It’s a new year. It’s the time resolutions are made. In December Santa makes his list and checks it twice. In January we make our own, pin them to the fridge and don’t give them a second thought.
There’s something about the turn of months changing years that signals other changes and prompts us to try to do things differently, or better, or less, or not at all. Although apparently in Tudor times the end of the year was 24 March, with the Feast of the Annunciation the next day marking the start of the new year. My dad told me that while watching Tudor Monastery Farm and Wikipedia agrees, also informing me it’s because the incarnation of Christ initiates the era of grace. That’s a tangent, but I’ll give it you for free.
The early days of January are the time we celebrate newness. New starts, new hopes, new dreams, new resolutions. A new diet for a new me. A new resolve for a new job. A new plan for a new partner. It’s the era of novelty. And like most novelties it doesn’t last. The hopes fade, the dreams are forgotten and the resolutions are broken. And before long January shifts to February, the Valentine’s Day cards don’t come. Then March comes and you all forget my birthday (it’s the 7th). April’s Easter (usually, the Christian calendar’s never simple), and we get another theological opportunity to talk about new life as death gives way to victory. And we eat quite a lot of chocolate.
Novelty struck me in another way this weekend. When things are different it creates conflict. People don’t like change, and rarely does something new herald lasting affect without opposition and the crawling over of hurdles tossed in change’s path like the criminal fleeing Sherlock in the latest escapade.
Except that wasn’t what happened in the last episode (spoiler alert: stop reading now). It was different, the pace was slower and the story seemed erratic. I kept waiting for the speech to be over and for the real story to begin. But the speech was the story and the tangents were the point. The mess of a plot line, and the awkwardness of Sherlock being nice, and the emotional pull of kindness wrenched from such unlikely lips, they all pulled together to be something which otherwise they would not. Even the pageboy and his unsurprising interest in gruesome pictures all played their part.
I heard the cries of disdain: it’s rubbish, it’s self-indulgent, it’s lost the plot. Some were muted when it all came together but others insisted that the winning formula had been tinkered with one time too many. In trying to be different, it might have lost what made it so popular. In an attempt to be radical, it had been anything but. Because radical means to return to the root.
Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood is another adaptation cast in scorn for its departure from the original and its vast reimagining of the story. And that’s before we get on to his accent.
While change can be good, and finding time for something new is important, novelty is not in and of itself the answer. Because 2014 is new does not make it better. Perhaps it is more full of hope, perhaps the opportunities are not jaded by disappointment. Sometimes what we had does not need changing. Maybe the formula that made Sherlock a success should have been kept, maybe the folklore of Robin Hood should be gospel, and maybe the tinkered Baptism rites being experimented with should be dispensed with.
Because surely change is only necessary when the patterns that went before failed. If habits are causing harm then resolve to stop them, if a TV show bombs, change it up a bit. If our theology is off cue, herald the reformation. If our language alienates, give it attention. But don’t change because of the allure of novelty. Don’t pretend that under the cover of amending archaic liturgy the benefits are automatic or they will imbue Christening with a meaning ignored between words currently said but not understood. Don’t pretend that all change is good.
Baptism is about acknowledging the need for change, to turn from self and reject and renounce both evil and its purveyor. And acknowledge the wonder of grace that changes our life, and was initiated in the incarnation of Christ. Maybe the Feast of the Annunciation is not such a bad place to start this new year.
(Pictures via BBC)