Jürgen Prochnow – U-boat commander in the classic
film Das Boot – facing mortal peril in the Atlantic
during WW II, looked forward with longing to
Christmas back home in Germany and hearing again
the account of Jesus’ nativity in Das Lukas Evangelium
– Luke’s gospel. The incarnation of God’s Son is indeed
the most wonderful beginning of his saving
intervention in world history. Rightly we celebrate with
singing, feasting, exchanging gifts and family
togetherness. Yet high expectations can be unrealised.
These earthly blessings are pointers to our eternal
home, not ends in themselves. For, in the words of C.S.
Lewis: “we were made for another world”.
Christmas festivities can’t go on for ever. There are
definite limits: for time with relatives plus
consumption of box sets and Quality Street! The Bible
mandates cycles of work and rest, including holiday
feasts and recreation. So why should we joyfully
embrace the arrival of the New Year? – observed
globally in January; but Chinese New Year starts a bit
later: January 22 in 2023.
New Year is an integral aspect of the created seasons:
In Genesis 8:22, God affirms:
“As long as the earth endures,
seed-time and harvest,
cold and heat, summer and winter,
day and night will never cease”.
This annual cycle – understood scientifically as due to
the tilt of the earth’s axis, in its elliptical motion around
the sun – manifests the reliability and faithfulness of
God. But time and history are essentially linear, rather
than cyclical. History is moving progressively closer to
its consummation in the final “Day of the Lord”; to the
second Advent of Christ. Thus, St. Paul writes: “The
hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber,
because our salvation is nearer now than when we first
believed”. (Romans 13:11).
By resuming work – paid or unpaid – in January, we
resume deployment of our God-given gifts.
These are integral to our identity and personal
fulfilment as God’s image-bearers. Christian ethics
enables us to distinguish between first and second
things. First things concern our restored relation to
God as his children, through faith in his Son. When
Christians are liberated from making hopeless idols
out of secondary things – including work, family and
recreational activities – we are free to fully participate
in them proportionately and enjoyably. We earthlings
are sharers in our God-given responsibility for human
flourishing upon earth. We have diversities of natural
gifts. And our contributions – both large and small – are
essential to the common good.
For the Christian, there is an added motivation: God
is our ultimate master. We don’t necessarily like our
Prime Minister or the Chief Executive of any
organisation we may work for. But God our Maker and
Redeemer stands above them all:
“Whatever you do,
work at it with all your heart,
as working for the Lord, not for men,
since you know you will receive an
inheritance from the Lord as a reward.
It is the Lord Christ you are serving”.
(Colossians 3: 23-24)