, mysterious and wonderful. We do not individually have the cosmic significance of the one who was sent, but we are why he was sent. As God told Moses long ago to pass on these words:
The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon
you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and
give you peace! (Numbers 6:24-26)
In the big scheme of things, in which we all have a small part to play, year after year, in our own little way, do not these words speak to the core of a Happy New Year? Happy New Year to each one of you, the Lord bless you and keep you. (And me too!)
UPDATE: It should also be noted, which I failed to do, that Judaism does have a New Year's celebration also: Rosh Hashanah, or the "head" or beginning of the year. This "cyclical" celebration is also a part of the Jewish liturgical year - I will think about this. I have a whole year to get it right. This is my New New Year's resolution: a new and improved blog post for next New Year's Day.
John W. Martens
Follow me on Twitter @johnwmartens