We don’t have jetpacks. We still walk, don’t hover, there’s no button to press to pick your dreams, and still only some dreams come true, not all good.
Old men still have grey beards, if they have beards. We can predict much and change little. Some things we prolong. Some days we are better, some days worse. We have not finished the tower of Babel. Cain still envies Esau, and Seth tries to stay well out of it. We haven’t stopped the fires burning, though many are scorched and tired from the effort. Heaven is still an apology away, and most days that’s still a bridge too far.
Astroboy has not been born, astroturf invades the street. This is not quite how we imagined, exactly how we’ve made it.
…my road, My rugged way to heaven, please God.
(Christina Rossetti, “Old and New Year Ditties”)
Sometimes a harvest, sometimes fallow,
sometimes Job’s cut-down tree,
the year passes in a sighing nonetheless,
a barely whispered “Yet”:
yet this is not all,
this is not how all years shall go,
this is not the only movement that time possesses for us,
this is not the only sun our earth will orbit ’round,
this is not the end of years,
this is not the ground.
Tomorrow await ever-new mercies;
tomorrow see what tarries yet
will surely not delay.
As the decade breathed its last weary breaths, we sweltered, haze blowing over from the north and west and east and the fire station on Anderson Street set up its red-painted TOTAL FIRE BAN sign. We had it okay; not everyone did. Our worst fears were heat and the once-in-a-decade chance that fire might make it this close to the Bay. While the kids went crazy, we blanketed the house in blinds, switched off all lights, pulled down the awnings, until the 4 o’clock onslaught sent them gusting up in wild and rain and I raced to the clothesline to secure pyjamas while out front our overgrown branches teetered perilous over the powerline. By evening everything’s refreshed, nothing ruined. I gather breeze at windowsills while a rainbow reminds that flood will not destroy us. Our pride might yet, or stupidity. A new decade tumbles across the plains; Grace will show what Grace alone knows.
And so it starts over: our spinning way Around the sun; our cycle of light, dark, Hot, cold; plants losing, gaining leaves and bark. If we hear what the seasons have to say, It will be only their incessant bay, Their insistant reminders – at the park Or down the street – to heed the spark Of summer light, and the dying winter day. If dull the repetition, or senseless The way we never move on or remain, I will take a toddler’s view and address The new day with the delight its maker Feels when he sets the sun’s circuit to recur, That this – all this – can happen again, again!
Another year begins, and today we have a special piece of music to see in the new year: Bach’s Cantata for New Year’s Day, Part IV of his spectacular Christmas Oratorio. This cantata takes as its theme the presentation of Jesus at the Temple, but as often happens with Bach the story is explored through a number of voices who apply the story as aptly to our hearts today as for Bach’s hearers in his day. You can read the text and its translation here.
Order my beginning: For New Year’s Day
When they took him, on the eighth day,
as required by law,
with their offering of pigeons
(an allowance for the poor),
there was nothing about them
to startle the eye,
the custom being usual,
his name ordinary.
Yet the many other Yeshuas
in Bethlehem alone
were named looking backwards,
to a hero long gone.
This child looked forward.
His saving acts stood
in the imminent future,
with an immanent God.
No wonder the marvel,
the gathering throng,
the prophecies spoken,
the singing of songs,
and me on the sidelines,
praising and yet
reluctant to settle,
still hedging my bets.
Does salvation start here?
No, it’s as ancient as Him,
but it reignites dulled hearts
and lights growing dim.
O order my days here,
my thoughts and my sight.
My years will be nothing
save He sets them right.
2017 is almost over, and today we have two choral pieces to conclude our year with, one early, one modern, both settings of one of the readings for the first Sunday after Christmas, Isaiah 61:10-62:4. The first is the delightfully joyous “Gaudens Gaudebo in Domino” by the 16th century German composer Philip Dulchius. The text comes from the opening to the song, “I will rejoice greatly in the Lord”, which Mary echoes in her Magnificat in Luke’s Gospel. A modern reimagining of this text is the late Norwegian composer Knut Nystedt’s beautiful “I will greatly rejoice”, similarly jubilant but with simpler harmony. Both settings, looking not only to our own salvation but the saving of all nations, are wonderful calls to praise and prayer at the end of 2017.
Rejoice in your new clothes,
for the old is done.
The saving one has clothed you with joy
and in the bright raiment of His saving day.
Look to the east, to the west, where the sun
is rising and setting and setting the way,
where the hope of the new is calling, and calling,
where the world is enwrapping in light.
Rejoice in your new clothes;
rejoice greatly now in renewing delight.
For the old is done, the new bright as son,
bright as bridegroom and bride,
bright as the new spring in their eyes,
bright as wedding dance of old foes,
bright as the diadem in your thinning hair,
bright though the year be dimming.