January 1st is one of the straws at which our world will always tend to clutch.
As if, by some strange sort of magic we otherwise scorn, that overnight shift from one day to the next has a power, on this one particular date, to press the ‘reset’ button on our lives and afford to us all a fresh start.
In truth, of course, it’s just another day: no different from the day before, with no inbuilt capacity to make things right and change our whole experience: the debt into which we have fallen – it’ll still be there: the grief which has broken our heart – it’s as painful and real as it was.
Much as we might wish that it were so, and hard as we might ring the bells to mark that midnight moment, there isn’t any magic in the middle of this one specific night. The first day of the first month of the new, incoming year is .. well, it’s just another day.
And yet we’re glad to find that time is given all these regular, rhythmic punctuation marks. We’re glad of that arrangement, for instance, whereby time is broken into weeks, with each recurring Sunday like the start of a new paragraph; and glad as well that each New Year is likewise like our starting a new page. We’re glad to think of history as if it were a larger, life-size variant of Monopoly, with January 1st affording similar benefits to that of passing ‘Go’.
In truth, of course, there are no timely, heavenly hand-outs as we pass this annual milestone in our lives. There’s no such easy magic which will break the wretched spell which sin has long since cast upon our world.
It’s just another day.
But the sense and the wish and the hope which we have, that there is somewhere such ‘magic’ – that’s an instinct which runs deep within our spirits and refuses to lie down. I wonder if you know the words of the Paul McCartney 1970 song which goes by the haunting name of ‘Another day’?
So sad, so sad: sometimes she feels so sad. Alone in her apartment she’d dwell, till the man of her dreams comes to break the spell.
Ah, stay, don’t stand her up. And he comes and he stays … but he leaves the next day. So sad, sometimes she feels so sad
Waiting, longing, hoping. Waiting for ‘the man of our dreams’ who will come and will break that dread spell. But we look in the wrong sort of places, and we trust in the wrong sort of people: and what we dared to believe would at last be that man of our dreams turns out to be no more use, and to have no more substance, than the proverbial man of straw.
He comes and he stays, but he leaves the next day. The excitement and hope of Hogmanay festivity mutates into one more wretched hangover. So sad, so sad.
The instinct, though, runs deep; time after time, with a stubborn, set resilience, it emerges from the shadows and awakens once again the hope that somehow that old spell will yet be broken and a new start can be made.
This instinct runs deep, of course, precisely because that dream of ‘the man’ who will break this cruel spell – that dream has been carved on the walls of our souls by the Lord. It’s the way we are wired, by the grace of God, an unseen, pulsing pointer to the promise He Himself had, long before the dawn of time, first made – the promise that ‘the man of those dreams’ would come, and that He would indeed break the spell.
The book of Judges is, thus, for instance, just a catalogue of that Hogmanay-type hopefulness, when time after time the people of Israel get into a mess and end up dwelling alone (or it feels like that, surrounded as they are by hostile, nasty neighbours who, with at least a measure of truth, are but neighbours from hell) – dwelling alone in the ‘apartment’ God has given them, that thin little strip of middle-eastern land, waiting and praying and hoping for that God-given ‘man of their dreams’.
And yes, the man (well, usually it was a man) – he does come: “ah, stay! ..” we can almost hear them cry, “.. don’t stand us up!” And they do stay, varying numbers of years they’re around; but it’s always, in the great grand scheme of things, no more than just a fleeting sort of interlude – he leaves ‘the next day’. There’s a measure of momentary relief: but the spell isn’t broken, and the roller-coaster story of their up and down existence (and mostly it’s the down and out which dominates) goes on.
These so-called ‘saviours’ were not the real deal and they could not deliver the goods. But they were a recurring reminder of ‘the dream’ the Lord has buried in the caverns of our consciousness; and each of the leaders the Lord thus raised up was a sudden, whispered pulsing of that promise from of old.
Of course, that promise of God, writ large across the great, expansive narrative of grace, unfolded in the story of His dealings with this wayward, spell-bound people – that promise of God was also given utterance increasingly in what His prophets preached.
The assurance they brought that His mercies are new, not just on the morning of January 1st, but new every morning. The promise they articulated wonderfully, and that in the darkest of days – the promise of a new heart and a new spirit. The description of God as the One who makes all things new. And the soaring, climactic guarantee that there will, therefore, one day be a new heaven and a new earth when the spell will be finally broken and when all will be finally right.
That’s the ‘deeper magic’ to which those ‘dreams’, so well secreted in our souls, all point. The Man of our dreams who would come and who’d break the spell.
Remember that bit in the Narnia books when Aslan explains to the children what he’s done?
“Though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”
The spell has been finally broken, and the Man of our dreams is at last and for ever here to stay. Death has started working backwards, until at last it will disintegrate completely, and then simply be no more.
This year more than ever, with the first day having fallen on a Sunday, the weekly celebration of our resurrecting God – this year more than ever we’re reminded that the surging hope and confidence we have is rooted in, not some cheap Hogmanay and hogwash sort of magic, but that ‘deeper’, daring ‘magic’ which took God’s own Son to Calvary and saw Him thereby break the ‘spell’, destroying once for all the power of hell and death.
And there’s therefore a sense in which the parallel with the Monopoly board holds true. It’s that one word ‘Go!’ which we hear once again at the start of another new year.
Our mandate is simply to ‘go’: because the Man of our dreams has now come. And stayed. And broken the spell.
Gladness instead of mourning. A garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. Renewal in place of the ruins.
In the apartments of Aberdeen, and far beyond, how many there are who dwell alone, ‘til the Man of their dreams should come and break the spell. Men and women, without hope and without God in the world, tired of disappointment, weary of their every new day dawning turning out to be no more than just ‘another day’, and utterly unaware (until they’re told!) that that Man has now come, and that the ‘deep undoing magic’ of the gospel has begun.
So the Man Himself calls out loudly, ‘Go!’
Please God we shall do so! With renewed expectancy: with spirits refreshed and energized again: eager to see ‘death’ now working marvelously backwards in the lives of those who for all too terribly long have been under that dreadful spell, the curse of sin.
Yours in Jesus Christ our Lord