New Year’s Messages

For most people the entrance into a new year is accompanied by certain rituals. We watch the television clock and wait for the moment it strikes twelve and then wish one another “a happy new year.” In many countries the start of a new year is accompanied by fireworks displays. In the Netherlands the standard treat is oliebollen and appelbeignets.[1] But standard features of the first day of the year are also the new year’s messages of heads of state, political leaders and religious leaders. In our home we usually make sure that we hear the messages of the Dutch king Willem Alexander and also that of the British Queen Elisabeth. Both have usually something worthwhile to say to their ‘subjects’.  King Willem Alexander’s messages was a little more somber than in past years, but I found his emphasis on the we-focus rather than the I-focus very meaningful.

One could, of course, not miss the comments of the American President who, from his golf-resort in Florida, promised the world that the process of making America great again is even ahead of schedule!

My wife and I always make sure to watch the pope’s address on New Year’s day, followed by his blessing urbi et orbi (for the city and for the world).  As we might expect, Pope Francis spoke about the people in this world who are in need, especially the migrants and the refugees. And he touched upon one of his favorite themes—peace—pointing in particular to the plight of the Palestinians and the Syrians.

I admire the personality and the leadership qualities of Justin Welby, the current archbishop of Canterbury and the head of the Anglican faith community. He has a difficult job, somewhat comparable to that of the president of the Adventist world church. Both are leaders of a denomination that is present in many countries of the world, with a host of different cultures and traditions. Both must deal with some of the same issues, such as homosexuality and the role of women clergy. In his short televised message the archbishop spoke of the comforting role of faith when calamity strikes. He referred to the various terrorist attacks in Great Britain in 2016 and the disastrous fire in the Greenfell Tower apartment building.

What struck me in the messages of the pope as well as of the archbishop that they connected their faith and their church with the world in which we live and with the events of everyday life. I very much missed that in the message of Pastor Ted Wilson, the head of the Adventist Church. Although he briefly alluded to some of the good and the bad things that 2017 brought us, his main wish for 2018 is that the Adventist believers will continue to focus on Jesus as their High Priest, who is interceding for us in the heavenly sanctuary. He quoted a paragraph from Ellen White’s book The Great Controversy in which Mrs. White urges the believers to make the topics of the heavenly sanctuary and of the investigative judgement their main themes of study.

That the top Adventist church leader would refer to some specific Adventists beliefs was to be expected. But I was quite disillusioned that he made so little effort to connect the Adventist faith and the Adventist faith community with the world of 2018. Yes, Adventists believe in the coming, eternal kingdom. But the gospel is clear that the kingdom is also, in some ways, already among us and that the most crucial aspect of our calling as Christian believers is to live and promote the values of that kingdom in our daily lives.

[1]  For non-Dutch readers a few lines from Wikepedia: Oliebollen are traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve[1] and at funfairs. In wintertime, they are also sold in the street at mobile stalls. The dough is made from floureggsyeast, some saltmilkbaking powder and usually sultanascurrantsraisins and sometimes zest or succade (candied fruit). A notable variety is the appelbeignet which contains only a slice of apple, but different from oliebollen, the dough should not rise for at least an hour. Oliebollen are usually served with powdered sugar.


2 thoughts on “New Year’s Messages

  1. Sherard Wilson

    Reinder: You may be interested in the New Year letter of our local (Abbots Langley) Anglican vicar, which I reproduce below:

    The traditional order of business is that in the January article the Vicar writes about New Year resolutions, and urges you all to make more time to take God seriously. Please take that article as read. Such a resolution is a thoroughly good idea, and I hope you make it. However, I actually have to write this piece in the week before Christmas (a triumph of planning on my part!) and therefore am a bit more preoccupied with the next few days than 2018. So this piece is not about New Year – or at least, if it gets there in the end, it will be through mulling over what we did for Advent and Christmas this year and what that might mean for next.

