Midnight hasn’t yet struck, but fireworks are already exploding in the distance. I’m alone in my house—the lights are low, the tea is hot, and I’m waiting, like so many others, for the passing of this year into the next.
At the turn, we celebrate and reflect on the year that has passed. But more so, we look ahead to what comes next.
While I wait, one of my favourite hymns comes on and these words from the first stanza stand out as mirroring our new-year optimism: “Dark, dark hath been the midnight, but dayspring is at hand.”1 Whether you’re celebrating at a packed venue in the middle of the CBD or, like me, ringing in the new year in a quieter fashion, the sense of possibility hangs in the air. Will this year be different? Will I be different this year?
The hymn writer speaks of a “summer morn” they’ve “sighed for.” For those in the Southern Hemisphere, this could be an apt description of the fresh start we’ve been anticipating. But what is this “fair sweet morn” of this hymn?
Looking back at all the years of my life tells me that New Year’s doesn’t fit the bill. I won’t be rescued by the turning of a calendar page. The sinful habits I’ve wrestled with for years won’t disappear overnight. Any sense of optimism about a fresh start will disappear with the sun on the evening of January 1. I don’t know what 2023 will bring, but I do know my sin and selfishness will meet me there.
And so will grace.
With each failed goal, with each lapse into old, unhelpful habits, the grace of Jesus Christ will be enough. My hope isn’t in my ability to get my life together—it’s in God’s promises that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9) and that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
I don’t need to wait for the first of the year—or even for the next Monday—to be made new. I just need to come to God every day and every hour, trusting he will keep his promises.
The sweet communion I enjoy with the Lord because of his forgiveness is a foretaste of what awaits on the hymn writer’s long-for morning:
The sands of time are sinking,
the dawn of heaven breaks,
the summer morn I’ve sighed for,
the fair sweet morn awakes;
dark, dark hath been the midnight,
but dayspring is at hand,
and glory, glory dwelleth
in Emmanuel’s land.
Even our hardest years are just a small part of the dark midnight of this world. Dawn is coming—but not tomorrow. The true sun is the Son, Jesus, who promises to return to this broken world. In the fullness of time, when the last grain of sand has fallen from the hourglass, all who trust in him will be welcomed into the everlasting glory of Emmanuel’s land.
With the passing of another year, let us keep time not mainly by our calendars but by the promises of God. The sands of time are sinking. Dayspring is at hand.
- Samuel Rutherford & A. R. Cousin, “The Sands of Time Are Sinking” (1857).