On New Year’s Eve, I often like to recall what the late comedian George Burns once wrote in The New York Times: “Growing up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, I always looked forward to New Year’s mainly because it was the only thing we could afford that was really new. And we always believed that things were going to get better during the New Year.”
The Roman god Janus, for whom the first month of the year is named, was the god of beginnings and endings, of doors and passageways, of past and future. Hence, he was typically portrayed with two faces – one looking back to the past, the other ahead to the future. In a sense, that is what we all do every year at this time. We look back on the past, particularly the past year, perhaps with some mixture of gratitude and regret, while we likewise look ahead, sometimes with increasing worry but with worry mixed with hope. Some of these sentiments are captured in the religious customs that have traditionally been associated with New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day – the traditional singing of the Te Deum, the Church’s official hymn of thanksgiving on New Year’s Eve, and the Veni Creator, the Church’s great hymn invoking the grace of the Holy Spirit on New Year’s Day.
To be sure, for all our holiday cheer, many of us may be marking the end of another socially difficult and politically challenging pandemic year by looking ahead to 2022 with more than a little anxiety. It’s not for nothing, after all, that we pray every day at Mass that we may be safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
But, if our distress and anxiety as we look ahead to a new year are real enough, so too must be our hope, the hope we all share as Church, the hope we have been proclaiming this Christmas season, and on which we must all rely in all things and at all times, all the year round: the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Our hope is founded and focused on Jesus Christ, the one whose birth 2000+ years ago is the very basis for the calendar we mark today. God’s showing up in the world in Jesus – the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us – has realigned all of time and given all of history a new and more hope-filled meaning, giving us a hope for the future we would never otherwise have had.
Time has always been very precious – precisely, I suppose, because we have only such a limited supply of it. By becoming part of our time, however, God has turned our limited time on earth into a time of unlimited opportunity. So today he invites us to look ahead to a new year – this year of our Lord 2022 – with gratitude as his gift and to enter it not in fear or anxiety, but with the hope that counts as one of God’s greatest Christmas gifts to us.
Happy New Year!
Homily for New Year’s Eve, Saint Paul the Apostle Church, New York, December 31, 2021.