    The first people to read this will be doing so right in the middle of Christmastide, because Christmas of course is not just one day but runs right through to the Feast of the Epiphany on 6th January. Strictly speaking, that’s when the decorations should come down – except for the crib, if you have one, because only on Epiphany should the wise men appear and join the adoration of the Christ-child. They stay there, and so the crib scene stays, till the Feast of Candlemas on the 28th January. That day, marking the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple, was such a major celebration in medieval Europe that according to popular lore it was the one time in the year when even Judas was given day-release from Hell.

    So if one was keeping the old religious calendar properly, the whole period from 25th December right through to 28th January – would be a great, extended feast. The church would be full of beauty and light, the food would be rich and the drink would flow freely. At which point you might think, ‘please, for mercy’s sake, no. December has been full of calories, my waist is already bulging, I feel like a great bloated thing, I’ve had enough festive music to last for me quite some while, thank you. Let things just calm down, and let us all get back to normal, thank you very much.’

    Because of course, we have not kept the old religious calendar. Most of us really started Christmas around Advent Sunday. In 2017, we even had our first Christmas Carol singing session outside St Lawrence before November had finished! And from then on – for many of us – it was binge, binge, binge in every way: on the music, the cheerfulness, the traditions, the sentimentality, the alcohol, the mince pies and the spending. No wonder we now want a rest, or even a purge.

    The early and medieval church did things the other way round. Advent was the time when one deliberately put on the brakes: you didn’t decorate your church, you didn’t sing Christmas songs, and you fasted – either eating nothing or at least significantly less than usual for three days a week (the real enthusiasts made it all seven). That’s not because they had anything against feasting – after Christmas, it would happen in abundance. But they thought it was best to get there with physical and spiritual appetite sharpened, hungry in every way, full of desire — rather than sated and bored already. The one tiny remnant of that in our custom, perhaps, is the fact that we don’t sing the Gloria in church during Advent — that’s meant to be a reminder that we are still really waiting for something we don’t yet have.

    Well, so what if our ancestors did things differently? All things move on, and we’re well used to (and bored by) purists who simply harp on how things used to be and why we don’t do them right anymore. Things change, and often much for the better. But the betterment is not inevitable, and it’s worth remembering the observation of C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian who had seen much progress — in an egg: ‘In Narnia, we call that Going Bad.’ The question is not whether change in general is a good thing, but each change in particular. So, is there something our ancestors have to teach us in this matter of Advent restraint?
    My hunch is that there is. For starters, it would help us to have a truly happier Christmas: one really can have too much of a good thing, and Christmas has sprawled in sorts of misery inflicting ways. But more importantly, perhaps restraint —perhaps above all that (to us) radical custom of fasting — might help uncouple us from some of our more destructive compulsions, and to reconnect with much wiser ways of being. Fasting teaches the ability to do without things, to be able to wait, to identify (in part) with those for whom all of life is marked by scarcity and need. It teaches us that we need not be driven by acquisition and accumulation — that these are not what really make humans happy, but are lies designed to make them miserable. We were not made for getting and spending, but for a feast far greater than anything Amazon or Sainsburys can provide. We say we know these things, but we often act as if we do not… fasting helps score the truth deep within us.

    So — turning to 2018 — here’s an interesting question for each of us individually and as a parish. Without being kill-joys, and without being completely unrealistic about the world we’re in (it would, surely, be just ridiculous to say one should never sing a Christmas carol before Christmas Day — however theoretically pure such a suggestion might be), how might we begin to put at least some of the waiting back into Advent? It is not just four weeks of premature Christmas: it’s something different and important. How do we live that privately, and in public worship? One of the new things in the parish’s life in the New Year is the (re)establishment of a Worship Committee — it strikes me this could be one of the many questions on its agenda. What do you think?

    Best wishes for a Happy New Year,


  2. Angela Lima

    I agree even more appalling that TW chooses to mention a doctrine that has been challenged and has no biblical basis, once again focusing on judgement rather than grace…typical…

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