The new year is upon us.
What did you think New Year’s morning?
While you waited for the bells and whistles that sounded the beginning of a new year, or while you slept away the waning hours of the old year and slept through the dawning hours of the first day of the new year, did something old pass away and something new take its place? Did the imaginary mark separating the last second of the old year and the first second of the new year actually mark a change?
Are you any different?
Are things any different?
Or did the bells toll vanity, and the whistles vex your spirit, and the raucous “Happy New Year” of your drunken neighbor impress upon your soul more deeply the dreadful reality of the vicious circle?
Surely, our fathers have decreed that we shall celebrate the beginning of each new year. Certainly we must go up to the house of the Lord with his people and serve Him on that holiday. Don’t be mistaken; I would not deter you. I would not that you lazily loll in bed on New Year’s morning, seeking relief from the vanities of a vain Old Year’s eve.
Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. But we will go up, and we did go up to the house of our God on New Year’s morning.
It is certainly true that there is nothing new under the sun.
This year will produce nothing new, nothing different than the last. The seconds and minutes and hours and days and weeks and months will fleet away, and when another year begins—if you are mindful of these words—you will say, “No, there was nothing new.”
One might say defensibly that the first day of January does not mark the beginning of a new year. For each of us personally the years are marked from the date of one’s birth. For our Federation of Young People’s Societies the year is reckoned from our summer convention. And so on.
But granting, for the moment, that January 1 marked the beginning of a new year: will there be any changes? Really?
Beacon Lights will, we expect, be published at stated times throughout the coming year as it was before. Is there any change from December 1947, to January 1948? Its editors and contributors will as usual sit at their typewriters with mingled feelings of futility, pleasure and fear, pondering that recurring question: what shall I write this month? Its readers will scan its pages with the same old question: Is there anything new in this issue?
You will do your daily task at the same hour each morning for the same number of days this year as last, earning the same wages, for the purpose of satisfying the same appetite, that you may return to the same shop and earn some more money and…all is vanity! Even when that regular cycle of our daily work is broken, even then all is vanity.
There will be the same problems, the same quarrels, the same fear, the same sins, the same miseries, the same pains, the same sorrows, the same deaths. Man cometh in with vanity and he departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness. Vanity!
Emptiness, futility, vanity, vexation!
Flaunting the old and meeting the new with a drunken welcome will not change this, though men vainly try this every year.
The vigor of youth cannot change it.
The piling up of treasures and the making of great works, the peculiar treasures of kings, men-singers and women-singers, the delights of the sons of men—all these end in vanity.
Plans and resolutions, these cannot square the vicious circle.
Man’s number is six hundred, three score, and six. He can get no further. When all is ended, the residue is vanity and vexation of spirit. Man’s lot is always labor without rest, toil without success, plan without fulfillment. Vanity!
Despair will not remove the vanity.
I may hate all my labor, I may hate life itself. I may throw up my hands in despair, I may be as fatalistic as I please or as a man can be.
Then I belong to those who seek death but cannot find it.
All is yet vanity and vexation of spirit.
New Year’s Day is a reminder.
It reminds you and me of human vanity on the one hand, but on the other we hear in it the Word of God: “Be carefree in everything.”
True enough, this day is no different than any other. And the year which it ushers in shall be no different than the year just ended. And if in the first day of the year only you hear this Word of God, then you have not heard it.
New Year’s Day as the first day of the year 1948 stands as a reminder to you and me, Protestant Reformed youth, that God calls us to be carefree.
Be careful in nothing!
No, we are not to go on our merry way, taking things in their stride, hoping for a better day, making new plans, striving for more riches arranging new peace conferences, arranging new battle strategies, devising more evils, seeking yet more vanities; we are not to travel our divinely appointed path in the coming year in hilarity, in carousing, in lust and godless pleasure, in despising things holy, in forsaking our God-given vocation, in dodging our obligations.
It means, does this exhortation, that I shall have no anxious care concerning those things over which I have no control, and which are not my responsibility. There are things for which I must care; I must care for my calling in life, whether I am in school, in the office, or in the factory. But over the future, over war and peace, sickness and health, prosperity and adversity, I have no control. Over the ultimate issue of things I hold no power. And I must be careful in nothing!
It means, does this admonition, that I must positively place childlike confidence in God, who controls these things in his all-wise counsel, in his abounding love, in his sovereign omnipotence; in God, who has determined to glorify himself, who eternally sees his church in Christ Jesus. I must place all my confidence in his providence, whereby he works out his counsel in its minutest detail, and carries out all his good-pleasure. Then I have no care. Because that God is my God for Christ Jesus’ sake, and employs all his omnipotence and wisdom in love to me, therefore I can be carefree.
And the way to that carefreeness is prayer and supplication. We must make our requests known unto him. No, not in the carnal expectation that he will give us whatever we think is necessary for us if we only ask for it. Nor in the vain imagination that God has to be told of our needs. He knows them all.
But if we come before his face in prayer, we see our needs differently; when we speak to God, those things which we thought were real needs and causes of worry—reasons to complain—disappear. We thought we needed bread, and we had three meals today: we were looking anxiously and sinfully at the future. And our real needs appear when we face God in prayer and supplication. We need Christ and God in him: we need the things of his kingdom, which are not temporal: we need eternal life and glory, and we receive them from him abundantly.
And in the light of this assurance the vanity and vexation of spirit also disappear. For we see that through all things God is our God, almighty, all-wise, all-loving, who works all things with a view to our eternal welfare in Christ Jesus. Our foolish cares, our sinful anxieties fade away. We could not manage the affairs of the world so that they all worked together for our good.
And our prayer and supplication ends in thanksgiving.