The New Day

Just days before Christmas, I heard a portion of an interview on the radio. Somebody was talking to an astronomer about celebrations that emphasize light during the dark season of the year. They were talking about religious festivals like Hanukkah and Christmas, and non-religious traditions that nevertheless can be observed religiously, like putting a gazillion lights on every house and hedge. Thousands of years ago, our ancestors living in the northern hemisphere had noticed how, during the course of the fall, the sun set earlier and further south every day; how the days got shorter and the darkness lasted longer. And they noticed that somehow that trend was reversed and the days started getting longer. The season of life began once again, and that beginning called for celebration.

The astronomer in that interview mentioned that our New Year’s Day is totally random, astronomically speaking. It has no relation whatsoever to the moon or the sun or the stars. He then mentioned that as a graduate student he once spent an entire New Year’s Eve party locked in a closet by himself, in protest against the sheer arbitrariness of the occasion. I don’t know if his name happened to be Sheldon, but I hope somebody brought him a glass of champagne at midnight and gave him a kiss.

Anyway, when I think of New Year’s, a scene from Forrest Gump comes to mind, where Forrest, Lieutenant Dan, and two girls are celebrating New Year’s. They’ve had a few drinks, and the party is winding down, when, during a long moment of silence, one of the girls sighs, “Isn’t New Year’s great? One gets to start all over. Everybody gets a second chance.” She’s right, of course. The date for New Year’s may be completely random, but it’s good to celebrate beginnings, and even better to raise a glass to second chances. Grateful for the gift, we make promises to ourselves: to eat better and spend more time with the kids; to make our bed every morning and pick up our dirty socks; to text less and talk more.

New Year’s is great. One gets to start all over, and everybody gets a second chance. We leave the old year behind in the archives and step into the new era of possibility and promise. Now perhaps you think you are detecting a mocking undertone in what I’m saying; you may think I’m just making fun of new year’s resolutions we can’t even keep till February, but I’m not. Perhaps you are saying to yourself, “The year may be new, but we are not, we’re just another year older; and before the week is over, we’ll be back in our old, familiar routines.”

I don’t see it that way. I refuse to see it that way, although there is plenty of evidence to justify a little jadedness.I refuse to see it that way, because we just celebrated Christmas. We just celebrated the birth of Jesus. We just received anew the good news of great joy that to us a child is given who is God’s saving interruption of all our tired and deadly routines. We live in a new day, not because Earth has completed another course around the Sun, but because Christ is born, because the Sun of Righteousness is risen.

I love that this year New Year’s Day falls on the first Sunday after Christmas. We begin the year, not with heavy burdens of self-imposed resolutions, but with the gift of this child.

Luke tells us that Jesus’ parents brought him to Jerusalem to the temple to present him to the Lord, and Luke takes us along. We meet Simeon, a righteous and devout man, who has spent his years looking forward to the consolation of Israel. And we meet Anna, a widow of great age, who has devoted most of her life to worship.

Anna is there because that’s where she has been, night and day, ever since her husband died. Simeon is there because he followed the guidance of the Holy Spirit who had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. We meet two old people who have shaped their lives around the promise and presence of God.

Outwardly they are bent by the years; climbing stairs demands all their strength and they must stop several times to catch their breath; their swollen joints hurt, and when Ruth says, “Getting old is not for sissies!” they smile, “No kidding!”

Outwardly they are bent by the years, but inwardly they live on tiptoe. They are open with anticipation, attuned to hear and see what God is doing in the world. For them, life and fidelity have become one. And when Mary and Joseph bring their child to be dedicated, Simeon takes him in his arms, he praises God and declares that now he is ready to die in peace. His arms are cradling God’s salvation, the good news for all people; his eyes have seen a light for revelation to the nations and for the glory of Israel.

David Steele was a Presbyterian minister and writer, and he wrote a little poem about Simeon that begins with a reference to yet another preacher.

This preacher
Claimed scholarly research had documented
That Simeon,
Of Simeon and Anna,
Had pronounced the very same blessing
(The one in Luke 2:27-35)
Over all the babies presented to him in the Temple
Those final years of his life

He was pulling my leg, of course.

But when I read the blessing
And thought about it,
I began to wish he was right
About Simeon … and those babies.
And I began thinking about our babies.
And I wished someone,
Some Simeon,
Might hold my grandbabies high … and yours …
The born ones and the not yet …
Proclaiming to them with great conviction,
“You are the saviors of the world!”
Meaning it so absolutely
Those young’uns would live it,
And love it,
And make it happen! [1]

Now before you wrinkle your brow with suspicion of blasphemous levity and complain about poetic license gone too far, think about it. Don’t you wish every child dedicated in our sanctuary would live as a light to the world and to the glory of God’s people? Didn’t Jesus say as much when he said to the disciples, “You are the light of the world! Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”[2]

Don’t you wish some Simeon or Anna would hold up every child on earth and recognize the promise of God and declare it with praise? Don’t you wish every old man and woman would recognize the Christ in every boy and girl? I do, and I believe it is happening. It happens with those whose hopes and expectations have been shaped by the promises and presence of God. Faithfulness in prayer and study (Anna) help us become attuned to what God is doing in the world. Openness to the prompting of God’s Spirit (Simeon) helps us be in the right place at the right time to witness the presence of Christ.

With the birth of Jesus we celebrate God’s way of interrupting the world’s tired routines with new life that has the power to completely transform us and change the world. Simeon and Anna were shaped profoundly by the promises of God and hence by a story that was yet to be completed. Their hope and fidelity prepared them for a joyful, face-to-face encounter with God’s Messiah. Living on the other side of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we see the story yet to be completed in the light of Christmas and Easter; and our wonder at the power and love of God is even greater than what Simeon and Anna could have imagined.

So how can we not add our voices of praise and blessing to theirs on this new day after Christmas? How can we not ask them to show us how to live in anticipation and hope every new day? How can we not ask them and the other Annas and Simeons among us to help us attune our senses and our souls to God’s unfolding redemption?

This is no day for burdening ourselves with resolutions. This is the day for recognizing the salvation of God.


[1] David Steele, The Next Voice You Hear: Sermons We Preach Together (Louisville: Geneva Press, 1999) p. 46

[2] Matthew 5:14-15