Why Midnight?

December 31, 2013.

Why do we believe that we usher in the New Year?  We stay up and count and think that we need to be awake to kick of the new year, but we don't even kick of the day.  We are powerless to bring into existence even a single minute. We enter each day asleep, unaware of the work God is doing to start each day for us.  This is because the day starts not at midnight, and not when we we wake up, but we we lay down to rest.

"And there was evening and there was morning, the first day"  (Genesis 1:8, ESV)  If we were to keep reading the first chapter of Genesis, we would find this statement restated five more times with only the word "first" exchanged for a second, third, forth, and so-on.  This chapter suggests that the day starts at evening.  Hebrew tradition holds to the same. The day starts when we rest.

We in the West tend to believe and act as if the day starts when we wake up in the morning.  Our picture suggest that nothing has happened until we enter the day or at some arbitrary time we call midnight.  Some of us even act as if the day hasn't started until we've had some coffee and wake up a bit.  And then we seem to think that the day is over when our head hits the pillow.  Night, or more accurately, the time when we're sleeping and getting some rest just doesn't count.  But in no way is this the case!

In his book, "Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity," Eugene Peterson looks at our pattern of day and night compared to the Hebrew view shaped by the biblical picture. At one point he says,
"The Hebrew evening/morning sequence conditions us to the rhythms of grace.  We go to sleep, and God begins his work.  As we sleep he develops his covenant.  We wake and are called out to participate in God's creative action.  We respond in faith, in word.  But always grace is previous.  Grace is primary.  We wake into a world we didn't make, into a salvation we didn't earn.  Evening:  God begins, without our help, his creative day.  Morning: God calls us to enjoy and share and develop the work he initiated.  Creation and covenant are sheer grace and there to greet us every morning."[1]     
The idea Peterson shows his readers is good:  The day doesn't start when we wake up.  In fact, we enter the day sleeping, resting, unaware of what God is doing has he starts the day.  We are given the opportunity to wake to a day already spoken into creation and we did nothing to make it happen. No countdown, no ringing a bell, no flipping the switch.

As we see the simple rhythm of evening and morning, we begin to position ourselves into the reality of who we are and who God is.  We also see how merciful God is, daily.  Additionally, as we begin to see that God gives us rest every day--even letting us enter the day with rest rather than earning rest after a long, hard day's work--we should begin to see the necessity of this rest pattern in the week. When we rest, God is working.  When we take a day to Sabbath, to stop and rest, we must see that God is in action.  This keeps us in right thinking.  And we aught to see this rhythm is the same for the month, and year, short and long seasons.  We must see that we don't kick of the new year with our actions, parties, or countdowns.

The day begins at night, yes, but not at midnight.  We're sleeping, resting, and in dreamland while God is speaking new mercies, speaking a new day into creation for us, whether we count it down or not.  We do nothing to start the day, month or year; we only get to enter into what God has already created for us.

And there was evening and morning, a new day, a new month, a new season, a new year!  So maybe this year, let God kick it off.  Go to bed early.  You don't need to stay up and think you are doing anything.  Be well rested as you come into the new year that God as spoke into existence for you.

Happy New Year!

1.  Peterson, Eugene.  Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans Publishing, 1987. 

* Photo of the 2012 Ball Drop in Times Square was taken by Replytojain and is registered under a Creative Commons License.