Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Hope for the New Year


New Year's Day is a chance for us to look back and to dream forward. That is well worth doing, but we must remember not to allow our sense of joy to be tied to the wishes we make now. It is far more important to fix our minds on the new world God has promised to share with us, and on the new life He shares with us now. That hope does not change regardless of our circumstances. Whether this year is good or bad, nothing in it can defeat the Lord's plan to eliminate death and suffering for those who come to Him through Jesus Christ. 

Over the years that I have worked on this website, I have done a number of seasonal articles. I like doing them because they are fairly relatable. While we all have different memories and emotions tied to the holidays, they hold the same basic meaning for everyone and they come to us at the same time. They are one of the ways we are tied together in our society.

Somehow, though, I have never done a New Year’s Day article. I thought there was possibly one on my old blog and I had just removed it from publication. Even going through old drafts running as far back as 2011, though, I could not find any. It’s surprising, but it also means I can say whatever I want here now without fear of repeating myself.

I do have to reiterate my surprise, though. New Year’s is such an obvious one. Newness is an important concept for our culture, but it is also a critical theme of Scripture. The similarities provide a bridge between the secular and sacred spheres, while the differences help show the superiority of the things of God.

New Year Wishes

What they have in common is the excitement of a new start. In our culture, and really in most others, it is a chance to look forward to the possibilities of the new year. Of course, you always get a few people from the “I am Very Smart” crowd who come out to tell you that this is just another day among a (seemingly) endless string of days. There is nothing inherently special about it. But we just roll our eyes at those people because they are missing the point. It isn’t the day itself that deserves celebrating, but the concept we have created for it. It is for taking stock in how far we have come in the last 365 days, or for coming to terms with the mistakes we made, and for dreaming about what we can do in the twelve months that are to come.

There is great value in that. We cannot help but mark the passage of time, and we need ways to be encouraged as it marches on. It is how we acknowledge growth and overcome disappointments. But that helpfulness does have limits, and it can actually become harmful depending on the circumstances.

Circumstances are really the problem. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with making a resolution today, but it is a good idea to be mindful of what that is. When we think about the job we hope to get, the weight we hope to lose, the vacation we plan to take, or whatever else it may be, we are essentially making wishes. We are setting goals, doing what we can to influence the results, and then dreaming that everything will fall into place so they will come true. Again, there is nothing wrong with that. But we all know that things do not always go right.

Occasionally, in fact most of the time, our plans fall through. Sometimes it is just a minor difference from what we expected, but other times they fail spectacularly. If that happens enough, it can leave us in a very hopeless place. It also does not help that we are generally better at remembering the bad instead of the good. That can make looking back on any bygone year a painful experience.

New Life Hope

However, it is also where the biblical perspective comes in to bring relief. Worldly newness is about wishes and happiness. Both are fleeting and easily disrupted because they depend on our immediate situations. Biblical newness, on the other hand, is about hope. And the value of hope far exceeds that of happiness because it does not depend on the world around us. Hope depends on God.

The newness God promises is, in my opinion, best described in Rev. 21:1–5, and it is a passage to which I frequently refer as a result. This is where the Lord promises a new world after the old one disappears, a new world in which God lives with His people and where death and suffering are no more. It is the ultimate goal toward which the Christian faith strives, not because we can create it, but because it marks the ultimate fulfillment of all God offers us through Christ.

This guarantee of a new creation occurs at and beyond the end of time, and it comes about through God’s will. It is not finally dependent on us or the world, and therefore neither we nor the world can ruin it. No matter what happens in this life, the promise of eternity with Jesus is always there to comfort us. It gives us hope transcending the circumstances that occasionally rob us of our happiness.

The waiting is still painful, of course. We wish to have it now. But even that pain is made valuable because it teaches us to wait on the Lord rather than relying on ourselves.

Now in this hope we were saved, but hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? Now if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience (Rom. 8:24–25). 
This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Rom. 5:5).

We do not want to miss this concept, because it is what makes hope possible. We have not just received a promise for far off in the future. We have also begun to experience newness now. God’s love is accessible in the new life made available in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). We are better able to wait for its fullness because of the foretaste we are already given. And together, they give us the strength to take on whatever each new year brings with it. Unconquerable joy is available if we do not fixate on happiness, the world cannot drag us down if we look to heaven, and 2019 holds nothing to fear if we focus on God’s future.

I do wish you a Happy New Year, and I wish myself the same. It is a good thing to do. But whatever happens, I hope we keep the right perspective. What matters most is that God is still on His throne and our eternity is still secure in the grace of Jesus Christ. No year will ever change that.

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