Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:18-19
To be honest, I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions. They can be a little self-serving, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (most of us would benefit from some self-improvement), but the primary issue may be because they’re pretty hard to keep. And then, when they’re broken, we just end up looking a little dishonest—we promised to do this one thing, and now we’re not doing it. We, in essence, lied to ourselves. I’m also a little troubled that we have to wait until December 31st to decide that we’re going to make some positive changes in our lives. Why not do it on September 1st, or May 1st? Why is January 1st so special?
With all that said, I still can’t help it. I still get this urge to make a change each time the calendar turns to a new year. Maybe it’s just an opportune time to make such changes. The liturgical calendar, which follows the patterns of feast days and special seasons in the church, has two big chunks of time each year that aren’t associated with anything special. The two big celebrations—Advent and Easter—and the time of preparation—Lent—are offset by longer periods of what’s called “ordinary time.” In a practical sense, the beginning of the new year represents a return to “ordinary time,” the end of the long season of feasting that begins with Thanksgiving and ends with New Year’s Eve parties. January 1st represents the beginning of “get back to normal” time. What better time to set aside the excesses of the special celebrations and enter into some discipline—to make some positive changes?
New Year’s resolutions are both a good idea, and problematic. They are a good idea, because there is inevitably something in our lives that begs for a change. We’re eating too much, we’re not getting enough exercise, we’re not spending enough time with those we love. These are all things that probably ought to change, and a commitment to change in the new year is not a bad thing. But resolutions are also problematic, because they so often depend on our resolve, which we all know from experience is not as strong as it could be. The middle days of January are littered with the wreckage of that weak resolve.
It’s no secret that God is interested in transformation, in making things new. God, more than anyone, is aware that things could be better. In John 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus that the Kingdom of God is open to those who are willing to experience a change, to be “born from above.” The first, physical birth is not enough to make us what we are meant to be. Our human resolve is just too weak. For true transformation, we need something more powerful than simple resolutions. Isaiah has it right: it is God who is doing the “new thing.” Out part is simply to decide to be a part of it or not.
So, even though so many resolutions end up broken, we should not think it’s pointless to want to change. We just need to realize who is really doing the new thing, where the transformational power comes from. And, while it may seem a little arbitrary to pick January 1st as the automatic default when it comes to making changes, it’s probably as good a day as any. Each day is a good day to start something new. Each day is a good day to look for the wonder of God’s re-creation. With the power of the Spirit, transformation can happen at any time, even at the beginning of a new year. So, here’s to a new year full of changes for the better, full of the “new thing” that God is creating. It’s already happening—do you perceive it?
See you Sunday! John