Many people see New Year’s Day as a time of hope and new beginnings. We may have had a bad year, and we hope for a better one. Or we may simply hope for a better year, even if the previous year was not particularly horrible.
But we do this every year, year after year after year. That can easily lead some to ask questions: “Are our hopes for the new year truly justified? How do we know that this coming year will not be like the previous year?”
I suppose that having a good year, or a year of turnaround or breakthrough, is not unheard of. I can envision people saying, for instance: “Last year, I did not have a job; now I do.” “Last year, I was not a published author; now I am.” That new job or new book may not bring a person paradise. It may present challenges of its own. And the challenges of day-to-day life will remain. Still, it is a step up.
I think that it is good to hope. We cannot make demands of God, but we can share with God our dreams. I think of a scene in Lynn Austin’s A Candle in the Darkness. The novel is set during the American Civil War. The protagonist, Caroline, is having Christmas dinner with some slaves. Each person takes a turn sharing his or her dream, so that they can know what to pray for each other about. Caroline wants to be a teacher. Eli wants to be a pastor. Another slave wants to work in shipping with his master, see the world, and get married. Eli then prays that their dreams might be God’s will. That is my hope, for myself and others: “May your dream be God’s will.”
Maybe this year will be just another year. Whatever it brings, it can be a time of growth, even for those whose dreams are not fulfilled. Life presents us with opportunities to do things better, even if what goes on in our lives is not better. I am not necessarily talking about making New Year’s resolutions that one will likely break. I myself do not make New Year’s resolutions. Still, I respect that many people do so as part of their vision for a new beginning. New Year’s Day is a good day for that.
The concept of newness appears often in the Bible: receiving a new start after being forgiven, becoming a new person after being born again, a new creation, receiving a new way of looking at the world, God making a new heavens and a new earth. Many of us desire what is new. Maybe we are bored with the old, or look to the new to spice up our lives, or desire a change of scene. One could say that the new can become old, and what then? Will we become bored with the new? That often happens. In the case of the Christian life, however, there is always room for improvement. There are always areas in which the new can replace the old. And I believe, with John Wesley, that, even when we arrive at perfection, we will continually grow and learn new ways to love God and neighbor, new dimensions and insights into what that means and entails.
Why hope, when we do not really know if there is a basis for hope? I like what Romans 4:18 says: Abraham hoped against hope that his barren wife Sarah would have a son. Abraham is not entirely in the same position that many of us are. Abraham had a direct and an explicit promise from God. Many of us do not quite have that. Still, we have a God who loves us. Should that not give us hope?
Happy New Year!