Almost every culture and country around the world celebrates some form of New Year's Day. Of course the time of the year and the date of the celebration vary. Some celebrate it at the harvest, others at the time of planting, some at the summer solstice, and others like ourselves near the longest night of winter – as we celebrate that the light and the warmth will be returning soon. So you might get the impression that the sole purpose of celebrating New Years is for seasonal reasons.
But I think that people celebrate New Years for more than just seasonal reasons. I think that people also celebrate for psychological and spiritual reasons. The fact is that as human beings we need opportunities from time to time to let go of the past, and look forward to the future with a renewed hope. I have heard many people say, “That was a bad year, I am glad to see it go. Maybe next year will be better!” We need the opportunity to let go of the sorrows and the pains of what was, and then to dream about all the good and wonderful things that might lie ahead for us. New Years gives the permission to emotionally restart our lives and to grab onto hope for our future.
Yet, I would take it even deeper than that. There is a reason that the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) is followed very closely by a Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)– a day in which people ask for forgiveness of sin and seek reconciliation with God. As human beings we need to take time to look back on our lives and see where we have made mistakes, and then let those things go, we need to have the chance to start again. Too many of us lie awake at night rehashing all of our past mistakes, feeling guilty about our sins, and we absolutely need to give ourselves the permission to move on, letting the past be in the past. As we move ahead we need to know that God also has forgiven our sins and that God is calling us into a new and vibrant future. By the grace of God, New Year’s allows us to truly strive to be more perfect in our love for God and love for neighbor.
So my prayer for all of you this New Year is that you can let go of the burdens of the last year, lay them at the feet of Christ, and claim the strength and power of God’s transforming love so that you grow in all godliness as you seek to serve Christ. As we look forward to the growth of light and warmth in the warm, may you also look forward to the growth of the light of Christ and the warmth of the Spirit’s presence.