From Matthew’s Gospel:
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Matthew 1:18a (NRSV) – January 1, 2014.)
The first day of the year on the Church’s calendar has a variety of names:
The Feast of the Circumcision, in honor of the Jewish tradition of circumcising a male infant on his eighth day of life: “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” (Luke 2:21)
The Feast of the Holy Name: The angel said to Joseph in a dream, “She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21)
The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, a celebration of Mary’s motherhood of Jesus.
I think it is occasionally the Feast of the Holy Family (the first Sunday of the Christmas season in the Roman tradition), although that one may get translated if it falls on January 1; I’m not sure about that.
What all of these share with the secular observance of the New Year is an emphasis on beginnings: a newly-minted Jew, a newly-named child, a new mother, a new family. All the promise of the tabula rasa, the pristine, empty tablet waiting to be filled with all the narratives of life.
I don’t make resolutions, primarily because I am simply so bad at keeping them. But I do look forward making changes. There is a tradition in Stockholm, Sweden (of all places), of reading a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Looking forward to another year of trying to be more Christ-like, I follow the Swedish tradition and read this poem myself at midnight. Midnight is passed, but I offer the poem again this morning as we welcome the New Year:
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.