Well, Happy New Year! I guess…
I say “I guess” NOT, for the moment, because we are still having to live through a pandemic – though there’s that….
I say “I guess” this time because I have always thought that the placement of when the new year begins is rather arbitrary. After all, later this “year” other cultures with THEIR “New Years” are also celebrated. The Chinese New Year – which has been celebrated for several millennia – is, given the year, celebrated anytime from our January 21st to February 20th. The Indian New Year is celebrated for five days – anywhere from the mid-October of our year to mid-November – with Diwali, the most important of those days, celebrated on the third day. I found an article that profiles 26 completely different New Years, done in different cultures at different times in different ways.
This is all to illustrate that deciding when to celebrate New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day and when to make New Year’s Resolutions is a bit arbitrary. We can all turn over a new leaf at any time; any day can be our “New Year’s Day.” The Apostle Paul knew this. In his 2nd letter to the Corinthian Christians, chapter six, verse 2, Paul makes a statement about bringing the “new” into one’s spiritual life, and it is our Boost from the Bible for today.
He writes, “See, now is the day of salvation!” Paul was making the point that, ever since we believed in Christ and brought Him into our hearts, we have had the opportunity to, as Paul put it, “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” – “fear and trembling” being what WE would call “putting your heart into it;” “working out your salvation” is not EARNING your salvation, mind you, but learning how to utilize the FACT of your salvation through Christ — utilizing that fact in order to let go of your selfish striving – finding that you are now free to be completely of service to Christ – which means being completely of service to anyone and everyone around you – all according to the will of God.
In other words, the best New Year’s Resolution is to say, any day, that not only is this “The day the Lord has made,” but that the Lord has made this day and every day – and every year – not “for you” in a self-serving way – but for you in a “loving your neighbor as yourself” kind of way – loving your neighbor as your NEW self.
There’s a problem with making New Year’s resolutions anyway, you know. In the first place, GOD should be in charge of our renewal program, not us. We are not the best judges of ourselves – God is. God has set loose the Holy Spirit in our lives to give us the power and the perspective to look at ourselves in a more objective way; and, you know, we sinners need this “Holy Spirit” point of view very badly. Why? Well, as I like to say (being a movie buff) that everybody (which is every sinner) has the starring role in their own life, and everyone else in that life has a supporting role, a minor role. Everyone in these supporting roles is judged by the lead actor (each of us) as to whether they help or hurt the lead actor. Everything that is done by other people that happens in this lead actor’s life is filtered through that lead actor’s desires, thoughts and feelings. THAT, my friends, is how powerful our sinfulness really is. It goes much deeper than a sinful deed here and a sinful comment there. Sin is all pervasive, and all too human.
To try to break out of that – to try to see things from both God’s point of view and other people’s points of view – is so hard that one realizes that there’s a tyranny over each of us – our sin is a tyrant; our sin is terrible in its rule over our lives. As Paul once cried out – on behalf of us all – “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” But then in the next breath Paul thanks his rescuer: “Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
A great theologian, Gerhard Forde, knew that, bottom line, what the best “New Year’s Resolution” was, every day – a resolution we make that is kind of similar to the resolution the reformed alcoholic has to make – also every day. Forde wrote, “As sinners we are like addicts – addicted to ourselves and our own projects. The theology of glory simply seeks to give those projects eternal legitimacy. The remedy for the theology of glory, therefore, cannot be encouragement and positive thinking, but rather the end of the addictive desire. Luther says it directly: ‘The remedy for curing desire does not lie in satisfying it, but in extinguishing it.’ So,” Forde concludes, “we are back to the cross, the radical intervention, end of the life of the old and the beginning of the new.” The beginning of the new – that’s what our spirits want – and what God wants – every day.
Our old self must die so that our new self emerges – again every new day. Paul once wrote about this goal in terms of his life: “It is no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me.” Our new life is Christ’s life, working through us. And it is not a lonely quest – it is a quest that you and I and OTHER praying Christians should be on, TOGETHER, for we need each other to lean on, as we live in Christ. Paul once wrote in 2nd Corinthians five, verses fifteen and seventeen, about our joint Christian life project: “And Christ died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died and was raised for them….So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
That’s the real New Year’s Resolution – to resolve to do Christ’s will, empowered and enlightened by the Holy Spirit within us to KNOW what Christ’s will is. It’s a drowning of the Old Adam and Old Eve –those crafty sinners within us – every day, so that the New Adam and New Eve – Christ’s helpmates – can emerge in us, that we may show the love of Christ to everyone around us – even to our adversaries – every day. Remember what Paul said: “Now is the day of salvation” – each and every day is a day to show that you are saved.
Now the dying off of the old life and the rising of the new life may not be dramatic – in fact, leaving the drama behind by working little bit by little bit to leave the old, is sometimes the most effective method, in Christ. Paul commented on that once, writing, “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” As Martin Luther, comparing us to a lump or loaf of bread, once described this daily renewal: “The new leaven is the faith and grace of the Spirit. It does not leaven the whole lump at once but gently, and gradually, we become like this new leaven and eventually, a bread of God. This life, therefore,” he concluded, “is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the goal but it is the right road. At present everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed.”
Secular New Year’s Resolutions often falter after the first violation. Luther wants us, in faith and hope in Christ, to never give up allowing God to remake us, to make us new – the new David or Christine or Eli or Anna being the same as the dream of God when that David or Christine or Eli or Anna was first created in His mind and heart – made, as all humans are made, in the image and likeness of God. The only resolve in a spiritual New Year’s resolution is to resolve to believe that God is always at work on us – and for the good, even when it seems, to our eyes, that we are a bit of a failure. The “new” spirit growing in us – fortunate for you and me – is a process not in our hands, but in God’s – the God of Jesus Christ – the Son of God who said from the cross, “Forgive them Lord; for they do not know what they are doing.” God will forgive, and, as God always says, “Behold! I make all things new!” Amen.
Go to kogcarmel.org and find King of Glory’s Sunday worship services as well – live at 10 am every Sunday. Archived worship services and boosts may be found at the bottom of King of Glory’s home page.