The New Year is a fiction. We move smoothly from one day to the next. There is no magical change of the year and all of a sudden there is no more dust on the top of the cupboards and the weather is totally different - necessarily. This is Missouri, after all. It can be warm one day and freezing the next, even without the magical change of the year. One's situation in life may not change because it is a new year, although with the change of the year this year many people will see a drastic change in their health insurance and their premiums, but that has to do with the law and not so much with the fact that it is a new year.
The New Year is a counting device. People like to be able to identify how long they have been alive, or living in Missouri, or any other condition that might be worth measuring. The year is an historical and traditional unit of measure, so people get all emotional about the change in the number when, in fact, it really means nothing other than a more or less specific amount of time has passed.
The world hasn't changed. It is still all that it has been before, perhaps more so. The scenery changes slowly. Dust accumulates, water erodes things, plant life grows and dies, but the beauty of the earth is still there. Men may move it around a bit, destroying the beauty of one place or another, but beauty tends to recover or just move from place to place. Over the long haul, the works of man are so temporary, and time and nature tend to obliterate what we have done and return it to the beauty of what God has created.
The hostility of the world to truth and peace and God remains the same. How it expresses that hostility changes with the culture and the prevailing fashions. It all depends what will work. Some places violence and death is permitted, and the world uses that. Sometimes a benign tolerance is the best way to disarm and disable the truth. Usually the world will use a number of different approaches at the same time. The goal remains the same, stop the truth from being spread, and where it is spread, stop people from hearing it or believing it.
In some places, the Christian faith is not tolerated. The Gospel is forbidden and to speak of it brings swift and painful retribution. Sometimes a lethal response. Islamic countries tend to be such places. Where the voice of the Gospel cannot be silenced by violence because the law or the social sensibilities will not permit it, other techniques are used. The open expression of faith is ridiculed. The suggestion that any opposition to the faith truly exists is ridiculed. The clear confession of the truth is portrayed as unnecessary, extreme, or comical. Impatience becomes the hallmark of "tolerance."
Ticking that annual number up one and dropping the giant glitter-ball in Times Square doesn't touch the reality of the world. It just gives people an excuse for false bonhomie and a shallow and very temporary cheer. If you play the game with us for a while, you can party too. If not, just go home and leave us to our revelries.
The change of the year doesn't change any of us individuals either. We are the same person on January 1 that we were on December 31. Time changes us when we accumulate enough of it under our belts, or ages us at least, but the new year has no magical effect. We are still sinners. We still hunger after those things that are not right for us. We still think in ways that do not serve us well or please the Lord. The changing calendar does not improve us. Only God can do that.
Our greatest hope is the return of the Lord. Holidays, both secular and religious are what they are, and they are not necessarily bad, or bad for us. They simply have no power to transform us or our circumstances, or the world around us, except perhaps very locally and very briefly. We can feel a bit of cheer. We can do something decent or kind that we normally don't do. The truth is, however, that we remain who and what we are, sinners and corrupt and worthy only of the wrath of God.
Our hope is in Christ, not the new year. Our hope is in the gospel, not in any imagined or real changes we see in ourselves. Even when we see changes, we are merely witnessing the same old thing different not by kind but only by degree, and we imagine the degree to be far greater and more significant than it actually is. The transformation we need and for which the people of God long is begun in us through the Word and Sacraments and working of the Holy Spirit, and will only be completed in the resurrection - the new Day, not the new year.
Although the new year will bring some things with it that we will rejoice in, it is just that the new year doesn't bring anything different that we will celebrate. The new things are the mercies of God - Scripture says they are new every morning. They are not new in that they are unexpected, or unexpectable, but in that they are fresh and constant and in full supply daily, not running out because we have used the supply up in the past.
We can count on His love and good will towards us. Life may be taking twists and turns that we cannot fathom and do not enjoy, but God is still with us and blessing us and keeping us. That is the meaning of the lines in the Twenty-third Psalm, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thy Rod and Thy staff, they comfort me."
