One of the most difficult things to accept about the beginning of a new year is the vague sense of disappointment we all feel. No one wants to say it out loud, but we all tentatively hope that something dramatic will happen when the countdown ends and the confetti falls. It is though we expect a change in dates to impart some kind of ontological alteration, a change in either our own fundamental being or that of the world’s (or perhaps both).
When it does not happen, we forge on- bestowing kisses and announcing resolutions. Given our history (which has not been erased), we know that we may fail in our resolutions, perhaps as soon as tomorrow or early next week or by February. The truly resolute among us know there is much work ahead of them, focus and drive and reserves not previously drawn upon will be called into action. Still, even the most focused person remains the same with the date change. We are who we are and the problems we knew at the end of December have not faded away.
Those who are mourning still do. The hungry are still looking to make ends meet, scrabbling for generosity. The politically powerful are still looking to maintain their positions, their strengths, and their distance from any action that would demonstrate a concern for persons who cannot advance them. Those in prison are still looking for justice, either toward freedom or toward humane treatment and personhood in incarceration. Many who are struggling are still casting about for a shelf on which to rest blame for their circumstances. Others are trying to live one day at a time.
When the clock changes, we want that clean slate. It does not come. The work that was before us at the end of the old year stretches before us at the start of the new. Yet, is there a better time to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, in the words Isaiah 61? Is there a better time to bind up the broken-hearted? Is there a time coming in which it would be better to work for fiscal equality, human rights, gun control, societal change, a sharing of resources?
Will we be more resolute, more aware regarding God’s desires for the poor and the outcast, the prisoners and the mourners, the struggling and the resigned in March? In August? In our vague dissatisfaction with the absence of a tabula rasa at the start of a new year, our cry goes up, “How long, O Lord” as we view headlines that are unchanged from those of last year. Last year? Why doesn’t 2012 keep its own problems and allow 2013 a fresh start?
What’s that echo over Auld Lang Syne? Could it be God echoing back to us, “How long indeed?” How long, indeed. The holiday bills will come and we will begin “recovering” from the season of light. Still, the epiphany waits for our resolution and us. God stirs up our faith again, so that we might truly work toward the truth of the year of the Lord’s favor for all. And there will be no ontological change. We are who we are because that is how God intends to use us for the sake of the world. Do we have the resolve to be a part of God’s work in 2013- the year of the Lord’s favor? For only the date has changed and still the mourning, the hungry, the homeless, the victims of rape, domestic violence, gun violence, and war, the imprisoned, the cheated, the little, the lost, and the least- their cry goes up, “How long?”
Julia Seymour is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, currently serving a small congregation in Anchorage, Alaska. She lives with her husband of six years, their toddler son, their newborn daughter and their middle-aged Labrador retriever.