New Year’s Eve is a time for the annual ritual of looking back and looking forward.
Looking back on 2012, we as a nation experienced major catastrophes; for example, there have been devastating storms and the continuation of a decade-long war in Afghanistan. Before this year ended, several mass shootings including one in a movie theater and just this month the killing of twenty children and six of their teachers in the schoolrooms frightened us and saddened our heats.
Further, we experienced a tediously long election campaign resulting in outcomes some of us liked and some of us did not.
The result has been for many an overwhelming sadness dampening spirits under a cloud of gloom.
Certainly, there have been some good times. Couples married, children were born, the stock market recovered, and people have gone back to work after many months of unemployment. We can mourn the tragedies and celebrate the happy moments. For some, the news seems worse than ever. For others, life seems to be about the same.
Looking back and reviewing the year that is passing can be happy, sad, and all the emotion that is in between. For many, looking back over the year can be nostalgic.
Reviewing our lives for those of us who are now elderly is way of wishing we had done it all differently or that we managed life well. Almost all of us long to go back to the carefree days of childhood and youth. I can recall with nostalgia the fond memories of study, friends, and teachers of my high school and college days. There are even warm and happy memories of my soldiering days. Then, there is the memory of serving as a parish priest for over twenty years—almost eighteen of which were at one parish.
Most of all I cherish remembering the early days a loving companionship that is now over fifty-two years. With this wonderful woman the thought of her warms and continues to warm my heart. I hope to continue loving her and sharing life with her for another fifty-two years.
However, we do not live in the past.
Looking forward we hope that the elections of 2012 will make a difference with more people finding jobs, soldiers coming home, peace prevailing in the world, and our concerns over mass shootings, and the so-called “fiscal cliff” will be abated. Also we need to hope our individual efforts will make a difference to those we love and in the world.
The coming year is very likely to be like the year we have just experienced. Nevertheless, there is no reason for the faithful to be hopeless. While we prepare for the future, because we cannot live in the past or postpone the present, in hope of some sort of utopia or even for heaven we must live in the day, in the present, that is always at a new beginning.
The words, “In the beginning” are the opening poetry of the Gospel according to John. Then all that follows in the first chapter of this Gospel simultaneously lift our souls and confounds us. What was in the beginning and what is the Word of which John writes? While the words are mysterious, this passage of Scripture brings us to a hope and knowledge that poised in the beginning is a solid and fundamental relationship with our creator and the Word of God, Jesus.
Thus, here we are. We have an ending of the calendar year and the beginning of new hope contained in a single moment.
Too few understand that with every ending—the end of a year, for example—there is a new beginning. Unhappily, too few appreciate the joy of a passing year and the hope for the coming New Year. Most of all, there are too few who seek the joy of a new relationship with the Word that can bring eternal bliss.
Have you ever thought about this? We read a book or watch a film and after three hundred pages or so, or after two hours, the story ends and the characters we either admire or despise disappear. Sure, they live on in memory but unless the book or the film is truly memorable, that brief encounter with a different age, world, people, or culture also fades from memory. When we close the book after reading the last page, or watch the credits scroll after a film is over, we wonder what happens next. Where do those people we have given so much time to go? Was the love they expressed truly blissful and blessed? At the end of a crime story we can ask, “Was justice served?” Any numbers of questions, when the page or the film announces “The End,” rise in our minds. Just because the last page or the end of the film says, it is over it is not the end.
The end of something, a story, a year, a life, is always a new beginning. Every time we turn around there’s always this phrase before us, “In the beginning…” Well then, do we focus on what has happened in time and story past? On the other hand, do we put our minds and energies to the new beginning and prepare for what will happen next?
At every change and juncture in life (leaving grammar school, graduating from high school and college, being discharged from military service, getting married, having children, going through divorce, losing a loved one, or surviving a disaster) there comes a time in which we say, “In the beginning…”
Therefore, other than the blessed assurance of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, the only other assurance we have is that only constant in life is change. Every change provides an opportunity for a new beginning.
In the Book of Genesis, we read that the universe was a vast void and God decided to change that condition. The story starts with, “In the beginning…” After this change, the earth comes into being, the sun, and the heavens illuminate the void, and life emerges on the earth. All seemed well. Then another change comes. Human beings decide they need to know more than they do living naked in a beautiful garden. After a while, all of us would be tired of that existence. This change, however, is called “the fall.” Nevertheless, think about this, there would be no life that matters without it. Instead of “the fall,” we can think of it as “a new beginning.” Humanity always stands at the beginning of something. Even if the universe collapses, it will be a beginning for God.
The God Christians worship, while reminding us of beginnings, is timeless. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” It is the same beginning described in Genesis. The Jesus Christians remember (who Christians believe is the living redemptive nature of the God) in the celebration of the Eucharist shares that timelessness.
While the Divine is not bound by time, the measure of time—years, the seasons of the year, the months of the calendar, and the days hours, minutes, and seconds of our lives—begins in Sacred Scripture. God creates in six days and rests on the seventh. Isaiah reminds us of the seasons when he wrote, “For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.” Paul wrote to the Galatians, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” Humanity lives in that fullness of time, in the seasons of the year, and in the hours of the days.
The timelessness of God removes us from the pressure of time and provides for us a method of pausing and recalling that in the beginning, God created and in the beginning, the Word was with God.