I’ll tell you a secret, I really really don’t like New Year. For me it’s too sentimental and nostalgic, and the TV schedule is full of boring retrospective programmes (cheap to make) and rubbish films. I just can’t wait for January 2nd. My Scottish husband, however, loved Hogmanay, because to him it spoke of hope and new beginnings. Yes, it was about taking a bottle of whisky to friends, first-footing, but there was also a real meditative side of the New Year for him, and a sort of formality. If anyone said ‘Happy New Year’ before we crossed the midnight threshold he would say ‘Aye, when it comes.” One of his New Year customs was to say “May the best of this last year be the worst of the year to come.” Which always made me smile because it’s quite a small wish, isn’t it? And whenever I tried it I always got it the wrong way round.
If he was here he would be checking we had whisky and a piece of coal and some bread ready for the first footing on the night, and he’d be planning who to visit, and wondering who would come here…. I sort of miss that. Well, no I don’t. But I do miss him and his enthusiasm.
George was a quiet, stoical Scot. He was (annoyingly) much calmer, wiser, and funnier than anyone I knew. Witty. That man could reduce me to helpless laughter with one quiet word. In the area of my brain that creates characters and casts actors, the Scot is always sharp and witty, while the Irish character is always just a little inept, stubborn and wayward (I’m Irish. But not at all like that. Obvs). I wonder if he would recognise me now, 27 years since we saw each other? I wonder if he would see change? I don’t mean physically, but emotional, attitudinal change? Would he recognise the me in me?
If he was still in this world, how different life would be. We wouldn’t be welcoming the New Year here in West Wales, for starters (he refused to live further than ten minutes from a B&Q store, immediate access to a wide range of screwdrivers being essential to sustain life). And I certainly wouldn’t be going to church (loved God but mistrusted anything even vaguely like religion). But I also wouldn’t be wondering how I was going to dismantle the wardrobe, or how to drill a hole in a bookcase for an electric cable, or sort out a shelter for the recycling. He would get all those things done in a single morning, my broad shouldered, blond haired, blue eyed, fixer of all things wrong.
Who am I kidding? If George was still alive he would be in his eighties. Shocker! Really, that is a shocker. I struggle to accept it. In my mind he is always fit, strong, 55ish, walking with a bounce, quick and funny. If he had lived, who would he be now? And who would I be now?
All life is change. How tragic it would be if we had lived through those 27 years but had learned nothing new, not grown closer to God, remaining the same in 2020 as we were in 1993. If nothing much has changed in the last quarter of a century ….. you got problems, brother! Change is everywhere, in nature and in technology and in society.
George grew up in the shadow of Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow where, on execution days the early morning streets would grow silent, and he and his brothers would stand, heads bowed, as their mother, a Christian pacifist, prayed. The morning lost its colour as they thought of the man going to the gallows behind the high grey prison walls. Each executed man was commemorated by a prayer card on the wall next to his mother’s bed. George would gaze at those cards, the oldest yellowing and creased, the most recent shockingly white and fresh. His Mother prayed for them until five minutes past eight, because each of them was loved by God, and then she prayed for their families, because each of them was a mother’s child. I asked how many cards there were and he wasn’t sure, probably ten or fifteen. The world changes; attitudes, culture and even the law… all things change.
My father didn’t see a car until he was 7, planes were stick-and-canvas rickety things, but in his lifetime Dad learned to drive (badly and dangerously), Concorde came and went, the atom was split and man landed on the moon. That’s technology for you! It changes even faster than culture.
If an organism doesn’t adapt to new environments, it won’t survive. If we stop producing new life, we become extinct (ah, if only the church could realise that. Really realise and embrace that fact) . If our cells no longer regenerate, we die. It’s a law of nature and the way God planned it; from the moment of our birth we are in a process of change.
My church has a strap line “Real people, real God, real life change”. If the Christian life doesn’t change us there is something very wrong. Fundamentally wrong.
‘ we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.’ 2 Cor 3:18
But of course change isn’t comfortable, even the smallest. I remember how my Aunty, a good Catholic woman, was scandalised when, at Mass, the priest invited the congregation to applaud a family who were leaving the area. All he got was a tiny smattering of feeble embarrassed flapping, really, but it was enough to shatter my Aunty Nelly’s composure and she prophesied gloomily ” Well, that’s him just asking for trouble! It’ll be half naked girls with feathers doing the can-can next.”
Change comes whether we like it or not. Because change isn’t about us. It’s inevitable. It’s about the next generation and about the future.
So, here I am sending a small (and a bit ungenerous) Scottish blessing to you all “May the best of this last year, be the worst of the year to come.”
But I don’t really want 2020 to be anything like the last year! I want it to be something completely new and exciting because the world needs new and the world needs change. Wherever you are, from Australia and the Amazon with their raging fires, to global floods and famine, local wars, a generation of refugees sweeping across Europe, terrorism, world poverty, crime…. It’s all a bit grim.
Or is it? Before you put that Kalashnikov to your head (don’t write in and tell me your arms aren’t long enough because the barrels measures…) , listen up, because the Bible is full of deep calm truths about every time of trouble. So many verses to take into a New Year.
“In this world you will have trouble but take heart! I have overcome the world!”
That’s Jesus of course.
Even though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil.
That’s David in the Psalms.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
That’s Jesus again.
365 times the Bible tells us, commands us, not to be afraid, or to have courage, or to take heart. Don’t be afraid of storm or want, or death, or persecution…. in Deuteronomy God told the Israelites not to fear the enemy….
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.
He was telling the Israelites, led by Joshua, to go out fearlessly into the new land. Today, I believe, God is telling us not to be afraid of the future, the New Year, to step into it fearlessly, not because we won’t be hurt or because it’s all going to be easy-peasy, but because God is leading us, and He will never leave us or forsake us. However hard it gets, whatever obstacles are put in our way, He will overcome them and He will be glorified. We may not be glorified in the sight of the world, and even in our own eyes we may seem to struggle and fail, but if we walk with God, we will see marvellous things, and be part of His Kingdom work. Really. Really.
There are so many strap lines we could come up with and they all sound great – but there’s one that sounds a bit challenging, a strap line that needs a whole lot of obedience and which takes us straight out of our comfort zone. One that challenges me, tells me to leave the past far behind me, to walk into whatever God has prepared, however long the journey, however steep the mountains;
2020, the year for change.
This is what the Lord says –
he who made a way through the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,
who drew out the chariots and horses,
the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
‘Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.