The New Year Party

One of the things about Jesus both in his teaching and social practice was that he liked parties. Time and again his stories end with a party. Time and again he is found with society’s desirables and dregs happily mulling life over around the dining table.

His critics noticed. ‘The people are suffering and yet you are celebrating?’ they sneered. ‘Mr Jesus, how can you be pious and party?’

They had a point. Jesus lived in Galilee, Palestine. It had been invaded by the Roman Empire and its greed some years before. Taxation was heavy. Most people lived on very little and were pressured to pay more. Resistance was brutally suppressed. There seemed little to celebrate.

This December in New Zealand there also seems little to celebrate. The pre-Christmas lay-offs featured. As the discretionary dollars dry up so does tourism. So do many consumer goods industries. Staff Christmas parties were downsized. More insidious and destructive however is the daily diet of ‘it’s going to get worse’.

In the time of Jesus there were other prophets who went around telling people a similar message. ‘It’s only the start of bad things’, they’d say. These prophets advocated belt-tightening, prayer, and hope that a God somewhere off the planet would come and rescue them.

Jesus, seemingly uniquely, had a confidence in the basic goodness of a God who was close at hand and close to the heart. It was an irrational confidence. Yet from that confidence emanated hope. It was a quiet assurance that all would be well even when everything looked so bleak.

There are many people who can look back over this year and recall heartache, tragedy, and pain. The deaths of the six students and their teacher in the flash flood at Mangatepopo. The abuse and murders of children like Nia Glassie and Jyniah Te Awa. The little publicised suicides that have been steadily increasing since the downturn in the financial markets.

Having a party to celebrate life when times are tough is not a crass act of denial but a tentative act of faith. It is not ‘eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die’, but eat, drink, and be merry for today we are alive. It is getting together in the faith that no matter how desperate things seem the spirit of life is stronger still.

This New Year I hope we will not fix our minds on the over-consumption of beverages, or the resolutions we vainly hope to achieve. I hope we will not be bewitched by the usual talismans of success and our inability to acquire them.

Instead I hope we will quietly take stock of the good things in our lives. Many of us have relationships with partners, parents, children, or friends that nourish and sustain us. Many of us live close enough to walk or drive to a beach, or a forest, or a hilltop. Many of us can listen to nice music, watch a sunset, or admire a beautiful piece of art. Many of us are spiritually sustained by what we call ‘God’. We need to quietly take stock and be thankful.

Gratitude is a discipline. Irrespective of whether we in good health or not, been successful or lucky or not, or are rich or poor or somewhere between, gratitude is something we can choose to nurture within. We can then choose to share our sense of gratitude by giving to others.

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