Our Rich Liturgical Heritage:
Our Rich Liturgical Heritage: New Year
by The Rt Revd Dr Peter Brain
It is always good to be able to greet one-another with the words ‘Happy New Year’. Apart from the wish that it may bring happiness, there are some important assumptions that rescue it from mere formality, wishful sentimentality or politeness. Truths from our everyday liturgies invest our greeting with hope, purpose and meaning.
In Morning prayer, before the Bible is read, we say/sing from Psalm 95: today if only you would hear his voice: Do not harden your hearts as Israel did in the wilderness and later we pray: we thank you for bringing us safely to this day: keep us by your mighty power, and grant that today we fall into no sin or run into any kind of danger, but lead and govern us in all things [Collect of the morning]. Our years are made up of days. We are wise never to put off what we ought to do today, especially as we hear God’s written word. We are also wise to thank God for each and every day he gives us, especially as he promises to lead and strengthen us for obedience each day.
A happy New Year can be expected and enjoyed only as we follow Jesus in glad and wholehearted obedience. The fact that we say, ‘Happy New Year’ and not ‘we hope your karma is good this year’ is based upon the Judeo- Christian understanding of history, which is linear, not cyclical. This results in a confidence that life is going somewhere, and is not just a dreary round of constant struggle for improvement. This is expressed in our creedal insistence that not only did our Lord come from heaven at a particular time in history but on the third day he rose again. Christianity is focussed on a person, who came amongst us in great humility. It is not a philosophy, nor a theophany. Each day and New Year will always bring its share of challenges and troubles as well as joys and opportunities. Mercifully none need be lived outside of friendship with God the Son, fellowship with the Holy Spirit and God’s fatherly care.
But there is more. The One whose coming was earthed in reality and over whom history divides into BC and AD, will come again on a day as we pray: on the last day, when he comes in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal [Advent Collect]. This Day will be his glorious day, where all God’s gracious purposes will be completed. Jesus will be vindicated as the Lord of all and all who have embraced him as their Lord and Saviour will be glorified with him forever in the New Heavens and the New Earth. The cyclical world view is a dreary and hopeless way of trying to fit ourselves for a better future.
Reincarnation delivers only blame to those suffering, whereas the linear world view reminds us of the grace of God for every day. We are to serve all equally, and choices made now will be honoured for eternity by God. And how blessed we are that there is such a way! It is the resurrection of Jesus that marks him out as the Saviour and the judge. And all depends on our response to him now in this life. Life lived joyfully with him now and for eternity, serving others for him, with a humble but quiet assurance, sees every day and year as a new adventure with and for him, no matter what happens to us.
Each day is a new chance to prove God’s grace and faithfulness and to share the gospel with others by our lips and our lives. Two old hymns are full of encouragement at these riches.
O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, be our defence while life shall last, and our eternal home (Isaac Watts). This happiness flows from today’s choice to follow Jesus: O happy day! That fixed my choice on Thee, my Saviour and my God! Well may this glowing heart rejoice, / and tell its raptures all abroad. The chorus: O happy day! O happy day! When Jesus washed my sins away; / He taught me how to watch and pray, and live rejoicing every day, O happy day! O happy day! When Jesus washed my sins away (Philip Doddridge).