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  • Writer's pictureGreg Dover

Greg's Weekly Word: "auld lang syne"

You've probably heard this song (or at least the tune) played as the clock strikes midnight on December 31st. It is a Scots-language poem written in 1788 by Robert Burns, and has since become the theme song for welcoming a new year.

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?

Should old acquaintance be forgot, and old lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,

for auld lang syne,

we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.

The repeated phrase and title - auld lang syne - translates as "old long since, " or less literally, "for old times' sake" or "days gone by." Which makes it a little strange that it would be associated with ringing in the new year. Then again, I suppose it is appropriate since many people reflect on the year gone by at the year's end, even as they look ahead to what may come.

Of course, this year, we may want to forget our old acquaintance, COVID-19, and celebrate that 2020 has gone by. But the truth is, we won't forget.

We won't soon forget the 335,000 Americans whose lives have been taken by the virus, or the 1.78 million who have died around the world. We won't forget the isolation and loneliness, or the loss of jobs and homes. We won't forget the growing economic injustice, and the growing awareness of racial injustice. We won't soon forget the way it has changed our lives forever.

And we shouldn't.

We shouldn't forget the lessons learned through this difficult year - the importance of connection and community; the blessings of friends and family; the need for compassion and justice and grace ("a cup of kindness yet"), and our responsibility to take care of one another. Because while this hellacious calendar year may end at midnight on Thursday, we will still feel the effects of 2020 for weeks and months and years to come: political division, economic hardship, social inequity, disease and death, and dis-ease and despair.

I hope the new year will be a better year. But I also know that things won't magically get better at 12:01 am, January 1, 2021. That's not realistic...or biblical. In the lectionary readings for New Year's Day (and yes, there are such things), one of the passages that shows up every year is from Revelation 21, envisioning a time when everything is new.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."
And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new."
(Revelation 21:1-5a)

As the writer sees a new creation, he hears the voice of the One on the throne say - not, "I have made all things new," but - "I am making all things new." Even here in the last book of the Bible, in its penultimate chapter, God is still in the process of making things new.

Perhaps in this coming year - even as we reflect on the year gone by...on auld lang syne - we can remember the lessons we've learned. Perhaps we can catch that same vision of God's new and better world ahead. And then, perhaps, we can recommit ourselves to join with God, who is still and always in the ongoing process of making all things new.

Happy New Year, y'all!


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