It is important to remember that we live in a world that does not trust God or know Him in truth. Most of the people around us have rejected God in every way they can, and the will of God toward them is not good and mercy and kindness. Yes, God desires the salvation of all men, but there are many who reject Him outright and another group that pretend to accept Him but deny His Word and run after the flesh and believe a gospel which the Apostle Paul described in Galatians 1, "I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ." In such a world, God will deal with the world according to its sin at times, and we who are His children will be caught up in the events and conditions of the world around us, and it will not be pleasant.
But Jesus tells us "But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." The sorrows and difficulties of life will be pointing us toward the promises of God and the final fulfilment of all that Gospel tells us about. It just won't feel that way because the flesh interprets the events and conditions of life differently than God tells us they are. We are to follow after the Spirit, however, not walk according to the flesh, and to do that we will need God's help and power.
Let's face it, pain hurts. Sometimes it hurts a lot! Sorrow is sad, and the dangers of life are intimidating and worrisome. All of that militates against the faith and we have to wrestle with reality every day. Some people don't seem to have to wrestle as we do. It seems as though they must be doing something right and we are doing it wrong, but that is just the world's way of thinking, and the temptation intended by the old, evil foe.
The truth is, some of God's people have great blessings that we can see. Some of those we see with great blessings may not be God's people in truth, and those who truly are God's often have great troubles that we cannot see. It is never wise, and it is always sin, to covet their blessings and to grumble about how God has treated us. It is easy and quite natural to do so, but our nature is corrupted by sin, and produces sin in us all of the time.
These are among the reasons God has so clearly explained to us that we should expect and will endure the hostility of the world and pass through pain and sorrow as we follow Christ. The cross appointed to us is rarely gold-covered and cushioned. It is stark and brutal and often takes us quite by surprise. We may be ready to face the hostility of the world in the form of social ostracism, but we encounter it in the person of the Christian we admire, or the visible church, or something we consider absolutely necessary is taken away or threatened daily, and we feel fear and pain for which we are not prepared. The devil is a tailor of crosses, fitting each one of us with the one he expects to destroy us.
But God is near, and with us and blessing us in the new year. "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it." God has your back, so to speak, and your front, and both sides. The Apostle Paul assures us that when we get to the "glory that is to be revealed to us," it will be so good that we will not find our trials and troubles here on the way worth comparing. We will realize that it is so good that, had we seen it clearly, we would have been willing to bear far more on the way.
God will strengthen and keep us, Philippians 1:6, "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus."
Otherwise, nothing changes with the coming of the new year necessarily. Calendars change a little. The cycle of the year continues. Note that it does not begin again or begin anew, it simply continues. People choose this time of year for the retrospective articles or programs or web videos, although, truth be told, they are doing the retrospective thing on the web about every three months. People on the internet are too impatient to wait a whole year.
Everything is always changing, but, as it says in Ecclesiastes 1:9, "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." Mankind has a fascination with the "new." There is clearly nothing new about that, and nothing truly new, but people yearn for it and reach for it and find its allure practically irresistible.
The coming of the new year should remind us that, as it says in Hebrews 13:11, "for now salvation is nearer to us than when we [first] believed." It should remind the Christian to cling to the Word and do all that is in their power to stand in the faith once delivered. It should remind us to gird ourselves for the troubles that will surely come, and to "Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus."
So, when January 1 comes, move that little counter to 2015 with whatever rituals and victuals you enjoy to mark the day, and refocus your resolve to stand in the faith and pray and go to church as regularly as you can because you will need the Word and the Sacrament, and the others in your congregation will need the encouragement you bring, even if it is just the encouragement of seeing you there so faithfully.
"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation." What fiery ordeal? I don't know. It may not have come yet. Then again, it could be life, cancer, loss, sorrow, the failure of the congregation to which you belong to thrive, or any number of things. I just know that it is coming.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.
To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Yours in the Lord,
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