Happy New Year! There are many traditions associated with the arrival of a new year and every culture has its own way of welcoming it in. In many cultures the time leading up to New Year's Day is a time for setting things straight: a thorough housecleaning, paying off debts, returning borrowed objects, reflecting on one's shortcomings, mending quarrels, giving alms etc. That's probably where the tradition of those mad few who jump into the sea on 1st January stems from – literally washing the slate clean and been ready to start again.
In certain places you should not sweep the floor on New Year's Day as you will sweep the luck out of your home, whilst in others you should always kiss the one you love at midnight on New Year's Eve to ensure your relationship will flourish during the coming year. In different parts of the world, luck is thought to come from touching a pig, throwing a pomegranate or eating 12 grapes as quickly as possible. In many cultures, including our own, the 'first foot' over the threshold has significance for the fortunes of the household.
The bottom line is that we long for the year ahead to be a good one. Even in that greeting that we give to each other during the first week of January – 'Happy New Year!' – there is a genuine hope that over the course of the next 12 months, despite all the ups and downs of life, the scales will be tipped towards good, and on reflection you can say it was a 'happy year'. It is a basic human desire for happiness.
However, to be happy does not mean that everything is perfect. It means that even in the midst of change and struggle it is still possible to feel at peace, to be content, to know joy.
As we look ahead to 2016 we wonder what it will bring. For some of us it might be a very different year: maybe we are facing it without a loved one; perhaps our circumstances have changed – health, job, role, relationships; identity. Maybe there will be joyful arrivals or painful loss, exciting prospects or difficult decisions. How we cope with these things is not dependent on whether we touched a pig or swam in the sea, or even who entered our house after the stroke of midnight on 1st January. It is dependent on who is with us to laugh with us or weep beside us. It is friends and family, yes, but it is also One who promises to never leave us.
God never promises us riches, success or triumph but he does promise to be with us. It is a promise that is implicit throughout the Old Testament stories and unambiguously stated in the name the angels call Jesus – 'Immanuel' meaning 'God with us'. The promise is written large in the way God enters our humanity through Christ, even going through pain, suffering and death. It is a promise that is realised in the resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit, constantly with and within us.
So whatever lies ahead in 2016, may we know the promise is for us; in our laughing and weeping; in our hope and despair; in our fears and our joys may we have a deep sense of One who will never leave us. For then 'Happiness' comes not from luck or fortune but the reality of never ending love.