From John of Patmos, the author the Book of Revelation, and from the prophecy of Isaiah:
Behold, I make all things new. ( Rev. 21:5 ) Rejoice and be glad in that which I create. ( Is. 65:17 )
I must admit to you this morning that the holiday which most of the world has been celebrating this weekend is a holiday which just doesn’t grab me. I’m not sure why. It may be that we never made much of it in my family, and I’ve just inherited the lack of interest. Or perhaps I am a person governed sometimes by a streak of melancholy, for you see New Year’s has always found me somewhat sad – never quite as bright and joyful as the rest of the world. What is there to celebrate, I’ve often wondered ? That time passes ? Certainly New Year’s means that: time passes, and one year gives way to another. Is that something to celebrate ? Maybe ? But it’s equally something to fear.
Or is it hope that’s behind the festivity ? An optimism about the future programmed into the calendar – that the coming year will bring a better time than the last ? Again, maybe ? Yet in our realistic moments we all suspect – don’t we ? – that it is very unlikely that the year to come will bring anything better than the year just ended. It will be different. If we’re lucky, the good and the bad will balance one another out, but maybe not ? Even so, in the year to come some of our hopes will be fulfilled: some certainly will be disappointed.
But enough of this, Warren. It’s not fair. You in the congregation may well be in a festive mood this New Year’s weekend, I ought not dampen your spirits by melancholy or cold realism. So, celebrate by all means, but right now – briefly – let’s try to discover what the celebration means.
And what it means is this: it is about beginning, starting all over again, getting rid of the burden of the past, and creating something – a life, a world – entirely new. For this, you see, is a basic human desire and human capacity. It is something interior, even spiritual, which people have outwardly celebrated as New Year’s day for thousands of years. It was something which was celebrated when the only calendar was the sky at night, for, you see it is not really about calendars. It’s about a new start, a new beginning, a new life.
In some cultures a new house was built for the new year. The old one was destroyed or burned to the ground. Even more extreme, in some tribal cultures an old village was abandoned, the tribe moved, and a new village was built up. In other cultures there were several New Year’s days to celebrate . . . which seems very odd indeed, in fact impossible, until we realize that the celebration is not about dates or times, it is not about something outside us, but rather it is about something within us. And that something is, again, our desire, our capacity for beginning, starting all over again. And this is something which we need and feel and realize not once, but again and again throughout the year.
Most often we greet this with joy and relief. A project finished – now the opportunity to begin a new one. A difficult or painful period in one’s life concluded – now at last one can start all over again, life no longer ruled by difficulty and pain. A new beginning, A new time. A fresh start.
Isn’t that what we yearn for over and over in our own lives ? Isn’t this very much a part of it is to what it is to be human and live in the world ? So often a difficult world, certainly a sinful and broken world ? Isn’t this what people are celebrating on New Year’s Day – the chance to begin again ?
Allow me to tell you something. It’s not a secret, but most of the world around us doesn’t know it. All this is something very, very Christian. The Gospel of Jesus Christ burst upon a weary and burdened world with the proclamation that God has provided a new beginning for mankind. God has given humanity a fresh start.
In one of the Church’s most ancient collects we pray:
O God, who hast wonderfully created and yet more wonderfully restored the dignity of human nature …. .
Created and restored. Restored – that means that by the grace and power of Christ, sins are forgiven, and therefore the past loses its power to rule the present. What one has been or done can be cast away, and men and women can begin all over again. This is precisely the truth that Christianity proclaims. It is a saving truth, and it is a living truth. It changes people’s lives, because it allows people to change their lives. It is a source of strength and courage in the world. It is the only real basis for hope. A new beginning. A fresh start. A God who through his gracious love give us the power to put the past behind and become something / someone new.
* * * *
And so this weekend we have been celebrating beginnings – and this not only in ourselves and in the world around us, but also in the life of our Lord. Today, New Year’s Day is also the Feast of the Holy Name – the day upon which our Redeemer was given his name. The name is Jesus, of course. It is a Greek form of Joshua – Yeshua in Hebrew – and its meaning is very clear: “God is salvation.” That is how his life begins – “God is salvation” – and that is how it continues. Jesus is himself – in his life and in his death and in his rising to new life – Jesus is himself God’s salvation.
In him God comes to us and gives us the power and gift of a new beginning.
In him we are delivered from the tyranny of the past, and that is how he saves us.
In him God restores our dignity.
In him God recreates the world and makes all things new.
Once again, from John and from Isaiah:
Behold, I make all things new. Rejoice and be glad in that which I create.