Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, "That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So, there is nothing new under the sun." So, technically, the New Year is nothing new. Having lived through a handful of them, I certainly agree that we have done New Years Eve and New Year's Day before. Some people would argue that there are new things, but the context of the Biblical statement is not that there are no new items, nor even that there are no new concepts (such as the iPad, or the telephone watch, or "the cloud") but that there are no new human behaviors or ways in which men and women will conduct themselves politically or religiously or militarily or whatever.
Of course, even our new inventions echo something earlier, just in a possibly more elegant form. The items I mentioned as "new" concepts above were all dreamt up by science fiction writers and lowly cartoonists decades before anyone managed to make a working model. Dick Tracy was talking on his wrist-radio back in the sixties, and Star Trek imagined people carrying tablets around for data and for reading long before the iPad or the other tablets appeared in the market. But God was not suggesting that man is not inventive, and that new products might never appear. He was saying that people are people, and they will continue to treat one another in the same way they always have.
Politically, the newest thing was the idea of freedom upon which our nation was founded a couple of hundred years ago. The idea that the government was there to serve, not control, the populace was something new. The freedom to achieve and thrive on one's own efforts without the rulers taking things away from those who produced them was not new, but the attempt to fashion a government that would allow individual liberty was almost unique. Before America humanity had only known kings, emperors, Caesars, dictators, and the like, ruling over serfs and slaves and the hoi polloi. The notion that rights were God-given had never been extended to the common man until this nation was established. Oddly, the old ideas of servitude and slavery and a ruling caste live on and seem to be taking over even here in the nation once styled as "the land of the free." There is nothing new in what is happening, just something old and tragically familiar.
The twists and turns of religion we see today are nothing new either. There is not a new heresy or false doctrine out in the world today. There are just the re-workings of old false theologies, and the re-awakening remnants of ancient religions which had almost been squeezed off the world stage by Christianity, and those pagan religions that survived outside of the reach of the Christian Church in various corners of the world. Islam was not new fourteen hundred and some odd years ago when Mohammed fashioned it and wrote the Koran. He just pieced together elements of religions he knew about, and borrowed the idea of monotheism from Judaism (and sort of from Christianity, although he rejected the idea of the Trinity and called that "polytheism"). The newest religion out there is Scientology, invented by L. Ron Hubbard in about 1952, reportedly to win a $10 bar bet that he could create a religion and people would join and follow it. But even the teachings of Scientology echo a number of other religions, and teach nothing really new.
The only really new thing in religion has been the Gospel, and the revelation of God in Christ Jesus. Up to the time of Jesus, no one had come up with a God of love and forgiveness. The Old Testament taught the Gospel too, but until Jesus came, it was received more like God was dropping hints through the prophets, and those hints never clearly jelled into something really clear until Jesus came and fulfilled the prophecies and faced the cross and the tomb and rose from the dead. Even then, it took the work of the Holy Spirit to clarify things and lead people to believe. But Jesus, and the Trinity, and the full and free forgiveness of sins by grace through faith was the first really new thing in religion - and pretty much the last really new thing. Even God called it "something new", in Isaiah 43:19.
Imagine a world dominated by duties and obligations. That was our world before and without Christ. Life was hard for most people, and religion did not lift that burden. Each religion came with its own duties and obligations and pressed heavily on everyone. In addition, every aspect of life was more challenging in pre-industrial world, and often less amusing. For most people throughout human history food was a daily challenge. If you needed heat, you needed to be cutting wood or gathering straw and whatever to burn for heat. Very few people ever knew anything like the abundance and wealth we American have taken for granted for the last fifty years or so. Life was hard, death came easily and quickly to many from malnourishment and disease, and there were few effective medicines or pain-killers to make life more comfortable. Religions generally did nothing to help with that.
Most of mankind's religions taught guilt. Some called it "karma", but they all taught that life was hard because people deserved it hard. Even Judaism, which had the words of forgiveness in the Old Testament, often taught shame and guilt, and prescribed all sorts of regulations to control the behaviors and actions of the people. Oriental religions taught people that it was better for them to kill themselves than suffer dishonor, and dishonor was easy to come by. Other religions taught their adherents how to toughen up and take it "like a man".
Then came the Gospel. God humbled Himself to take on human flesh and blood and human nature as part of the plan to rescue and redeem us from our own sins. That was new! Added to that, when God became man, He re-asserted His original judgment that creation was good. Flesh and blood were deemed fit for God to wear, so the ancient and strangely popular religious notion that this physical world was evil or to be rejected somehow was directly denied by God. Life in this world has been held to be a good thing by God's participation in it as a man, even if life as we experience it is not always pleasant. Being a man or a woman is something worth doing, and worth doing well. Food and drink were declared good and holy by Jesus not only using them, but serving them even in miraculous ways, such as the wine of the wedding at Cana which Jesus made to bless and continue to the celebration, or the food, humble as it was, that he fed to the five thousand on one occasion and four thousand on another. That was something new.
