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Today: Friday, December 13, 2019


New Year?

First published 08 Dec 2019

It’s easy to take 31st December for granted.  At the end of this month millions around the world will be counting down the seconds that mark the end of one year, and celebrating with fireworks the arrival of a brand new year.  But it hasn’t always been like that, and it isn’t like that for everyone.

December 31st has only been the last day of the year in England since 1752, though the change happened in Scotland 152 years earlier.  Before that, New Year’s Day was 25th March!  Nowadays the personal tax year in the UK starts on 6th April.  Most universities start their year in September.

Other countries and cultures have their own traditions.  The Chinese Year of the Rat (2020) starts on 25th January, the next Islamic or Arabic New Year is on 19th August and the Jewish New Year on 19 September.

Like other faiths and different traditions, the Christian church has its own seasons and special dates.  In fact, the Christian tradition celebrated its own New Year’s Day last Sunday, Advent Sunday, marking the beginning of the story of Jesus and the retelling of that story which follows its annual cycle from Advent (meaning 'Coming'), through Christmas, Lent, Easter and Pentecost.

All these many different customs, remind us that time is constantly moving on, that seasons follow each other, that we grow older, that the world is always changing.  In that process we mark the years, usually with celebrations and joy, just as we mark our birthdays.

But a new year is not always something to look forward to.  Another birthday may be a reminder of loss or increasing frailty.  The well-known hymn “Abide with me” has within it the depressing line - “Change and decay in all around I see”, and with the passing years that may seem increasingly true.  I remember an uncle who refused to celebrate a wartime anniversary - it reminded him too much of loss and destruction - “What is there to celebrate?” he asked.

In contrast, the Christian calendar is about hope.  The great events of God’s intervention in the world - sending his Son to redeem the world - are retold each year:  

  • Advent is about the promise that God is coming to change things.  
  • Christmas is about the gift of a child, born in humble surroundings but destined to be the Prince of Peace.  
  • Lent is about our sharing with Jesus in the suffering and pain of the world.  
  • Good Friday is about the ultimate sacrifice he made to defeat evil and wrong.  
  • Easter Day is the turning point of hope - Jesus who died has conquered death and is alive! 
  • Pentecost is about our being caught up in that story ourselves, becoming agents of the Holy Spirit and servants of God.

That’s a very different kind of calendar which we rejoice to follow year by year until the story is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.

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The hymn Abide with me carries the assurance that God will stay with us through all the passing years.  It is a prayer that finishes - “Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee; in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

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