Every Day a New year

Matthew 2

Hello, my friends! I got behind in my blogging. Thanks for sticking around. I hope you enjoy this reflection I wrote as Dec. 31st rolled into January 1st. I don’t know what the year 2020 was like for you, but I hope that this message will at least encourage you to embrace a different sense of time. Much love and peace!

Josh

Hello, my friends. Well, we made it. It’s 2021. Wherever you are or however you feel today, you made it. By now you are probably tired of hearing all the talk about how awful 2020 was and for sure you’ve seen more than enough dumpster fire memes about 2020. But all that is behind us, isn’t it? Because now it’s 2021!

2020 memes: The embodiment of this dumpster fire of a year – Film Daily

And yet, I have to ask you an honest question: On Thursday, December 31st, 2020, how different was your life, as compared to when you woke up on Friday, January 1st, 2021, or even Saturday, Jan. 2nd or Sunday, Jan. 3rd? How different is 2021 from the so-called disaster of 2020?

Most likely, not a lot.

And if I’m really honest with you, spoiler alert—2021 as a “year” is arbitrary, just a number. Flipping the proverbial calendar to another numbered year doesn’t change our experience of life. The Gregorian calendar, the one we follow in the Western world, was established in 1582. It’s a solar calendar, and in case you didn’t know, one of the main purposes of establishing this calendar was to change the date of Easter. It was Roman Catholics who implemented it. Although the Gregorian calendar is widely used, it is not the most accurate calendar. There are others, like the Persian calendar and the Mayan calendar, that require fewer adjustments like the leap years of the Gregorian calendar.

Oh, and the Gregorian calendar, at least according to astronomers, is useless. Why? Because it has a ten-day hiatus in it, making it impossible to calculate astrological positions backward in time. So why say all this?

Because I want you to know that this calendar and the idea of 2020 shifting into 2021 is what you make of it. At the end of the day, it’s arbitrary, subjective, and not even necessarily based on science or the natural world as much as we think. The numbers themselves of counting years are not completely accurate. The holidays and marked dates are absolutely dependent on where you live in the world. Some of us may sing Aud Lang Syne each Dec. 31st and make new year’s resolutions, but that doesn’t mean that when we wake up on January 1st a new season begins. In fact, for many from and in the East, the New Year is February 12th [Chinese New Year].

I wonder, friends, if we can think differently about this.

See, there is a seasonal story that is often told in Jan. Christians around the world read a short story in the Gospel of Matthew about some astrologers. Sometimes they are called kings or wise men, but the word used in Matthew is Magi. Little is known about them, other than that they were from the East [so assuming this story was written somewhere in Israel and Palestine], what would be east of there? Were they from modern-day Iran or Iraq? Maybe. But they were definitely astrologers, and in this time, astrology and astronomy were synonymous. They were scientists who studied the stars and studied prophecies. They followed the movements of the sun, moon, and stars, and they measured time and distance accordingly. They didn’t have a calendar telling them when to drop a ball in NYC or when to toast or a smartphone notifying them as to what day it was. They looked up, they studied their charts. And for these Magi, they had come to the conclusion that a prophecy was about to be fulfilled. The stars were literally aligning. They based their whole journey on their scientific and prophetic studies. So the story goes, the Magi [there were not three of them, by the way, just three different gifts they brought], they eventually made it to a town called Bethlehem. There they found a family, with a toddler in tow. There they encountered an angry, scared king called Herod. And in the end of their story, they left presents for the child and his family, and they returned home via a different road, because their science and their prophesy told them to make no deals with that Herod fellow.  

I think the Magi characters have something to teach you and me. They weren’t religious, they weren’t looking to crown a new king either. They were curious and they sensed things. For years they had studied the stars and the natural world. They saw the natural seasons change, and they followed the science of it. Just like we see squirrels scurrying around to gather acorns to bury them in the ground for later; birds gathering twigs and leaves to make nests; bears preparing a cave for hibernation; turtles swimming closer to the frozen surface, sensing the sun’s shift, the ice melting, and a new season. Animals and plants, the natural world—sense the seasons. They have no paper or electronic calendars, no holidays to mark occasions. They just know. They sense it. So did the Magi sense something—a change, an opportunity, a new season about to begin.

Friends, 2021 is just a number. Give yourself permission to be kinder to yourself in this season, wherever you are. Don’t feel pressured to make new year’s resolutions or to somehow all of a sudden forget 2020. Don’t feel guilty or any shame about what you sense. Be honest with yourself, vulnerable with those who care about you, and then just sense what season you’re actually in.

In fact, let’s keep it simple. When we close our eyes today, if tomorrow we are fortunate enough to open them again, we will know. It’s a new year. Every day when we open our eyes, we are alive again. A new year. Embrace that. May this season that you are in be one of light, and of honesty, kindness, and vulnerability. As India Arie says:

I am light. You are light. We are light, we are light
We are not what 2020 was
or what 2021 will be

We’re not the mistakes that we have made
Or any the things that caused us pain
We are not the pieces of the dream we left behind

We are light
Happy season of light.

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Josh grew up in Indiana and Iowa before completing a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. He has worked in a variety of settings, including the Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Church of Christ (UCC) in Philadelphia, Hawai’i, Mexico, and Michigan. Currently, he serves as pastor of Love in Action United Church of Christ, a progressive, Christian, LGBTQIA+ affirming and interfaith community in Hatboro, a suburb of Philadelphia. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre/Speech from Northwestern College (IA). Josh has worked with youth and young adult programs for 25 years regionally, nationally, and in Latin America. He is also a trained actor and performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, LLC. He has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in worship, youth groups, education, and group-building. Josh is also committed to promoting religious pluralism and partnering with people of all faiths and those who identify as atheist or agnostic to build bridges of shared values and cooperation. He is honored to work with the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia as a Fellow and a Consultant. Focus areas include: University alternative spring break and summer programs that incorporate faith encounters and service-learning for students; workplace diversity programs that promote understanding in organizations, corporations, schools, and hospital settings. Josh also enjoys playing basketball, strumming on the guitar, traveling, learning language, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philadelphia and thinks vegan cheesesteaks are amazingly good.

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