The Church does not really know a celebration of the secular new year, although popular versions of it have arisen, including “Watch Night” services. Today is “just” the seventh day of Christmas. Our new year was Advent 1 and resolutions belong in Lent. Tomorrow is the eighth day of Christmas, the Feast of the Holy Name, the day Jesus would have been circumcised and named.
Yet here’s a bit of a reflection on the new year from John Mason Neale, a 19th century Church of England priest. It’s from a sermon on the well-known Ecclesiastes text, “There is a time to be born and a time to die…” If Neale seems pessimistic about the year that is past, and about the inner life, it should be known that his was a life full of suffering, much of it at the hands of the church:
And now look at the two years: the poor old worn-out year, that had seen so much sorrow and suffering and sickness and sin, and [will be] gathered to its fathers at midnight, and the new year, so full of hope and vigor and expectation, as yet. There [is] a time to die for the one; there is a time to be born for the other.
I cannot tell—which of us can tell?—whether it may please God that this year we [are now entering] shall be one of more rest and quietness to us than the last. It ought not to matter. In whatever situation it pleases God to place us, there we know that we are given the opportunity, if we will, of working out our own salvation. Yet, I trust God may make our enemies to be at peace with us. We have all of us enemies enough in our own hearts, I am quite sure, to take up all our time and all our thoughts, without their being thus distracted. For this I have prayed earnestly, that the Prince of Peace, at whose birth, when he came into the world, peace was sung by the angels, and who when he was going out of the world, bequeathed peace to his apostles, may give peace in our time: peace, not from strife within ourselves, for that, while we live in the flesh, we always must have, but peace from earthly enemies here, and, in the world to come, that perfect peace which can never—no not for one moment—be broken, because Jerusalem is the vision of peace.
It may sound like very bad news that we will always have strife in our own hearts. Yet I believe that is the truth. Wrestling, even struggling, with life is a large part of being human. Yet glimpses of peace and experiences of centeredness are also possible, and we should accept them and rejoice in them when they come. So let us also pray for those times amid the struggle within of the coming year.