January is a significant month for me. Like it does for all of us, January marks the beginning of a new calendar year and brings with it opportunities for reflection and goal-setting. Like fewer of us, I will also be a year older come mid-January. That brings with it some additional layers of reflection on my life and story up to this point, as well as a card or gift or two. I share a birthday with the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and I take that reminder as an opportunity to listen to some of his sermons and speeches. He has a way of drawing me from the personal good out to the common good in the New Year—both worthy of sacrifice and discipline to move toward.
In all of this reflection, there is a heartbeat below the surface: God, what are You up to?
What does personal and common good look like in the transition from the challenges of 2020 to the new horizon of 2021? Honestly, I’m drawn to the words of an 19th century British poet and Christian, Alfred Lord Tennyson who originally penned “ring out the old, ring in the new:”
In Memoriam CVI (Alfred Lord Tennyson)
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
I wonder... what in that poem struck a chord with you and why that might be the case? Maybe your heart resonated with lines that spoke to growth in personal good and fresh creativity, or maybe it was the longing for the common good of ridding disease or ushering in political cooperation toward goodness and peace.
Set some time aside to prayerfully consider:
- God, what are You up to?
- What do You want to ring out from 2020?
- What personal good do You want to ring in for 2021?
- What common good do You want to ring in for 2021?
Finally, Malcolm Guite—an Anglican priest, poet, lecturer and chaplain at Cambridge—comments on Tennyson’s poem with great encouragement, and I just can’t say it any better:
But ultimately, the great and life-transforming hope of this passage is not rooted in the immediate success of one scheme of amelioration or another, but in the only place where hope can be rooted: in Christ Himself... It is those who know that, however faintly the bell in their hand may chime, they are ringing in the Christ that is to be who can make the most fruitful and productive changes in the here and now.
Anything that falls short that we want to ring out from the past, Christ can cleanse by His cross.
Any good we want to ring in to the present, Christ can grow by His Spirit.
Any good we long to be realized in the future, Christ will restore in His Kingdom.