Posted in General

Happy Old Year

I’m walking backwards for Christmas,
Across the Irish Sea,
I’m walking backwards for Christmas,
It’s the only thing for me.

Spike Milligan was a comic genius – and he didn’t just talk nonsense. He walked backwards for Christmas. Whichever way round you tried it, we’ve walked through it now – Christmas is nearly over, though some of us try to hold out till Twelfth Night. For a lot of us Christmas is a time for walking backwards, looking back in nostalgia and remembrance to the Christmases we enjoyed – or even the ones we wish we had enjoyed but never quite happened. Then comes the New Year – the time to put all that behind us and look forward.

But it’s not that simple. It’s not by mistake that January is named for the ancient Roman god Janus, the god of doorways, the god with two faces, one facing the past, one the future. As the makers of New Year’s resolutions find every year, you can’t just become someone else by an effort of will on the morning of January 1st. We all take our past with us, however resolutely we try to look to the future.

In the same way, even if we try to look back nostalgically to an imagined Christmas, we’re still walking, even if it might be backwards, into our future. Our past and our future – however old we may be, or how young – are equally important in making us who we are. Some people think of the past as just a memory to be looked at from a distance, while the future is the real place for us to live. Others regard the past as the unalterable template of our lives, for good or ill, which the future will have to conform to. Neither of those are really true.

We cannot repeat the past, whether we’d like to or not, nor can we walk away from it. We cannot create a new future which is completely unrelated to what we have been. But we can decide how we will use our past and our future to enable us to live the lives we know we are really capable of. The past need not be just nostalgia, or regret – the future need not be unrealistic optimism or fearful anticipation.

The years roll on and on. January 2014 is really not that likely to be hugely different from December 2013. The real difference comes with the breaking in – if we will let it – of the life of God into our own lives. That’s not an exercise in nostalgia, but a gift which transforms our whole lives, past, present and future, by fulfilling them with the life of God. God’s Christmas present to us is the gift of ourselves – ourselves as we wish, in our best moments, we could be. It’s the gift of reconciliation with our past, and hope for the future.