I want to begin the New Year by saying thank you to everyone for the good wishes I received for the New Year. I am sure I am not the only one who thinks that last year passed very quickly, and not just the last year, how did it get to be 2015 already?
What will this New Year hold for you? The Christmas letters and cards Sue and I received included news of special events some of our friends are looking forward to this year: family weddings; birth of grandchildren; significant birthdays, impending retirement, for some a second retirement; moving house; new jobs; holiday plans; and in some cases the prospect that this year might be someone’s last. A New Year brings opportunities and challenges, and the possibility that some things will remain pretty much the same and some could change for ever.
The church year, like the calendar year, has a repeating cycle. In the calendar year the cycle is of months and seasons; in the church year the cycle is of festivals and holy days. In the calendar month of January the church cycle includes the feast of Epiphany when we remember the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus, along with Herod’s horrific attempt to remove any threat to his own position and power by killing all the infant boys who might possibly be the child the prophets had spoken of who would be ‘King of the Jews’. For those who are into such things January also includes the feasts of St Peter (18 January) and of the conversion of St Paul (26 January). The time between these two feast days is now often celebrated as the Octave (usually called the week) of Prayer for Christian Unity.
As we go through the year other major and minor festivals and seasons give a rhythm to our church life – Lent and Easter; Pentecost; Harvest; Advent and Christmas. And before we know it (scary thought) another year will have passed and we will be marking the start of 2016!
The cycle of church life helps to remind us of important aspects of our faith and reinforce their significance for our lives, and I value the rhythm the cycle provides, but I do sometimes wonder whether the cycle is counterproductive. The rhythm reinforces repetition and in doing so implies that this year things will be pretty much the same as last year, and next year will be more or less the same as this. There is something comforting in that rhythm. Most people do not cope well with change; we want things to remain the same, but is that what Christian discipleship is about?
Christ invites us to follow him on a journey, a journey of faith as well as through life. We are not invited to join him on a circular walking tour but to set out on an adventure travelling to unknown destinations. The danger of the cycle of seasons is that we can end up in stagnation, going round in circles but never really going anywhere, never moving forward.
My prayer for myself and for you this new year is that we will resist the temptation to go round in circles; that no matter what treasures or pressures this year might bring we will have the courage to go through the cycle asking, ‘What new things might God be saying to me?’ and ‘How can I move forward with God this year rather than simply tread the same old ground again?’
I wish you all a very happy and occasionally challenging 2015.