Traditionally New Year was seen in with huge bonfires up and down the country, fireworks, and feasting. All jobs were to be finished by midnight on New Years Eve, all debts paid and things you borrowed from others returned. Then every one feasted. Well wishers went around the village and strange things like coal and money and pieces of bread were put outside the front door. As the old year went out through the backdoor so the new was welcome throught the front door and of course there is the tradition of first footing. It was all about health and prosperity and of course life being on such a knife edge gave power to these rituals
The bible stories are full of the significance of endings and beginnings. The end of the age of innocence I n Eden and the banishing of Adam and Eve, the end of each patriarch and the passing on of the story from Abraham, Issac and Jacob. The end of exile and settlement in the promised land and yet more exile in Babylon, the end of years of no word from the Lord, the end of life on earth for Jesus and the beginning of the age of the spirit. There can be no new beginnings without endings.
For Mary and Joseph, the consequences of caring for their baby, meant becoming asylum seekers and refugees. The Christmas story moves from the gentleness of the incarnation to the harsh reality of life.
Joseph and Mary flee Bethlehem and their people and go to a strange land that did not know them. They became aliens, immigrants forced to flee. For the families in Bethlehem and surrounding communities the consequences were much worse. Small children were slaughtered because a ruler was tricked by some wise elders from a distant tribe. There was blood everywhere. The consequence of human anger with access to absolute power is clear in our Gospel today and reminds us of the responsibility we have to the innocent and those seeking asylum from tyrant rulers.
We are called to witness in this same world, full of terror, in which angry leaders still destroy innocent lives. Jesus came into the midst of terror and enters into our terror. And we, like Mary and Joseph, are called to move out from soft places, from warm rooms and safe havens, to the places where innocents are destroyed and carry God incarnate, to strange places. God in us, empowers us to listen to angels, to turn away from the comforting familiar.
Here is our call, our responsibility this Christmastide and all through the year. God encourages us to face the powerful, to protect the vulnerable and the needy. God challenges us to see his face in each refugee, each immigrant, every stranger. The Prince of Peace calls us to look away from the comfortable and to see the suffering and terror in our world. Christmas is a time not just of looking in and being with our families but also of looking out, seeking the family which has been left outside, bringing home those who are refugees and strangers.
Our own lives are similarly full of endings and beginnings, the passing away of our parents, the death of a relationship, the birth of a new baby and new relationships that bring life again. Leaving a job, finding work, retiring, learning to live on our own. We have to adjust to these changes or not and our emotional health depends on how we can let go and move on to better pastures whether in this life or the next.
The church in the West has a similar journey to make. It has lived with ways of being and structures that served it well in a previous age, but not in this. In an age of the spiritual the church is surprisingly unpopular. It too has to let go of the past and embrace a new future, one perhaps less tidy.
There can be no resurrection without a death, no new beginnings without letting go of old ways of being, of old wounds, old relationships, old places.
The New Year gives us a chance to clean out the old and usher in the new, not in a superstitious way but looking forward to the best God can offer us with open arms ready to embrace the new, and while learning from the old, leaving it behind.
This coming year make resolutions fired with real desire, with a divine spark, listen to your dreams and follow your hunches, foolishly following the God of Truth and Wisdom. It may involve upheavel, it may involve a change of attitudes, it may involve travelling and the giving of what is costly. But of such stuff are dreams made of and of such stuff is the journey as Christians we embark on when we decide to truly follow the Light of All Lights.
As God works around us this year it will be with a mix of divine intervention, danger and tragedy as in the Christmas story. But God's Spirit is at with us in the mess and the chaos of our lives despite everything.