But the last day of 1999 was not just another New Year’s Eve. It was not simply the cusp of another decade. It ushered in the turn of the millennium! We were beginning a new 1000-year cycle.
The 20th century had seen two world wars, famines, the holocaust and other genocides, apartheid in South Africa, the growing awareness of environmental disasters, the Vietnam War, and many other tragedies. Then we learned of a new threat called Y2K. After decades of becoming more dependent on computers, we coined the term Y2K to express the fear that computer systems were not equipped to deal with the numerology of a new millennium. What if all our systems crashed because early programmers and designers had failed to account adequately for a computerized world beyond the year 2000? Fear and regret hung in the air—regret for our failure to stop wars, for our short-sightedness related to technology and the environment, for what we had not done to make the planet more what God intended.
The new millennium invited us as a planet to take a longer historical view of our regrets and our accomplishments and to recommit ourselves to a brighter future: What had we done in the last 1000 years, and what was next? Now it’s 2018 and we have celebrated the dawn of a new year—not a millennium, or a century, or a decade, but a single year—and yet a new year that offers the same invitation to reflect on where we are going and how we want to follow Jesus more faithfully for the good of our planet.
Thinking about past and future, I remembered a friend who told me she thought regrets were a waste of time. “Why would I contaminate the precious remaining days of my life feeling bad about something I’ve done?” Instead, she chose to learn from her mistakes, to ask forgiveness, and to move on. I also recalled Psalm 86:4–5 (NRSV): “Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.” Instead of living in the shadow and energy-sucking muck of regret, God wants us to live in the promise of forgiveness with gladdened hearts motivated for acts of love, compassion, and justice.
On December 31, 1999, I rang in the new millennium with my best friend at the Washington National Cathedral. The preacher that night was the Rev. Desmond Tutu. Bishop Tutu had spent much of the 20th century envisioning and working to build a future in South Africa that seemed out of reach—a future without apartheid. Yet in 1991, apartheid had ended. In that sermon he stated, “God says, ‘Get up.’ He dusts us off and says, ‘Try again.’ For God is giving us the opportunity of a new beginning, that we should start again. For God says: ‘You know, I created you for goodness. I created you for love, for peace, for laughter, for caring, for sharing, for compassion, for family. And God has a dream—a dream that we will realize we are members of one family.’ That’s the one lesson God is hoping we will learn, and if it takes millennia for us to learn, God will give us those millennia.”
Steve Matthews was a youth minister for over 15 years. He is now a spiritual director, a coach working with redeveloping churches, and the Executive Director of the South Coast Mission Hub, a collaborative of churches sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.
JANUARY 7, 2018
NEXT DAY STRETCH
I once saw a church sign that read, “If practice makes perfect, be careful what you practice.” As we walk through the days of 2018, what will we practice? Will we choose to practice reflecting on our regrets and allow ourselves to get mired in the past, or will we practice trusting in God’s new beginnings, learning from our mistakes, and moving on as co-creators with gladdened hearts?