Liturgical Christians get two new years, every single year.
We get the new year of the church, which begins again every Advent. We put up the Advent wreath – a circle of evergreens – and light candles against the darkness. We remember our need for a Savior. We prepare to celebrate the first coming of Christ – in the flesh, in the manger, a newborn child. We remember his promise to come again. We make our hearts ready to receive him.
Just about one month later, it’s time for the secular new year. This is no circle, but a straight line. 2017 is history; 2018 is unknown. From one day to the next, there’s a new beginning.
I may be a bad liturgical Christian for saying so, but I love secular new year’s. I love the last week of the old year, during which I invariably get myself organized for the year to come. There’s no time for that in the rush of the last week of the liturgical year. That’s November! My list is full to overflowing.
But during the first week of Christmas I am usually on vacation. I have teenagers; they sleep late. Early mornings are not filled with the rush of preparation for a school- and workday. I can write in my journal, reflect on my priorities for the coming year, set up a new calendar and task system. These are the things that make me feel ready for the new year – as ready as I can get in this uncertain world.
Today that new year begins.
The church has spoken another name over secular New Year’s Day – the Holy Name of Jesus. Luke’s Gospel says, “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21). Every year, eight days after Christmas, this feast arrives.
All the readings for today – Daily Office and Holy Eucharist – focus on the name of Jesus given at birth. That’s entirely appropriate, since we’re still celebrating Christmas. But today, as my new year begins, I choose to hold close another promise of Scripture:
For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them. (Matthew 18:20)
Only three of us started Plainsong Farm. I remember when we began. It felt so unlikely that we would be able to persevere, much less succeed. Beginning a new ministry was so daunting it felt impossible. We tried anyway.
Two years ago the farm – feeding families and neighbors – became a reality. This past year the discipleship ministry became visible too.
Multiple generations gathered for prayer in a circle outside with chickens pecking around. We blessed, then planted the fields. We were invited to partner with Life Around the Table on their new curriculum for churches. An ecumenical group planted heirloom wheat for communion bread with the Honoré Growers Guild, learning about connections between climate, food, and faith.
When the farm began I was desperately focused on survival: on trying to figure out how to do something that I didn’t know how to do. Starting a farm-based ministry felt like groping forward in the dark, day after day. But slowly over time the farm emerged from darkness into the light.
Jesus did that.
When Mike and Bethany and I first began to work together, we didn’t know each other, but we all knew Jesus. We began the farm to serve Jesus. Even though we couldn’t see him in our first meetings, he was there because we met in his name. He breathed life into our life together. He kept us company in the darkness. He walked us forward, day by day, into the light.
I don’t know what God has in store for me in 2018. I do know one thing: I need to keep focused on the holy name of Jesus. I need to gather with people in his name. I need to offer my life for his service.
If I turn to God to breathe life into my year, it will be more extraordinary than anything I can plan. And it will be lived to his glory, which is my desire. I trust that he will continue to work through all of us at Plainsong Farm. I can’t wait to see what He does.
A Prayer for Today
Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
How do you get ready for the secular new year?