“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” – 1 Peter 2:9, NIV
Christmas is now comfortably in our rearview mirror. The tree has disappeared from the family room and most of our decorations are tightly packed away with the exception of the forgotten suit some fake Santa wore at family Christmas.
Technically we are in contravention of one of christianity’s lesser known traditions. Christmas actually begins on December 25 and continues for another twelve days, just like that repetitious song tells us. The good news is my true love hasn’t gifted me any leaping lords, milking maids, or various birds doing various bird things. Yet.
New Year’s Eve is also behind us. We had a nice time eating, sipping, and staying awake until later than early. In our home, nine o’clock is the new midnight.
Each New Year can look different on the outside but I wonder what newness it brings on the inside?
New Year’s Eve always brings hope for a better year accompanied by a flurry of resolution-making. Some, like me, cynically ignore resolutions altogether. But I wonder if kept-promises and broken-promises are missing the point? Maybe the first days of the calendar would be a better investment if we looked back at last year before looking forward to next.
There is a spiritual practice called the ‘Examen’ where we take time at the end of each day to be thankful for our blessings, to understand our failings, and to ask God’s help for the next day. Should we do something like that each time a new number appears at the top of our calendar?
Could we begin the new year by first examining the joys, failures, and relationships from the past year? What should I be thankful for? When was God with me? Who did I build up or tear down? Why did I stray? Where do I need forgiveness? How do I need God’s help for what is next?
Each moment is holy and there are incalculable ripple-effects from how we live them. Perhaps even past mistakes can be redeemed by examining them and learning from them.
Of course the best practice is to look back in light of the greatest commandment: where was love?
the bigger idea
Peter was Jesus’ most energetic and vocal disciple. However, during Jesus’ torture and death Peter was terrified to the point of denying three times that he even knew Jesus. Days later, after Jesus had come back to life, there was a touching conversation between the two and the three denials formed the foundation for three more important questions.
“After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”
“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.
Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”
“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.
A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”
– from John 21, NLT
Their chat was a recognition of Peter’s recent misdeeds without hint of condemnation or guilt. An ugly past incident could have been left to fester but it became the way for Jesus to love his friend. It was also a springboard to an important life-lesson: nothing is more important than allowing love to reign.
It might feel awkward to celebrate a new year smack-dab in the middle of Jesus’ birthday party but it shouldn’t. The season begins when Advent reminds us of hope in the darkness; Christmas shows us a light in the darkness; the New Year begins our walk from darkness to the light; Easter conquers the darkness.
NT Wright assembled it more broadly when he wrote, “Part of the central achievement of the incarnation, which is then celebrated in the resurrection and ascension, is that heaven and earth are now joined together with an unbreakable bond and that we too are, by rights, citizens of both together.”1
If you read the Bible with eyes that see, you will discover that it isn’t concerned with subjects like hell, sex, armageddon, school curriculums, Christmas, or most other issues christians worry about. It is more interested in inviting us to join God in making the world a better place, here and now, as citizens of both heaven and earth.
We are asked to pursue the light that leads to the biblical idea of shalom (peace, harmony, wholeness, prosperity, tranquility). Perhaps the experiences of the past year can help us bring health to the coming year.
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¹ NT Wright, Surprised By Hope