Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year 2016?


Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: Jan 1st, 2016

Happy New Year? What does it mean? Wait, isn't this the exact same words we wish back in 2015, in 2014, in 2013, in 2012, and well, almost every other year? It's the same Auld Lang Syne every 365 days.

It's the same fireworks, parties, and dancing every 52 weeks. For some, it's the same mumbo-jumbo of goodbye or good riddance to a year mixed with more downs than ups. For others, it's the same "looking forward" to new hope, new promises, new adventures, and new opportunities. Then, like the annual clock, we come back to the same old midnight countdown the last minute of the year. With cheers and whistles, with beer and thistles, we welcome the new year by giving it another 365 days expiry date.

Then comes the tough questions.

1) What's your new year resolutions? (Don't know. Been there. Done that. What's new?)

2) What's your plan for the year? (Don't know. Same old same old, I suppose. What's new?)

3) What's different from last year? (Don't know. Is there really anything different?)

Jobs may change, but the work remains. We grow a year older but hopefully also a year wiser. We look back with gratitude (and/or relief). We look forward with hope (and/or uncertainty). We stay the course in the present, hoping that whatever we do would be most rewarding, most meaningful, and most fulfilling.

So, what’s the meaning of a “Happy New Year?” Three things.

First, it means a fresh start to an aging context. From time to time, we all need to take a step back from our ordinary lives, to see our old problems from a fresh new angle. Perhaps, it can give us new ideas about new ways to tackle old problems. Just like Starbucks who had given the old coffee bean a new kick in the pod; or Apple giving the ubiquitous phone a new identity called the iPhone, thanks to Gorilla glass. For Christians, it is Paul’s exhortation: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17) Jesus came to give all mankind a fresh start. Not only that, every day is a new creation and we are all recipients of that great shower of blessings. The freshness of the garden is there. Take time to smell the flowers, to enjoy the beauty of nature, and to be still and know that God is near. The mountains will always be there. Only faith can move them. Mountains of doubt and fear are more formidable than the Mount of Olives or Mount Everest.

Second, it means try again. In this imperfect world, we are always in a trial-and-error mode. That is what life is about. Every merchandise out there are the best products after all the inferior ones are weeded out at Quality Control phase. Every software we download are beneficiaries of learning from bad code programmers had junked. Every book published had authors working through the nights with cups of coffee, enduring the writer’s block, and sacrificing beautiful unrelated individual ramblings for the sake of the greater book emphasis. Every relationship broken needs the courage for one to try to mend, to be healed, and to be reconciled. Christ had done that for us, and asks us to forgive one another just like he had forgiven us. He didn’t just ask us. He died for us even when we were unrepentant, ungrateful, and utterly unreliable.

Third, it means the Day of the Lord is near. Many believers have often taken life and time for granted. Having taken yesterday for granted, tomorrow is another mundane day to do the same. Lip service faith. We live a day at a time. Instead of living as if “tomorrow never comes,” we think that tomorrow is going to be the same as whatever today is. Hope is just a four-letter word. There are other things to be doing. We brave the traffic. We drive to work. We clock in the office hours. We eat. We play. When trouble comes, we pray. For such people, where is God? What is faith? Is faith only present when there is trouble? Is peace only sought after when we are in the midst of a crisis? The great writer and philosopher, CS Lewis writes from exactly that stance:

There have been times when I think we do not desire Heaven but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have desired anything else?” (CS Lewis, The Problem of Pain) 

What is heaven? Is it ice-cream? Some food delicacy or bubble tea? Heaven is more than fodder for the stomach, distractions from the mundane or respite from the plain. Heaven is more than simply a place of eternal bliss. Heaven is that living relationship with our Divine God. For if hell is the separation from God, heaven is that union with God. At the heart of every new year celebration is the question: “What do we truly desire? Who do we long after?”

More things? We already have multiple versions of the same stuff. From tablets to coffee mugs; books to multiple TV screens in the house; kitchen appliances to credit cards in our wallets; we are a spoilt generation. Spoilt for choice. Spoilt by choices. Spoilt in God? Maybe.

More money? How much then is enough? For the greedy, nothing is ever enough for their hearts are like the black hole in outer space that sucks everything in and never gets filled. For the hungry, they think that a bowl of soup or a loaf of bread would suffice. Yet, the truth is, whatever they eat will only last them a day or two. Then they grow hungry again. For the rich, contentment is taboo for the working vocabulary of fame and success.

More friends? Maybe Facebook can help. Yet, I read reports from time to time that the loneliest people in the world are easily troubled by things happening on Facebook. Why are their posts not liked? Why are there no comments on one’s postings? Why are their friends not responding to their messages? For the popular, like a face that launches a thousand ships, one simple posting launches a thousand comments. Being popular is nice, but is it fulfilling? Ask the depressed stars who committed suicide.

More faith? Maybe. More hope? Probably. More wisdom? Definitely.

The ultimate relationship is our relationship with God. If this is not mended, healed, or reconciled, every year is a ticking countdown clock to the next Auld Lang Syne; to the next; and the next; and the next. What about the following?

A) Read regularly. Begin with the Bible. Have a reading plan. Read full chapters, not just verses. Read whole books, not just snippets of a letter. Read entire genres, to catch the big biblical narrative of the greatest story ever told.

B) Call a LTNS Friend. Long-Time-No-See should not be a byproduct of a chance meeting or some alumni gathering put together by a gifted organizer. Be intentional about cherishing our friends, past and present. Is there a message of gratitude? Is there some confession never said? Is there a book you have borrowed from him/her but never returned? Perhaps, you can be that glimmer of hope to a friend in the pits of despair.

C) Tell Your Loved Ones that they are indeed loved. Family ranks high on the list of everyone I knew. No exceptions. Even those who are unmarried will have uncles, cousins, nephews, distant relatives, and so on. We are all connected if not by name, then by memory. The three words “I Love You” are evergreen, meant to be used over and over again. There is no expiry date. Pray for them. Regularly.

Happy New Year. See you soon.

THOUGHT: "There are so many who profess Christ and so few who are in fact Christians; so many who go into the field against Satan, and so few who come out conquerors. All may have a desire to be successful soldiers, but few have the courage and determination to grapple with the difficulties that accost them on the way to victory. All Israel followed Moses joyfully out of Egypt. But when their stomachs were a little pinched with hunger, and their immediate desires deferred, they were ready at once to retreat. They preferred the bondage of Pharaoh to the promised blessings of the Lord." (William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour)


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