When I think of this holiday, I think about a late night party with a bunch of cheap, shiny bling and something bubbly to drink. When I was young, there was usually a bottle of sparkling grape juice around, or something equally as child-appropriate and weird. It was always something you don't drink any other day of the year. Still is actually, since not many people I know pop open a champagne bottle on any normal day. There's always a bunch of upbeat music, excited announcers, and a big, shiny ball of lights that slowly drops over New York City. Why a shiny ball of lights? I have no idea.
Wikipedia says a Time Ball (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_ball) was a ball lit or painted a noticeable color that was dropped at a specific time each day. It would notify ships when that time was reached so they could set their clocks. Since the advent of radio communications, this is obviously obsolete. It's said that the Times Square NYE ceremony was designed to incorporate this to symbolically start the new year. Times Square was also re-named based on the popularity of this celebration.
This begs an important question to me. If at the cusp of a new year, when we celebrate the past, put it behind us, and move on to new and better times, if our biggest symbolic gesture is the stroke of a new clock, why do we use such an archaic symbol to represent it? This is a system that was used for less than 100 years and became obsolete just 17 years after the first Times Square Ball Drop. I would even venture to guess that the "Time Ball" system was known only to the keepers of the time balls and the naval crews who used them!
Why not church bells? A beeping alarm? That annoying iPhone alarm that you hear everywhere?
As odd as this tradition is, the idea of people hanging on to meaningless traditions is nothing new to the world. Look at the Texas law books, which are filled with hundreds, even thousands laws that were never redacted, but obviously no longer apply. Or look at the religious services around the world that follow ceremony, even after the intended symbolic gesture of the ceremony is no longer culturally relevant. Even popular TV has picked up shows like Storage Wars and Hoarders, where people are shown to hold on to overwhelming amounts of useless junk just to avoid losing the past.
To understand why would require asking a much, much greater mind than mine. My simple guess is that we're scared of the unknown. Each one of us lived 366 days of experiences since the last ball drop. Some great, some awful, but they were all lived. Each one of us could write a book about what happened to us in the last year (and some have!). And whether we enjoyed them or not, whether we loved or hated those days behind us, 99% of us would fight against ever losing those experiences.
Our experiences make us who we are. Our failures build us, and our successes raise us. Even (some would say especially) the worst of our experiences build character in us that tell the world who we are and what we stand for.
But I want to challenge that today. While today is about celebrating the last 366 days, tomorrow is about the next 365. Tonight at midnight, when that archaic ball drops, I challenge myself and anyone reading to think not about the experiences of the last year, but about the person you have become since 2011. I want you to think about what that person is capable of, what good he or she can do in the world. And I want you to throw away, violently, everything that you used to be, and everything you've done. I want nothing to hold you back from making a difference in the world in 2013.
In the paraphrased words of Paul the Apostle, this one thing I ask of you; forget what is behind, and strain toward what is ahead. Press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called you in Christ Jesus.
What will you leave behind?
Who will you strive to become?
Always moving forward,