Opening Our Windows: Letting Out the Old and Letting in the New
posted on December 29
Opening Our Windows:
Letting Out the Old and Letting in the New
And the one who was seated on the throne, said,
“See, I am making all things new.”
Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
I read an article recently about New Year’s traditions. Cultures vary in the ways they let an old year go in order to welcome a new one. Most rituals are centered in “good luck” and the hope of future prosperity. In Brazil, wearing white at parties, and if possible, jumping over seven waves in the ocean are the keys to great year ahead.
In Denmark, it’s all about smashing plates on the porches of your neighbors and friends. The more they have to sweep up, the better their year will be. In Spain, eat twelve grapes at midnight, and perfecto! In Colombia, it is common to take empty suitcases and run around the block with them; it guarantees a year of travel. In Puerto Rico, dumping a bucket of water out a window will rid your year of evil spirits.
We are more familiar with a kiss at midnight (the first person with whom you come into contact will be significant to your year) and the singing of “Auld Lang Syne” (even if this untranslatable Scots phrase - “old long since” actually conjures up the past). In my family, we eat greens and black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. Supposedly this guarantees enough dollars and pennies to make it through the year.
My personal, more reflective tradition is to watch the sun set on the last day of the year. Wherever I am living, I simply look out the window and watch the last day of the year come to a close. Sometimes it’s a dramatic sunset, but usually night just creeps up on the day. As I take it in, I reflect on my year. How did I do? Did I live a life aligned with my professed values? Did people see Christ in me? Like everyone, I’ve had some great years; I’ve had some crummy ones. I’ve been glad to see some of them end.
Tonight, I may take my ritual one step further, with a nod to that same little article. Some cultures call for opening our windows on New Year’s Eve to let out the old year, and to let in the New Year. In that ritual is exchange, an acknowledgement that we are exchanging one thing for another …the certainty of what has passed with the uncertainty of what may come. There is a (brisk!) freshness to that, and we sense the movement of time within that movement of air.
I didn’t hate 2020. I hated what it did for many people – it brought loss of all varieties. It brought division. Opinion replaced fact, and stubbornness overwhelmed humility. We heard the phrase “I’m sorry” less than ever, so much that I wonder if it has become archaic.
I loved what 2020 did for many of us. We learned that we could be a part of positive solutions. It taught us that we could influence others. It inspired many to want to join together and handle challenges the way Jesus would handle them, not the ways his adversaries would. We saw kindness elevated and bigotry condemned. We learned more productive ways to pass the time. Many people began reading books again. I rediscovered games and hobbies and actually observed the seasons changing – and not just the seasons of my ministry year, but the natural seasons that God put in motion.
My hope for you this New Year’s Eve is that you would let whatever is stale, whatever is harsh, whatever is arrogant, simply fly out the window of your home and heart – to make space for something fresh, something soft, something humble, something God can use. Make sacred space in your life for God to shape you – give less space to the belligerent opinions of others. Our Lord went about his ministry making people new, bringing the light of grace to dark, judgmental settings, and inviting people to throw open their hearts to think and act reflectively. Jesus helped people let go of what was binding them.
2021 will be a significant year in our nation, and in the United Methodist Church. There will be many defining moments. Just as Jesus brought renewal to his context in the first century, God will continue, by the Holy Spirit, to bring renewal in the twenty-first. We need not fear the future, but we must move into it reflectively and with a keener awareness of our own influence. If you are receiving this note in your inbox today, you are an influential person in the church of Jesus Christ. Your spirit, your posture, your words – they will matter. They will matter to God, and they will matter to people you encounter. Both are listening, more than you even may be aware.
Your words and decisions will matter for the future impact your local church may have on people in your community. Many churches will choose between life and death. It’s tempting, but short sighted in generational terms, to think “me” and “now” instead of “we” and “later”.
I encourage you to take some time to reflect as the sun sets on 2020 tonight. Did people see Christ in you? Most importantly, will they see Christ in you in 2021? You get to decide.
Looking Forward with You,
Rev. Bev Coppley
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Painting by Andrew Wyeth, Wind from the Sea, 1947