The Best of Times

Posted by Jill Carattini on January 1, 2018

The opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities have given the literary world one of the greatest precursory statements of all time. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…” These famous words of Charles Dickens mark some of the best-known lines of literature, skillfully reflecting the novel’s central tension between opposing pairs and the ebbs and flows of an era.

In this occasion of the New Year we, too, are inclined to pause and reflect, to look back and look forward with thoughts and words that help us sift through the stories unfolding before us. Significant dates and holidays, birthdays and anniversaries, naturally lend themselves to times of reflection, the first of the year being perhaps the most confronting date (and certainly the best marketed) that calls us to reflect. That we have before us the month that marks another beginning of another year is unavoidable, even if merely seen as time to buy a new calendar or join another health club.

Armed with resolutions and lofty goals, many stare into the 365 days ahead of us with hope and expectation, sometimes with fear, sometimes with determination, other times with excitement. And we look at the days behind us with a careful eye for what is past, at times with nostalgia for all that has gone by, or heaviness for all we longed to see turn out differently, but hopefully with wisdom to carry into days to come. What were the year’s successes and failures? What will I accomplish this year? Where have I been? How far have we come along?

M.C. Escher, New Year’s Greeting Card, 1946.

But the New Year is also a time to ask perhaps with a greater sense of existential angst, “Where am I going?” Or maybe even “Where did we come from?” In the pages of one major newspaper on New Year’s Day were articles discussing several up and coming self-improvement, self-discovery books for the New Year. In between advice for learning to embrace your life fully and tips for rehabilitating your sense of style, the author herself noted the inconsistency of the well-marketed, self-help world of reflecting. “If all these books are out there,” she asked, the question remains: “Why aren’t we well?” Such are inquiries worthy of the season.

There are some celebrations of Christmas that remind us in color and in lights that the birth of Christ has ushered into a new day, a new occasion marked by the surprising gift of the Incarnation. Such celebrations would also encourage the natural push of the New Year for reflection as well. Because for the Christian, that God has come near changed—and continues to change—everything.

At the commencement of the year 1874, one such believer composed the following hymn as a New Year’s greeting card.

Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be
In working or in waiting, another year with Thee.
Another year of progress, another year of praise,
Another year of proving Thy presence all the days.

Another year of mercies, of faithfulness and grace,
Another year of gladness in the shining of Thy face;
Another year of leaning upon Thy loving breast;
Another year of trusting, of quiet, happy rest.

Another year of service, of witness for Thy love,
Another year of training for holier work above.
Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be
On earth, or else in heaven, another year for Thee.(1)

Whether looking back or looking forward, the presence of a loving God is both kind help and crucial hope.

 

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

(1) Frances Havergal, “Another Year Is Dawning,” Un­der the Sur­face, 1874.