Ringing In The New Year
Well by the time you read this, we will be in the new year of 2009. If you "welcomed" or marked the new year, how did you do it? For some reason I am in a nostalgic mood this new years, and reflected on the many different ways that there are to to mark the new year ... or not, depending on what "floats your boat" as they say.
There are those who focus on what the new year will bring, and engage in all sorts of speculation and predictions. These range from the philosophical to the superstituous. An ethnic newspaper article that I read recently describes the old world practice of "divining" by lead. Pieces of lead are molten, and then poured into cold water, where the lead turns into all sorts of shapes, which supposedly can be interpreted to tell the future, or fortune, or lack thereof. That is only one of a myriad of superstitions available.
Then there is the "religious" way of observing New Years, although there really is no liturgical, or even biblical basis for that. I remember the New Years Eve services of my childhood and youth. They were called "Watch Night" services, for they began around 9:00 PM on New Years Eve, and went to past midnight, usually with a break for refreshments. In the church of my childhood, baptisms were held on New Years Eve whenever there were candidates available, and I myself, as 10 year old lad was baptized along with 11 others in such a nocturnal "watch night" service. Early in my ministry, in two of my churches, I conducted such New Years Eve baptisms.
When I moved out west to Alberta, I found that the the Watchnight Services were even longer, beginning at 8:00 PM and going till after midnight. And then, as if that wasn't enough, there was yet another "service" on New Years Day. In Calgary, the custom was to darken the sanctuary except for the lights of the Christmas tree at about 10 minutes before midnight, and we formed a huge ring around the periphery of the sanctuary and held hands for prayer over the midnight. But on my first New Years at that church, I was not prepared for what happened next: after 12 midnite, everyone, and I mean everyone, in the congregation began hugging and kissing and wishing each other a happy New Year. On that first New Year in Alberta I could think of only one thing: what is the shortest route to my car!! Hugging (and being kissed)by people whom I barely knew except for Sundays, was a little too much for this Easterner.
In one church that I pastored, the local custom was to literally welcome the new year on our knees. As the midnight hour approached, the congregation knelt for prayer, and at the stroke of midnight we prayed the Lord's Prayer together, so that everyone could claim to have crossed the threshold into the New Year by praying. The custom died out as people got older and found it more difficult to stay up that late.
Indeed, in the church that I presently am the pastor of, we have a 2 hour event held early in the evening of New Years Eve. It begins with a meal, continues with an audio visual presentation of the "year in review" and concludes with an informal time where folks can reflect by testimonials on the memories of the year past, or hopes of the coming year. We conclude with a time of prayer, and people are then dismissed. Having it early in the evening makes it family friendly, and concluding it earlier rather than later gives people the option of observing the midnight hour according to their preference. Many of our families gather in homes for some type of party.
In the early memories of my childhood, I remember that many of the prayers on New Years Eve included gratitude for not having to observe new years "the way the world does it". I.e. by partying. So my comfort level was tested in one church that I was at, where there was NO New Years Eve service...and indeed "partying" (without any praying, or drawing of Scripture promise cards) was the norm. However, now that I reflect on the lack of liturgical basis or Scripture mandate for the way to celebrate New Years, I don't think it matters much whether you observe the passing of one year to the next in a church or in New York Times Square, or in the comfort of your bed. (This year I watched the countdown and fireworks in Niagara Falls from the comfort of my living room. If you think that was wrong, then you can pray for me). What matters, I think, is that we remain thankful that God has been good to us for another year, much more than we deserve. And that we remain dependent on Him in the coming year. He is faithful, a God "of the ages", even when we have not been faithful. And to those, who put their trust in Him, He will reveal Himself in powerful and mighty ways in the coming year. And one more thing: in this coming year, the sun will rise over the righteous and the unrighteous as always. But still, I wish you the very best of health, happiness, and God's richest blessings in this coming new year.