(written in January, 2000.)
“Oh, I wish somebody’s soul would catch on fire, catch on fire, catch on fire…”
I’m listening to the first CD by Halal, the worship and praise group we’ve come to love in our prison visits, and for a few wonderful moments, here in the privacy of my own study, I have rhythm and my soul’s on fire. As I’ve learned more about these radiant Christian women, I realize they suffer the same disappointments and sorrows as the rest of us, but they know how to celebrate Jesus.
How did you greet the new year? It was the beginning of the new millennium or the beginning of the last year of the old, and that’s a subject for another time, but it was a new beginning.
Here at midnight in the Ozarks Himself and I stood out on our ridge, under a glorious canopy of brilliant stars spanning the sky from horizon to horizon. They seemed to be proclaiming OUR GOD REIGNS IN MAJESTY AND MIGHT. It was an enchanting night, the air pristine and clear. Heaven seemed light-years closer than usual.
We were home alone, just the two of us, celebrating our 40th new year together. It was the finest New Year’s eve we can remember, and not just because our memories aren’t what they used to be. Our memories serve us entirely too well in every detail of one New Year’s eve, when, with every good intention, we went to our church observance. It sounded right: snacks and punch, and a movie rented for the occasion, after which we’d greet the new year on our knees. When midnight came, we’d chastely kiss our spouses and then have communion together as a church family.
The reality of the evening wasn’t quite the spiritual highlight we expected.
Picture maybe 75 people who didn’t have a better invitation scattered throughout a church sanctuary designed to seat 700. Winter had Wisconsin in an icy death-grip and it was impossible to adequately heat all those empty cubic feet. We spent an eternity between 9:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. enduring a black-and-white, shaky, grainy film of the life and music of Fannie Crosby. That night I made the only New Year’s resolution I’ve ever kept: never do that again. Childbirth is less painful and it doesn’t last as long.
We spent the evening this year, as many of you did, channel-surfing televised broadcasts of parties as the Year of our Lord 2000 opened over the globe, among people of every tribe and nation, jubilant, filled with hope and the unlimited promise of a new year, a new century, a new millennium. I didn’t see any major news group reporting on how Christians were celebrating, and that seems a shame to me.
In the months preceding this last calendar change we heard dire warnings about the Y2K bug. If they followed through with their plans, some Christians, apparently expecting Armageddon, greeted the new year huddling in caves and bomb shelters with a year’s worth of soybeans and powdered milk, generators fueled and ready to go and shotguns across their knees, in case their neighbors might be low on provisions. That seems a shame to me, too.
Of all people, Christians should set the standard in celebrating a new year. After all, it’s another year to declare the Gospel–the good, glad, merry news that makes a man’s heart leap for joy. The teeming masses crowding Times Square probably included Christians who were excited, not afraid of the future. I’d like to think they let the people around them know the reason for their joy.
For as long as I can remember we sang songs, some silly, some lovely, exhorting us to rejoice, to laugh, clap, shout, sing, and yes, even dance for joy. When I was in Sunday school about 100 years ago, we sang “If you’re happy and you know it then your face will surely show it.” I remember thinking there were quite a few people around me who hadn’t informed their faces of the joy, joy, joy deep down in their hearts.
We live in strange times, serious times, violent times. This is a corrupt or perverse generation, according to Acts 2:40. But we have hope, we have joy, we have a song, we have a strong tower and a hiding place, we have a King, we have a Savior. We have reason to celebrate.
There’s a lost and dying world out there. Let’s let them know there’s a way to have a new life this New Year. C’mon, Christian, celebrate! New Year’s Eve is over, but it’s not too late; Christians have reason to celebrate every new day. After all, this is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
“Who’s got the praise?”
“We’ve got the praise!”
“Who we give the praise to?”
“Ain’t no party like a Holy Ghost party ‘cause a Holy Ghost party don’t stop!”
From Greater is He by Halal. 1999. Used by permission.