Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
January 1, 2017
“I Greet You: Happy Terrifying New Year!”
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 – New Revised Standard Version
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
Today is January 1st and everyone knows that means it is the first day of a new year. Happy New Year everyone! Welcome to 2017!
Except in Thailand. There the first day of the New Year is in April – either the 13th, 14th, or 15th. In Thailand we are in 2559, not 2017. Marked by the birth of the Buddha.
More than a billion people will celebrate Chinese New Year about a month from now. Depending on the lunar cycle, it’s always sometime between the middle of January and the middle of February. This year it is January 28th, marking the beginning of the year 4714.
This year, the Jewish New Year started on October 2 for the year that is 5777. Next year it starts on September 20. It kind of makes saying Happy New Year a little more complicated!
Christmas isn’t complicated. December 25th is Christmas. It’s always Christmas Day. Unless you’re an Orthodox Christian which means you will celebrate Christmas on January 7th. Why must something so simple be so complicated?
But at least everyone knows that Independence Day is ___ (July 4th,) unless you’re not an American, of course. Everyone knows the date for Mexican Independence Day, right? September 16.
We mark our lives by days. Days on an annual calendar, like Valentine’s Day ___ (2/14), income tax deadline day ___ (4/15). How about Sweetest Day? (October 21, 2017). We may not be so sure of that one. Lots of days are really just marketers hard at work.
How about June 4, July 26, July 28, and October 31st? The day I first met Art, the day we first spoke, the day we married, and the day, 8 years after that, our marriage was legal – conveniently placed on Halloween so we wouldn’t forget it. Those are the kind of ordinary days in everyone else’s lives that take on extraordinary meaning in our own. Birthdays, anniversaries of all kinds, ordinations, graduations… we all have those days when things seem happy and hopeful and all kinds of things are possible.
But there are also the days we remember because of their tragedy. The day our parent died. Or our spouse. Or our child. The date we first learned of our cancer. The date of our last chemo appointment. Some people can immediately tell you the date of Columbine. Sandy Hook. The Aurora Theatre. And of course 9/11, and now, 11/9. A day we woke up in a country we couldn’t imagine people would actually choose, as we hang on for the last 20 days or so of an adult in the White House.
Eventually some dates on the calendar are a mix of both. A birth and a death on the same day. Some days we’d really rather not combine. Though I’m not very superstitious, I wouldn’t want my child to be born on September 11th.
I’d rather have some days dedicated to happy and hopeful events and others neatly set aside just for sad memories.
If only “A time to seek, and a time to lose; A time to keep, and a time to throw away…” If only they were nicely separated into one day for this. One day for that.
But life is more complicated and so we learn how to combine both hope and memory – one informing the other. It’s bittersweet. But the process of mourning, the gift of mourning, is learning to live with both a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance. This is one of the best gifts of aging – how the best of life and the worst of it can happen simultaneously.
Just like, on one hand I greet you today by saying Happy New Year. On the other, I feel more like saying “Terrifying New Year!” It’s hard to say Happy! when there is little that feels hopeful. Some days I have to work harder than others to squeeze some optimism into my happy. If only 11/9 was a distant memory… something about which to reminisce rather than worry about.
Ecclesiastes ends its wisdom by saying:
There is a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
I wish the author would have said there is a time OF hate. A time OF war. Because that is a truthful statement. How can it be true that there is a time TO hate and a time FOR war?
Is this something to anticipate or ancient memory? Yet no matter the reason behind such wisdom, we are in it. We are living here in the middle of hope and memory, of something new and terrible. We are in the middle of throwing stones away and gathering them up. We are in the middle of breaking things down and building them back up. We are in the middle of a time of tearing apart and sewing back together. All at the same time. Perhaps the wisdom of the elders who have lived through this and much worse can help to keep us sane in a time of insanity.
This will be a hard year and certainly a time that will test our ability to keep faith. In reality, this “Terrifying New Year” is just the start of more terrifyingly hard years. This too shall come to an end but not before a lot of damage has been done and a lot of people have been hurt. That is the realistic truth about it.
But faith will guide our way through it. And faith will save us. James Whitehead said “faith is the enduring ability to imagine life in a certain way.” Despite the crazy, despite grief and loss and death, faith holds on to the vision Jesus proclaimed of life in a certain way. Like, the upside down-ness of the Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor, the meek, the pure in heart. Blessed are those who mourn. And blessed are those who are persecuted for justice. And like the Magnificat – Mary’s Song that proclaimed, in the birth of Jesus, “the proud are scattered in the thoughts of their hearts and the humble are lifted up; the hungry are filled with good things and the rich are sent away emptyhanded.”
In this and these four years to come, everything in us will be tested to believe this is true.
But as Jesus first proclaimed, his mission is to bring “Good news for the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…” After he read this from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus said “Today this has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Today this has been fulfilled. And every new day ever since.
Including today, or any New Year’s Day – whether it is January 1st or 28th, April 13th, or any other day. Every day is new. And every day since the centuries long ago when those words were first spoken, that day it has been fulfilled. Some way, somehow, by someone who has kept faith – imaging life in that certain way. Of love, of justice, of compassion.
If you do it one day and I do it one day and she does it one day and he does it one day, we will fulfill the commands of our faith to love every day, no matter how happy or terrifying the times might be.
It’s not really that complicated. Guided by faith, I can simply greet you: Happy Terrifying New Year!