Thursday, December 31, 2009

Nineteen Sixty Forty-Nine

I remember the Christmas when I was four. Among other things, Santa brought me a little drawing board. For some reason I decided to practice writing dates on it, so I started with that year, 1961, and continued through the decade till I got to 1969 and “19610.” Dad explained that after “nineteen sixty-nine” we’d come to “nineteen seventy,” not “nineteen sixty-ten”. So I learned about counting, about dates, and in a very childish way, about the passing of time.

I don’t think I’m fatalistic, generally speaking, but like most people I experience concerns about the future. When the calendar changes to the new year, I inevitably think, “What if this is the year when some major, unforeseen problem happens?” My grandma died on January 6, when I was fifteen, and just as that new year had begun, I gained a healthy respect for the unpredictability of life. My birthday is January 2, so the fact the calendar year is almost exactly a new year of age for me also makes me very conscious of the possibilities of the coming year.

Unfortunately, I tend to isolate (mentally, at least) New Years Eve and Day from the Christmastide season in which they occur. Although the calendar year changes, we're already a few weeks into the liturgical calendar and celebrating the fulfillment of God's promises in Christ. Why celebrate God's promises on one hand and yet wonder about the future as if we had no hope and refuge?

Karl Barth writes of God’s “contemporaneity” (Gleichzeitlichkeit), God’s simultaneous “presentness” in past, present, and future. There are all kinds of theological challenges in expressing God’s providence--e.g., if God knows the future, could he and does he forestall future disasters, and so on. Even though issues of providence and predestination are complicated, I find great assurance in Barth’s idea. “Time, like an ever-flowing stream” may bear us away, as the hymn says, but God bears us more strongly, because he is already in our future.

God's care has certainly been evident in my own life, as I look back from the vantage point of what I would’ve called Nineteen Sixty Forty-Nine!

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.


  1. And I was trying to decide between "two thousand and ten" and "twenty ten." :-)

  2. I think they're still trying to figure out if the 00's were the "aughts" or the "naughts" or the "naughties" or something else. :-)