So here we are, at the beginning of the New Year. Let me be honest, for decades it’s been just another night as far as I am concerned, differing from all the other nights only in the level of noise outside at midnight. The date as well as the time have been set artificially without any connection to natural phenomena. To me, the winter solstice would seem to be a much more appropriate day for celebrating a new year, as the Sun starts on its virtual journey higher up in the skies and the days are getting imperceptibly but surely longer. That would have been on 21 December in 2016. Or how about choosing the summer solstice instead, which falls on 21 June in 2017 – it might be a tad warmer than at this time of year and certainly much brighter. Well, I guess my suggestions will fall on deaf ears, and we shall be stuck with this bitter cold winter celebration at midnight for good. So, that’s my new year’s moan over and done with!
As part of the natural world on planet Earth, we all live in a repetitive cycle of seasonal changes. Spring, summer, autumn and winter – the four seasons we recognise in our corner of the world. Elsewhere, different natural phenomena are the features of the changing seasons: wet and dry on the African savannah, monsoon in South-East Asia and India, polar day and night beyond the polar circles. Whatever the seasons may be, they return and repeat themselves more or less regularly. We know what to expect, and we take those seasonal changes into consideration when making plans for the future. Because of such repetitiveness, we need a kind of starting point each year. There are cultural differences and different dates on which a new year begins. The Chinese calendar, based on the ‘movement’ of the Moon and the Sun, will mark its new year on 28 January. The Jewish New Year will start on 20 September. There are many more examples across the world. Regardless of the particular date and time of day of the New Year, we need a new opening, a fresh start, a new blank page of life to write on.
We have left behind us the old year. Some of us may feel it was a good year, while others may feel exactly the opposite; I suppose that for most of us it has probably been a bit of a mixed bag – certainly I can say that. Perhaps there are lessons that we can learn from the past year; very likely there have been situations where we could or should have reacted differently. What happened in the past – good and bad – has shaped and formed us. Who we are now is the end result of the many past events of which we are aware, and of even more events that have slipped from our memories. We should be grateful to God for all of them – the good and the bad. God writes straight on the twisted lines of our lives. But we should not attempt to live in the past, we ought not to try to cling to it – because the past is over and gone. It’s closed to us now, and we can’t change it. What you can make use of, however, is the here-and-now and tomorrow. You can make decisions about how to use the time that still lies ahead of you, the time still at your disposal. You will have to negotiate your way through whatever life brings, good or bad. For that bumpy road ahead, let me offer you a traditional Celtic blessing, echoing the one in today’s first reading: ‘May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.’