“Thank goodness, it’s over! ”
But, is it ?
Every year, it’s the same.
Come the beginning of January someone will tell me how much they have enjoyed their Christmas celebration and end up by saying “but thank goodness, it’s over!” No doubt, that’s something we can all readily understand. Christmas now seems to begin in the shops in late August and so, come early December, it has well and truly monopolised our thinking. By the time Christmas actually comes, we have made so much of it that we are relieved to let it go and turn our minds to that other celebration of the New Year.
But Christmas doesn’t actually begin until Christmas Day and then continues for the following twelve days. This means that when New Year arrives we are meant to be still celebrating Christmas faith and the Christmas hope. What difference do you think that makes ? What difference would it make if we really did welcome the New Year with the message and promise of Christmas still in our minds and hearts ? Would we really then say, “Thank goodness it’s over” ?
Jewish New Year
Some years ago, Dr (now Lord) Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, gave a talk on radio. It was about the Jewish New Year which falls, for them, in September. He spoke of how the Jewish tradition sees the new year as the anniversary of creation, the ‘Big Bang’ : the moment the universe began. But he said, when Jewish people gather to worship at the new year, they do not – as one might expect – read the majestic opening chapter of the Old Testament: “And God said ‘Let there be…and there was’”. In fact, they do not read the story of creation at all. Instead, the read about the birth of the first Jewish child, Isaac, born to Abraham and Sarah after many, many years of waiting; and they read about Hannah and her prayer for a child which was also answered.
I found that thought deeply moving. At the beginning of a year, do not think about God’s act of creation, but rather about ours; not about the aching vastness of the universe – 18 billion light years across – but rather about the joy and responsibility of bringing new life into the world. Don’t think of God as the ‘great master scientist’ devising systems of vast complexity, but rather think of him as a parent, loving and forgiving us, his children.
So: how about YOUR New Year ?
Just a few weeks ago at Christmas, we too thought about a child and the message of faith contained in the birth of that child. Do we not now need to allow that same Child to fill our thoughts still as we further journey into the unknown of this new year ?
During the past twelve months there have been times when massive problems – Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle
East, the global economy, the environment – have seemed almost impossibly intractable. How can we ever get a grip on issues so difficult to understand, let alone solve ?
Where do we even begin ?
Maybe there is enduring wisdom in the experience and practice of our Jewish colleagues.
Since New Year follows on so quickly after Christmas, maybe it has something simple but important to say to us. Don’t think about the past, or even present, calculations of political interest or economic gain. Rather, ask instead what impact all that may have on future generations. Or they are your own creation. So: hold before you the image of a single human child.
Children are the sufferers of the 21st century.
113 million children have no schooling. 150 million are malnourished. 30,000 die each day from preventable diseases. They have no vote, no power of their own, no voice. Yet, they are the ones who will suffer tomorrow for the mistakes our generation makes today.
So: ponder this. The message of the Christmas we have all just celebrated is that greater than all our hopes and fears for the future is the ability to hear the cry of a child – and respond in love.
Minister of Bothwell