December 21, 2009

A New Year’s Carol
by Pastor George Van Alstine

“Greensleeves” is a Medieval English folk song, found in print as early as AD 1580. Over the centuries the tune has been sung with a variety of lyrics, from a pub drinking song to the familiar Christmas carol “What Child Is This?”

I just discovered that the “Greensleeves” tune has also had a life as a new Year’s carol, with lyrics published in 1642 AD. Here are the opening lines:

“The old year now away has fled,
The new year it has entered;
Then let us all our sins down tread,
And joyfully all appear.”

“The old year now away has fled.” Some of us probably feel relieved to see 2009 go—the quicker, the better. It’s been a year of economic hardship for many of us, with job losses and other financial reversals. Bereavement and health setbacks have dominated the year for others. We’re happy to kiss 2009 goodbye.

We certainly hope that our circumstances will be better in 2010, but will we be better? Notice, that the lyrics show an acceptance of personal responsibility for many of the past year’s failures: “Then let us all our sins down tread.” Things will be different in the future, not just because our situation will be better, but also because we accept responsibility for our part in creating the negatives in our lives. It goes beyond repenting and being sorry for our sins; we have to actively “down tread” these sins that have previously “down tread” us.

A later stanza of the song re-emphasizes the need for us to take positive action against the sins that have been our undoing:

“God grant that we may our lives amend,
And that truth may now appear.
Now, like the snake, cast off your skin
Of evil thoughts and wicked sin,
And to amend this new year begin:
God send us a merry new year!”

The image of a snake shedding its skin is pretty interesting. The old skin is sluffed off because the snake’s body had gotten bigger. He has virtually outgrown his skin. So the song’s lyrics challenge the year-end fumbling loser: “Grow up! Be spiritually more mature. Then you’ll find that your old defeatist behavior doesn’t fit anymore.” God will send us a “merry new year” when we’re able to contain it.

So, all together now, let’s sing out the old year and sing in the new—to the tune of “Greensleeves.” Ready, begin . . . .