I was an exchange student in Japan and one of my favorite experiences was celebrating the New Year. New Year ’s Day is called gantan, which literally means “the morning sun rising over the horizon.” And, in the land of the rising sun, as Japan is known, there might be nothing more sacred than the first sunrise of the year. Often lasting for an entire week, the entire Oshogatsu or New Year holiday season in Japan celebrates purification and renewal, similar to the way our wonderful fire ritual last Sunday facilitated releasing the negative and affirming the positive.

One of the best traditions of the Japanese New Year, in my opinion, is fukubukuro, the “lucky bag.” Thousands of people line up outside every manner of store, from grocery to clothing and more to buy sealed bags, the contents of which are completely unknown. The appeal is not necessarily in the contents, although you often are rewarded with items much more valuable than the price you paid for the bag. The excitement is in the surprise, the notknowing, the potential for joy. Whether you are rewarded with a great haul or something less special, relishing in the joy of suspense and the process of the reveal is what makes the tradition so popular. It’s especially joyful for youth. In fact, one of Japan’s most famous haiku poets wrote shôgatsu no kodomo ni natte mitaki kana: becoming a child on New Year’s Day…I wish! The sentiment is a wish for all people to see the world anew, with an open mind, no judgment, and the excitement of a child.

It is my wish that we all enjoy the process, the suspense, and the surprises of this New Year and this brand-new relationship upon which we are embarking. We’ll surely worry about the unknown “contents,” and I’m confident we’ll confront together with love whatever may come, the good and bad. However, if we focus on the wide-eyed excitement of opening our figurative fukubukuro not just today, but also each new moment of the year ahead, we are more likely to enjoy the unending process of renewal that is life, and remain perpetually in a state of mind to find positive meaning in whatever will be revealed.

Please join me in person or via Zoom this Sunday for my inaugural sermon at Emerson as the sabbatical minister. It will be the first in a three-part series on the serenity prayer I will spread out intermittently of my five months with you. I will talk about finding the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, including the unknown.

I plan on being at the Emerson Church office weekly on Mondays from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm and Wednesdays from 8:30 am to 1:30 pm through the end of January. At that point, I will re-evaluate whether those hours are working well.

Outside of my official office hours, I am happy to speak to anyone at any time in person, via email, over the phone, or via zoom. If you would like to speak to me in person, I would request that you please call or email the office to make an appointment so that we can follow COVID protocols.

With excitement and gratitude,

Joshua