The holy book tells us “We know not what a day may bring forth” - so as to what another new year will bring - only God knows. The rising of the sun yesterday morning, heralding the beginning of a new calendar year, brings with it new hopes, expectations and opportunity.
A New Year is an opportunity to reflect on the highs and lows of the past as well as an opportunity to look forward. I think it would be fair to say that most people found the past calendar year to be challenging. It had, I think most would agree, more lows than highs. It is generally for the personal things that happen in people’s lives that they will remember a particular year. The loss of a family member through death or a birth or marriage will be remembered. Likewise losing a job will be significant.
Last year began with the earthquake in Haiti, causing widespread death and destruction. For the people of that impoverished country the earthquake was a disaster, which caused untold suffering, but for the people locally it was an opportunity to be generous. At St. Eugene’s we received over 120,000 thousand pounds in donations and this money was given to the Sisters of Mercy and the Holy Ghost Missionaries who are living and working with the very needy people in Haiti.
As we approached midsummer’s day, the high point of the year, the eyes of the world turned to Derry with the release of the long awaited Saville report into the events of Bloody Sunday. For the relatives of those murdered and injured on that fateful day the report told them nothing they had not known before, namely that their loved ones were innocent, but it was necessary because it now let the world know that the official story was a lie.
June was also the month of the world cup, no great world cup fever and few games worth remembering. July saw Derry named as UK City of Culture for 2013. The Joy of that evening in the Guildhall was overshadowed for me by the tragic event that happened outside Clonmany a few days earlier on World Cup final Sunday. Visiting the families with Bishop Hegarty, and seeing eight young men in their coffins, life with all its potential and unfulfilled hopes snuffed out, is a memory that will remain for a long time, perhaps forever.
Of course, the snow and frost as well as economic issues will make the past 12 months a year for many to remember.
Our New Year comes one short week after the Christian world celebrates the feast of Christmas. In the midst of weather hardships, economic difficulties and other anxieties, Christmas can, and indeed does change the lives of many, even if only for one day. Christmas is a time when new generosity breaks out. There is the generosity that is shown in gifts, signs which recognise our thankfulness to others or which recognise the simple, dreamy innocence of children. There is the charity that is shown to those in need as well as looking out for those who are lonely and needy in different ways. Christmas reminds us that there is more to life than looking after ourselves.
The message of Christmas turns many accepted values on its head. It allows us, even if only for a day, to see that goodness is possible. This message gives us, at the end of each year, an opportunity to see what life could be like each and every day if the message of the Gospel was lived out fully.
For so many, including those of us who preach the Gospel, the message of Christmas can be yet another nice story. It is this, but much more, it is about the unseen invisible God who came into our world to save us from self-centredness, pride and power-seeking and to show us a new way of life.
Yesterday’s sunlight heralded the dawn of a new year and in doing so presented all of us with an opportunity to make fresh starts. Old problems will continue to dominate the news agenda but despite these issues all of us can reflect on the message of the Gospel and after the example of the Christmas season seek new ways of approaching old problems.
For all of us the temptation is to leave Christ in the crib – his birth was to carry out a mission. That mission is challenging and demanding, it involves a new, as of yet, seldom tried way of living. It is about putting others first, caring, sharing, things that as human beings we repel against.
A New Year challenge would be to make some small attempt to revisit the gospels and try to live them. I wish all a peaceful and pleasant New Year.