Rejoicing in the New Year
“Now greet the swiftly changing year with joy and penitence sincere; rejoice, rejoice, with thanks embrace another year of grace.” This is how 17th-century Polish hymn-writer Jiří Třanovský (1592-1637, also known as Tranoscius) encouraged Christians to greet the year.
Easy for him to say, we may think at the end of this difficult 2020. And yes, we had a trying year. But Třanovský knew something about suffering. He lived during the devastating Thirty-Year War, was imprisoned once, exiled twice, and forced to move several times. Three of his children died, and both he and the people under his care suffered the consequences of wars, pillaging, and pestilence. He was bedridden and in pain for eight months before going to meet his Savior.
What Really Mattered in 2020
Třanovský was most likely talking about the liturgical year, which starts with Advent, a time traditionally connected with “joy and penitence.” A generation later, the German pastor and hymn-writer Erdmann Neumeister (1671-1756) explained the reason for this joy: “That a merciful God has, for an entire year, preserved his holy word and holy sacraments for us, pure and analloyed.”
I suspect very few reviews of 2020 will list the preservation of God’s word and sacraments as positive things that happened this year. They’ll probably list some political victories, medical advances, or demonstrations of solidarity. Neumeister had his priorities straight. The fact that, in spite of the restrictions, the gospel has continued to be preached all over the world and the sacraments continued to be administered in inconspicuous ways is a gift of God’s grace.
The start of the new year (liturgical or not) is also a time of penitence because it prompts us to ask, as did Neumeister, “How have we made use of this grace?” This is a particularly relevant question at the end of 2020. Whatever our answer, Neumeister encourages us “to pray devoutly that [God] would continue to grant us this grace and to preserve his precious word and sacraments for us and for our posterity.” If the year 2020 has taught us anything, is not to take these things for granted.
But God’s preservation of His means of grace throughout a difficult year is really good news because, among other things, it means that He is still nurturing, protecting, and leading His people according to His perfect plan and towards the joyous destination that is getting increasingly closer. No matter what happened, God has been with us.
The True Reason for Joy
The preservation of God’s means of grace matters because of the story that is behind it. Třanovský was not a motivational speaker, urging Christians to believe that everything will turn out well. All his hymns were deeply rooted in Scriptures, and drew from Scriptures the true reason for joy: “For Jesus came to wage sin’s war; this Name of names for us he bore.”
This is still, over 2000 years later, the main source of joy and consolation for Christians, because it takes care of their true, essential, and existential problem – a problem that no one else can fix: their enmity with God. The British poet William Cowper (1731-1800), who suffered from a debilitating mental illness for much of his life, expressed the persisting comfort of this historical fact, when he says:
In holy contemplation
We sweetly then pursue
The theme of God’s salvation,
And find it ever new.
And it’s this theme, this never-aging story of what Christ has done and continues to do and be for us and in us, in His goodness and love that prompted Cowper to continue:
Set free from present sorrow,
We cheerfully can say—
E’en let the unknown morrow
Bring with it what it may.
Why 2021 Will Be a Happy New Year
Many events in 2020 have taken us by surprise, shaking any sense of confidence we may have had in ourselves and in our ability to control what’s around us. They may have even caused us to question God’s goodness. Can we really say of 2021, “Bring with it what it may”, now that we have a better idea of what it really may bring?
We may hesitate but, deep inside, most of us know Cowper is right. Most of us have read enough of God’s word to know that God is good and that He has always sustained, protected, and provided for His people. Most of us can see it in their lives as well, even if our personal memories and feelings are not always the best judge of things. And all of us can see it clearly in Christ, whose life was characterized by love and compassion, and who allowed us and taught us to relate to God as our caring father.
That’s why Cowper, who went through moments of mental anguish that would frighten the bravest human being, could make this bold statement. He knew something about our future that a remembrance of God’s mercies renders unquestionable:
It can bring with it nothing,
But He will bear us through;
Who gives the lilies clothing
Will clothe His people too:
Beneath the spreading heavens
No creature but is fed;
And He, who feeds the ravens,
Will give His children bread.
Though vine nor fig tree neither
Their wonted fruit shall bear;
Though all the fields should wither
Nor flocks nor herds be there;
Yet God the same abiding,
His praise shall tune my voice,
For, while in Him confiding,
I cannot but rejoice.
Třanovský said the same thing, more succinctly:
His love abundant far exceeds
the volume of a whole year's needs;
with thanks embrace
another year of grace.
Yes, 2021 is going to be another year of grace. The covenant of grace God made with His people will not be broken. Remembering all this, Třanovský comes to the same conclusion as Cowper:
With such a Lord to lead our way
in hazard and prosperity,
what need we fear in earth or space
in this new year of grace?
Simonetta Carr is a mother of eight and a homeschool educator for twenty years. She has also worked as a freelance journalist and a translator of Christian works into Italian. Simonetta is the author of numerous books, including Weight of a Flame and the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series.
"Jiří Třanovský – A Singer of Comfort" by Simonetta Carr
"A Hymn That Would Not Be Written Today" by Gabriel Fluhrer
"Those Words of Desolation" by Ben Ciavolella
Hymns of Devotion by Jonathan Landry Cruse
Contentment: Seeing God's Goodness by Megan Hill
 Erdmann Neumeister, Christian Instruction on the God-pleasing Observance of Advent, Christmas, and New Year’s, quoted in Jaroslav Pelikan, Bach Among the Theologians, Wipf and Stock Publishers, Eugene, OR, 1986, p. 4