Some New Year’s Eves, I have felt a frisson of nervousness as I readied for a party or fellowship event—did I forget to pay a bill that needed postmarking this year? Take all my tax deductions? Meet an annual work deadline? Prepare the kids and babysitter, whom I wouldn’t see till “next year”?
This Eve will be a quieter one. But are there any missed opportunities or duties? Oh, yes, this year there was the vacation cancelled, rescheduled, cancelled again, the celebration delayed or job lost, the relationships starved of physical touch. Many things were not accomplished, but I improvised, regrouped, made do. Is there anything more I can do before 2020 is, thankfully, behind me?
I often think of Richard Wilbur’s poem called “Year’s End,” where he broods on unfinished business, examining how an ancient disaster in Pompeii “found the people incomplete, the loose unready eyes/ Of men expecting yet another sun/ To do the shapely thing they had not done./ These sudden ends of time must give us pause./ We fray into the future, rarely wrought/ Save in the tapestries of afterthought./ More time, more time….”
The prophet Abraham was given an opportunity late in his time on earth: he was challenged to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham didn’t just love his son, and didn’t just see him as a miraculously-provided boy, but probably also saw him as a last chance—at engendering and raising a son for establishing the covenanted legacy that Jehovah had promised. Last chances are always so poignant.
So Abraham’s was a special offering—of lastfruits, as my husband calls it. We are familiar with offering firstfruits, described in verses such as Exodus 23:19, Leviticus 23:9, and Deut. 26:1 (not a bad devotional for January 1st). In Exodus 22:29, God even says “The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me.” Abraham had had Ishmael, but that son, conceived with a concubine, was not the sacrifice God requested. He wanted the lastfruits—“the shapely thing that Abraham had not done,” as Richard Wilbur might say.
What should be the lastfruits of this year?
I recall a time in 2004 when I was in Washington, D.C. for work. I was in a Senate office building when the lights in the marble hallways started to flash. An alarm started honking; I saw people running. I realized the building was evacuating, so I joined the swarm hustling toward the exits. Astoundingly, the security stations were deserted; that was when I knew this was serious. (I later found out that a plane had violated airspace over D.C. and a terrorist attack was anticipated, erroneously.) People milled around at the doors, not sure if leaving the massive building was safer than staying inside. Most sprinted for Union Station’s basement, as did I, expecting the shadow of a plane to overtake us at any time. All around me, people were on their cell phones. I kept hearing them say I one thing: “I love you!”
Here were some of the most powerful and privileged people in the world, and their youthful staffs, who had one chance to say what they thought might be their last message. Were they calling lobbyists, or constituents? Accountants, or party officials? Absolutely not. They wanted to express love.
In Exodus 23:16, God tells His people, “You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in the fruit of your labor.” What was the fruit of your labor this year?
Cleaned-out closets, surviving a bout of illness, homeschooling little ones, working on a political campaign, extra time in prayer, or learning to run a virtual meeting—whatever it was, love was the best part of it. To paraphrase I Corinthians 13, even if I learned a new language using a fancy app, or donated blood, tended Covid patients, or correctly foretold the outcomes of all the elections, it was all nothing if I didn’t have love.
During your private Feast of Ingathering, consider the places in 2020 where your words were harsh, your heart bitter. And the places where the love of God flowed through you. If you’re like me, I wish I had been more loving. “Beloved,” John calls us, in I John 4, “if God so loved us [that He sent us His Son], we also ought to love one another….If we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.” One could almost say we become a pipeline for the presence of God when we give love to others.
Could you go through your church directory and write a New Year note to three or four people you haven’t seen in months? Could you drop off some soup to a person who can’t go to a restaurant? Could you call and ask forgiveness for those tacky words last month? Yes, you could.
Love is the best offering to make. And it’s never too late to love.
About the Author:
Leah Farish is active in women’s ministry in Oklahoma, and in the Middle East and North Africa. She is a lawyer who would rather do stand-up comedy. Her husband and kids would prefer that she do that as well.