Why is a new year so alluring? Is it because some miraculous event takes place when the clock strikes midnight and January 1st chimes in? Is it because there is some fundamental shift in our thoughts and actions that characterize the change from the previous year to the next? Does nature subject itself to man’s calendar and thereby spring from one season to the next? The answer to all of these questions is an obvious “no,” and if it were not for the dropping of light-colored balls and the ticking of second-hands on clocks, we would scarcely know that anything had happened from one moment to the next.
Why then is a new year so alluring? It is so, I believe, because of the desire ingrained in every human being for renewal, for a second chance, for a do-over. For the end of every year is a natural call for retrospection on that year, and everyone of us, being the imperfect creatures that we are, are filled with happiness for the good things accomplished and, more significantly, regret for the things that we did not accomplish and the things at which we failed. And since all of us fall short far more than we succeed, the end of the year marks the end of a failed chapter in our lives, and the new year marks the beginning of a new chapter filled with possibility for change.
It is for this reason that most of us make New Year’s resolutions. We see the goals and desires of the year past, we see how we have failed in those areas, and we resolve that this year will be the year that things are finally different. We resolve that we will start this new year on the right foot and that we will finally take the initiative to be the kind of person that we would like to be, whether it be a thinner person, a healthier person, a kinder person, a wiser person, a more financially stable person, etc.
And though we make these resolutions, there lurks in the shadows the failed resolutions of years past. We know at the back of our minds that this isn’t new–we’ve done this before. We know the resolutions of the previous new year, and those resolutions are oftentimes the same resolutions that we are making this new year. Why should this year be any different? Yet, we still make the same resolutions and are still striving to be who we think we ought to be.
The problem that is inherent in such goals is that we cannot be who we ought to be on our own. We may be resolute at each year’s beginning, but temptation and laziness will inevitably creep in as they always do, and they will dethrone the strength of our “good” desires. We all need a Perfect and Outside Strength to be the good people that we know we ought to be, and we do not simply need a change in attitude or greater resolve, but we ourselves need to be made new. We need to be reborn.
And this is where the Good News of Jesus Christ comes in. Our lives year after year testify against our own strength and desire to become good people by ourselves, and we know that we have failed and that we will fail again and again. We know that in 2011 we will still struggle with the same shortcomings of 2010, and we know that that cycle will continue until the day we die unless something radical happens to us. We do not need more and more resolutions (or more and more laws), we need Someone who has never had to make resolutions to make us into persons who can actually keep the resolutions that we make. Now, I am not saying that Jesus Christ will help make us thinner people, healthier people, more financially stable people etc., but I am saying that Jesus Christ is able to bear the guilt and condemnation of all of our failings and is able to transform us into people with God’s resolutions and God’s strength to keep them. For Christ says:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Mt. 11:28-30).
For we all know that we ought to be better persons, yet we oftentimes do not know what being a better person means. And the only One to whom we are accountable to be better persons is ultimately not ourselves, but it is to God, and it is according to him alone that we must set our bars. God has engrained in all of us this yearning to be better people, because he has ingrained in all of us the knowledge that we ought to be better people. Yet we cannot achieve this ourselves. We must look to him alone, and we must seek his remedy alone. We must cast all of our burdens upon him lest we stumble over him to our destruction.
Therefore, let this not be a new year where you repeat the shortcomings of the year prior because you strive to better yourself by your own feebleness, but cast your shortcomings upon Jesus Christ, and he will give you rest. For the reality is that we must not merely become better people to stand justified before God, but, as Christ said, “You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). Therefore believe on Jesus and repent from your folly, and God will be pleased clothe you in the Perfection of his Son. Here’s not to a New Year but to a New Birth. Amen.