Jesus revealed the true nature of God, and His will toward us, by His life as well as by His death in our place and for our redemption. His casual style belied the significance of what He was doing. Flesh and blood is a good thing, although we do not always use it in holy ways (in fact, we never use it in holy ways apart from His sanctifying it and us). We know it is good, however, because God wore flesh and blood too. In fact, He still does! Family and friends and fun and celebration were all sanctified - their holiness and the goodness of them for us was demonstrated by Jesus' participation in them, and even assisting and enabling them. God wants us to have fun, to enjoy life, to celebrate and love and treasure one another. Mankind's problem with that idea is just that although there is a good use of these blessings, there can also be, and often is, an ill use or abuse of these things. But the misuse does not negate that fact that God wants us to enjoy our blessings and rejoice in them and give Him thanks for them; sincere, heartfelt thanks.
God wants us to know that His will for us is good, and blessing, and joy. The mess we have made of this life often causes us great distress, but the distress is not the will of God for us any more than the sins that lead to pain and sorrow are His will. He can use those pains and sorrows, and often does, but pain and sorrow is not His goal. The philosophical question of why evil exists if God is good (and almighty) is debated under the title of "theodicy". The answer to the question is elusive because we cannot reason like God, we don't have His perspective, and so when we try to make God accountable to our values and our reason, we make ourselves god and judge over God. The only real answer to the question is faith. You gotta trust God.
Jesus shows us that God's will for us is blessing and everlasting life. Scripture makes it clear that God would have all men to be saved. He says precisely that over and over again in the Bible. He also tells us that we are not capable of making faith and salvation happen on our own. We need to lean on Him and trust Him to make it happen and lead us and keep us.
Our problem with that state of affairs is the sin in our very nature, and the baleful influence of the devil. We think from our sinful nature and we feel from our sinful nature. That places us in the center of our calculations, and our pleasures and preferences in the center of our judgments about what is good and right. Unless we are being stroked and pleased, we will judge God guilty of failing to be good, just, or right. Even we Christians do it. It is just natural, which is to say it is soaked in our sinfulness. We demand to know how God could be good if we must endure that, or something happens that we don't like - or like to see. The problem, of course, is that we are judging God by our own short-sighted and narrow standards, and we have no idea what God sees or what He is working. Often we cannot even imagine the divine perspective because God sees more and values differently than we do. Sometimes He values differently than we could, even if we saw what He sees and understood it.
That is another thing that Jesus teaches us. We can talk glibly about the love of God, and sort-of marvel at what God did in Jesus, but we have no consciousness of what it was to step down from the glories of heaven to become a man, what it took for the holy God to walk for decades among sinful men and women who frequently hated Him - both in the abstract (hating God as an idea) and in the concrete (hating the man in front of them simply because He was so darned good.) We all were His enemies, and yet He counted it worth the cost to redeem us. Then He set out to call us to faith and salvation! If we were capable of that kind of thinking and valuing, your neighbors, and even your adversaries would be more important to you than you are yourself. There would be no war, no hunger, no poverty anywhere if others were more important than we are to ourselves.
The closest mankind usually comes to that sort of thinking is when they decide that those with hardships are more important than their neighbors and take their money and stuff from them in taxes and various charities and give it to people who have done nothing to earn it. It feels good to be charitable with other peoples' money, but we always make sure we have what we need (and usually what we want) first. God didn't think like that. We deserved what we had coming, but God wanted better for us and paid the price in humility, in frustration, in sweat and blood and pain, and in death. He elevated our existence by sharing in it from the bottom up. The God who loved, who humbled Himself, who forgave, who calls to us and rescues us and holds us up until everlasting life did something totally new and unique . . . and wonderful! We call it grace, and we may even sing about it, but God wants us to believe it, not just sing about it. And He would have us trust Him.
The new year is not new like that, but it suggests a new opportunity. It is the new opportunity that is there every day, but the changing of the year seems to mark this opportunity as extra special. So, let's go with it. Let's take the opportunity to consider again the great love of God, and how wonderful it is and how special it is that we have been invited in, and then presented another year in which to try to share this good news of great joy. After all, what the world needs now, more than anything, is hope, and we have the hope of the Gospel. It is a hope that death cannot extinguish, and it teaches us the sort of people we can be, with the help of God. In Jesus Christ we have everything we need given to us, and the promise of God that anything we lack, or anything we give up for the Gospel's sake, will be repaid to us many times over.
So let's celebrate the New Year. Instead of celebrating the mere changing of the number identifying the year, let us celebrate God's goodness to us and the fresh opportunity to marvel at the Gospel and confess Christ to our neighbor. We can also celebrate a fresh new year in which we can live the transformed life that Christ has given in His grace.
Yours in the Lord,
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