When I was 18 years old, I spent New Year’s Eve in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Before you get the wrong idea, I wasn’t on vacation. Some friends and I signed up to lead a day camp for school age children over their holiday break. We slept on cots in a muggy church fellowship hall. We didn’t have a shower, so we tied a hose to a tree branch and took turns jetting in and out of the freezing stream. We ate rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
We spent the days playing games and singing songs with the kids – most of whom were broke. We spent the evenings walking the streets, feeding those we could help, and realizing the island wasn’t one big resort. We spent the nights on the church playground discussing our futures. We talked about when we’d graduate, where we’d live, how rich we’d be, and, most importantly, how we would change the world.
On New Year’s Eve, we went to church. It felt familiar. Their hymnals were the same as the ones we had back home. They even smelled the same and felt the same. The only thing that was different about the experience was that the pastor kept using the phrase: Old Year’s Night. He preached a sermon asking us what lessons we learned in the last year. He asked the church what they were grateful for. He said, forget tomorrow. What has God done for you today?
At that point in my life, it felt foreign and funny to celebrate the old year rather than look forward to the new one. I was always eager to get on to the next thing, to turn the page, to start the next great adventure. Tomorrow meant progress and progress meant not living in my parents’ attic. Sitting in the dark and contemplating the past seemed dull compared to imagining who I might get to sneak a kiss with at midnight. Nevertheless, I could not escape those questions…
What did you learn this year? What are you grateful for? What has God done today?
After church, we celebrated and eventually ended up where we always did… swinging on swings and hanging from the monkey bars. On that night and that night only, we didn’t talk about our futures. Instead, we answered the pastor’s questions. No one kissed at midnight. There were no noise makers. We didn’t see a ball drop. We just sat in the dark – laughing, crying, thanking, and praying. We celebrated Old Year’s Night (and to this day a few of us still do).
I know a lot of people who want to throw 2020 away. (I do too, most of the time.) It certainly seems like we are ready to turn the page, get on to the next thing, and start a new adventure. We live in a world in need of resolution, there’s no doubt about that. We long for new life. You don’t have to listen very hard to hear lots of chants asking for 2021 and lots of people ready to celebrate the New Year.
And yet, there still seems like there’s room right now for Old Year’s Night too.
I hope you’ll take time to ask yourself:
What did you learn this year?
What are you grateful for?
What has God done for you today?
Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Look to the Lord and his strength;
seek his face always.
Remember the wonders he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced…
I Chronicles 16:8-12
In the Way,