Each year on New Year’s eve, we celebrate the year that was and anticipate the year that will be. As the ball drops and the clock adds another year at midnight, we sense something significant: it’s a new year. And despite the fact that time is relative and the moment is completely arbitrary… there are feelings of elation, catharsis, inspiration, and regret. The changing of the year offers us a clear break from past and future, and opportunity to move on and live better. With each turning year is a chance for a “fresh start.”
It’s no wonder, then, that it is a time for resolutions. “This year, I’m going to …” People focus on losing weight, working harder, improving relationships, eating better, quitting smoking or drinking, traveling more, or just being a better person. It’s a time of motivation, determination, and achievement of feats one didn’t know possible.
So why do I write about this now on November 28th, a full month ahead of time? Am I that organized and forward thinking? Ha! (Maybe there’s a New Year’s resolution somewhere in there…) No, the reason I write today is because today is actually the final day of the Church calendar. As the sun sets this evening and the evening masses begin, Ordinary Time will end and Advent will begin.
Like the Gregorian Calendar, there is a sense that this is an arbitrary change; since the events we celebrate (Christmas, Easter, etc.) were not recorded by exact date nor do they “happen” again each year, we could have chosen to celebrate them on any day and set any day as the start of the new year. And yet, unlike the Gregorian Calendar, there is great significance to the progression of the year: we begin with anticipation and hope for something better during Advent, experience the joy of the Incarnation, our hope fulfilled, at Christmas, begin our Christian journey in Ordinary Time, call to mind our times of failure in Lent so to prepare ourselves for the fullness of life and salvation during Easter, to finally be sent out to make disciples of the world in Ordinary Time again. In a year, we capture the experience of our salvation, from our humble beginnings to our triumphant salvation.
The beauty of it all, at least to me, is that it is by its nature cyclical. It happens again and again and again and again. The seasons of the year are not things to be completed or perfected so as to move beyond them. So it is with our life as Christians. Our experience of salvation history and the stages of our own Christian growth are not things that can be simply completed like years of high school or the items on a checklist. Just because we have been a Christian for many years does not mean that we have graduated from the anticipation of Jesus’ coming, the excitement of a new faith, the sorrow of a forgotten one, or the call to spread it abound. The seasons and celebrations we commemorate throughout the year, models for salvation history, do not always progress in our lives like a ladder, moving forward to never return; they are like a spiral staircase, always returning to where we once were but with new perspective.
This evening as Advent begins, we will find ourselves at the beginning once again, an opportunity for a “fresh start.” It is a time to return to our roots, to focus on what is most essential to us as Christians and to remember the feelings of hope and anticipation we once knew when we first accepted the faith. It is a time for us to recommit ourselves to the journey of salvation. I say, it’s a time for resolutions. On New Year’s eve, we set resolutions to make our year better than the last one. We focus on our bodies, our money, and our careers. Why not set a resolution to focus on what really matters, to commit ourselves to making this year better for our spiritual lives than the last? Prayer. Donations. Service. Sacrifice. For years we may have been doing these things very well. Maybe we haven’t.
Today, we have an opportunity to start again on our journey. What will you do better this year?