January 2nd, 2009
No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse.
Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out, and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved. (Matthew 9:16-17)
A new year.
In some ways itís just the turn of the calendar, a way of marking the passage of time. If we didnít know that itís 2009 and not 2008 or 1988 or 1711, I suppose the year really wouldnít make a difference. Most of us will go back to the same jobs when the holidays are over, live in the same places, go to the same schools, interact with the same people. For most of us, life will change very little as we pass from 2008 to 2009.
On the other hand, the transition from one year to the next carries a lot of significance to many of us. We tend to invest a lot in a new year, to see in it potential for hope, change, and transformation. In a thousand different ways, we promise to ourselves that the new year will be different. That weíll be different in the new year. Weíll lose that weight, break that habit, repent of that sin, heal that relationship. A new year just feels like a convenient time to wipe the slate clean and start over from scratch.
But weíve all had failed resolutions, havenít we? Many of us, as we celebrated the New Year, couldnít help but think of all the ways we had resolved that the old year would be different Ė and all the ways that it turned out that it wasnít. And we wonder if people can really change. If we can really change. And we think of all the ways that last year didnít go as we had planned: health concerns we couldnít have imagined on January 1st, an economic crisis the likes of which we hasnít been seen in 75 New Yearís Eves or so, escalation in Gaza, job worries, family concernsÖ Well, we start to wonder what surprises 2009 has in store for us.
So we face the new year with a strange mix of hope, resolve, anxiety, and doubt. We want things to be different Ė in the ways in which we feel things need to be different. And we want things to stay the same Ė in the ways in which we weíre comfortable and content.
If you have a Microsoft Zune, you understand the effect a new year can have. At the stroke of midnight this year, thousands of Zunes apparently stopped working. Some kind of problem with the internal clock, as I understand it. People sometimes arenít that different: the start of a new year can freeze us up and make us incapable of motion.
My mom has an interesting tradition for the new year. Some time early in the year, she sits down with last yearís date book. She pages through it, day by day, week by week, month by month. As she turns pages, she prays. She thanks God for blessings heís given her through the people and events in those pages. She praises him for the difficulties heís brought her safely through. She asks for his forgiveness where sheís made mistakes, and for his guidance and strength in unresolved struggles and conflicts that are carrying over into the new year.
What sheís doing, of course, is reliving the last year in hindsight, seeing the grace and love and providence of God in ways that for whatever reasons we find difficult to see in the immediate swirl and press of life. Itís something like the way that the writers of the Bible approached history; looking back on historical events, they found Godís fingerprints all over them. And that gave them confidence for a future they couldnít know.
That, of course, is Momís reason for her new year tradition: in remembering Godís faithfulness in the past, she finds hope for the future.
Itís tempting, of course, to use the new year like a patch on our lives: slap it on, stitch it up, and everythingís just like new. But if nothing else changes, if we donít allow the good news of Jesus to change our perspectives and attitudes and habits, the new year and all its accompanying resolutions and affirmations will soon unravel into more of the same.
Jesus pointed out that he came to give us new beginnings, new hope, new life. For believers, there is always a new year, always a new life, always a new start. He compared the gospel, the announcement that God has come in Jesus to redeem, restore, and renew, to new wine, with all its biblical implications of blessing and prosperity. But you donít just pour that new wine into an old wineskin, he cautioned, because the old wineskin wonít hold it. Try to receive Godís blessings with an unchanged heart and mind, he warned, and youíll lose them. God offers a new beginning, but we canít receive what he wants to give without being honest with ourselves about where we might need to change the way we do things and the way we see the world.
So take some time in the next week or two to review the year gone by. What did God teach you through the people he brought across your path and the events youíve come through? In what ways did he bless you? In what ways did he challenge you? When did he carry you through weak times, and when did he let you stumble in times that you thought you had it all figured out? When did he lead you, and when do you wish that you had let him lead you? Give thanks for his love, and receive his forgiveness for when you failed.
But know this: this year wonít be ďnew,Ē not really, if youíre not made new in Christ. The only difference between 2008 and 2009 is whatever is different in you. The good news, of course, is that Jesus came just for the purpose of making human beings new. There is no enlightenment to attain, no level of spiritual privilege to which we must aspire. Whenever we come to Jesus to entrust him with our lives and hearts, itís a new day. A New Year. Strike up the band for Auld Lang Syne, pop the champagne corks, and cue the confetti; in lives and hearts where Jesus is honored as Lord there is grace and forgiveness and hope and transformation.
If that sounds pretty good to you, then donít make another resolution until youíve acted on the resolution to make Jesus your Lord. Put your trust in him, your life in his hands. Begin to learn what pleases him, and put what doesnít behind you. Seek out his people, a church where you find family and love and grace and faith Ė tell them of your decision, and be baptized. And be confident that, because of Godís grace and love for you, your new life has begun. All you have to do now is live that new life out.
Happy New Year. May God bless you, guide you, and give you the desires of your heart. And may those desires, more and more, reflect the desires of his heart.
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