I was never one for ringing in the New Year by attending boisterous parties. Nor was it my idea of fun to be in a jostling crowd in New York’s Time Square to watch a ball drop — even though I lived just blocks away from that crazy scene. I preferred a quiet, contemplative start to the New Year: light a candle, finish off the last of the holiday eggnog, or watch an old movie.
When I moved to Vermont as a pastor, I had the opportunity to offer others my dream contemplative New Year’s Eve celebration: snowshoeing through the woods at night. With a friend on board, encouraging my crazy idea, we plotted the trail we would take, opting for a shorter one as temps would be in the single digits. We would have flashlights that strapped to our heads to help illumine the snowy path. When we emerged from the woods, we would start a large bonfire in the field and ring in the year with hot cocoa.
Later I added to the evening’s festivities. Along the path itself, I planned on hanging battery operated lanterns. When we got to the first tree with a lantern, we would stop, and I would read Scripture or an inspirational poem about letting go of the old and welcoming the new.
New Year’s Eve came, and a fresh snow had fallen that was perfect for snowshoeing. We entered the woods and found ourselves being enveloped by darkness. The lights from our flashlights were feeble, and I soon began to feel a bit nervous about being in the woods at night. It was darker than I thought it would be.
But then, I saw it: a tiny speck of light way in front of us. It was the most beautiful speck of light that I had ever seen. With each step I took, that speck grew larger and brighter until we were standing at the first tree with a lantern, listening to God’s promises of guiding us always, of being with us always, of always providing light on our paths. And so it continued. After the readings and a moment to reflect on what it was that we wanted to leave behind in the old year, we stepped forward back into the darkness until the light of the next lantern appeared.
Howard Thurman observed that “to continue one’s journey in the darkness with one’s footsteps guided by the illumination of remembered radiance is to know courage — the courage to demand that light continue to be light even in the surrounding darkness.”
A new year is about to begin, and while we pray earnestly for it to be better than 2020, we can’t help but feel apprehension about the unknown tomorrow. We have been walking in thick, scary woods it seems. But remember this: “To walk in the light while darkness invades, envelops and surrounds, is to wait on the Lord.”
God, you hold my days in your loving hands. As I say good-bye to a year that has been trying in so many ways and for so many people, I thank you for being there by my side always. I know you are guiding me. I know that there is a divine lantern burning brightly along my snowy, wooded path. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
You don’t have to go for a midnight hike in the woods to experience the light of God guiding you into a new year. You can create a lighted path in your home, placing candles throughout your home and creating mini prayer stations at each candle that is burning. “Travel” to each station and let go of something you need to let go of, or lift a prayer of praise, or simply pause and soak in the light and say the greatest prayer ever: “Thank you, God.”