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31. December 2016 · Comments Off on OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW! · Categories: General

bonhoeffer_portraet01Shortly before New Years Eve 1944, Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned these lines that became a song known around the world:

By loving forces silently surrounded,
I feel quite soothed, secure, and filled with grace.
So I would like to live these days together,
and go with you into another year.

It had not been a good year for Bonhoeffer.  The poem or song was written from prison.  Bonhoeffer, a key leader of an underground “Confessing Church” in Hitler’s regime, had also become part of a conspiracy against Hitler. It was a combination of these two factors that resulted in his arrest and imprisonment.  He was executed in the concentration camp of Flossenburg on April 9, 1945 in the closing days of the Second World War.  While Bonhoeffer had made great contributions as a pastor, theologian, and educator, scholars to this day remain divided on whether he was truly a martyr, or simply a prisoner who faced the consequences of his actions, i.e. to resist the state.  Personally, I don’t presume to judge him, since it is difficult to do so without being in his shoes.  On this New Years Eve, I simply think back on his thoughts on what was his final New Years Eve. We know that 1944, and some of the years leading up to it were not good years for anyone in Germany, but especially not anyone who tried seriously to be a German and a Christian.  Bonhoeffer also knew what his possible fate would be as he wrote these lines to his family on that New Years Eve.

More than one person has said to me that 2016 was not a good year, and that therefore they are looking forward to 2017.  For me, while it was a difficult year, I have also had worse years than 2016.  In any case, the “new year” is almost upon us.  In but a few hours people will ring in the new in a variety of ways:  Some will be out in the freezing cold at some New Years venue, whether in New York City to watch the famous ball drop, or here on this shivering side of the border either at Toronto’s City Hall or elsewhere.  Others will be drowning their sorrows at a party where more liquor than good sense will be flowing. Some will be in a religious service. While the traditional “Watchnight Service” has all but disappeared, there are still places where one can experience a shortened version of the same.  And still others will prefer to go to bed this year and wake up next year.

Whatever external way that you choose, I have found it to be a good practice to engage in some sort of stock taking, or looking back.  This will include what progress or lack thereof we have made in the areas of health, finances, relationships, progress towards goals, and others.

Most of us will need to acknowledge a bitter-sweet mix of joy and disappointment or sorrow, progress or lack thereof.  Maybe the scale leans more in one direction than the other: perhaps there is a highlight such as a wedding, or birth of a child or grandchild; or perhaps there is the sorrow of loss and tragedy. Perhaps the present is not a good place to be, just like Bonhoeffer’s prison.  I wonder how many of us can say like he did, “I feel soothed, secure, and filled with grace.”  I remember someone from church who whenever I asked him how he was doing, would reply, “much better than I deserve.”  There were times when that seemed like  a pat answer and it would annoy me.  But in fact it is true.  Imagine where each of us would be today if the year had gone the way we “deserved it”. I think we would have to agree that God spared us from what we really deserved, and gave us more good things that we did not deserve.

 

And what about the New Year?  How shall we approach it?  Within hours, people will turn the page (literally on their calendars) and also figuratively as the approach the new year with new ambitions and yes, wait for it …. Resolutions.   Sadly, some of those will be broken by the 3d of January, and almost all of them by the middle or end of the month.  Does that mean that we should not make them?  HINT: most resolutions are too hard to manage because they are unreatlistic (lose 40 pounds in a month) or too general (lose weight, stop smoking, whatever).The key to making successful goals and resolutions is to make sure that they are realistic, attainable, and measurable. (But that is for another time).

More important, I think is the attitude with which we go into the new year.  What right do we have to assume, or even to expect that it will be a better year, or a “good” year?  For Bonhoeffer the new year after writing these lines was not good humanly speaking, unless we accept that for a Christian, death is gain.

Perhaps that is why he could write in a later stanza of that same song:

And when you pass to us the bitter chalice
of suffering, filled to the brim and more,
we take it, full of thanks and trembling not,
from this, your caring and beloved hand.

It takes more than positive thinking to be able to say or sing that. What is needed is a living faith in the One who transcends the footsteps of time measured in old and new years.  The One who is the Same, Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, Jesus.

And still we wish one another only the Best for the coming year. To all readers, a very happy, and healthy, New Year!

 But if you want to please us, over and again,
with our shining sun and wondrous world,
let us muse on what is past, and then we shall,
with our lives, in all belong to you.

Warm and bright be our candles’ flame today,
since into gloom you brought a gleaming light,
and lead again us, if you will, together!
We know it: you are beaming in the night.

When silence now will snow around us ev’rywhere,
so let us hear the all-embracing sound
of greater things than we can see and wider,
your world, and all your children’s soaring hail.

By loving forces wonderfully sheltered,
we are awaiting fearlessly what comes.
God is with us at dusk and in the morning
and most assuredly on ev’ry day

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