My seven-year-old granddaughter got to stay up late. It was New Year’s Eve, after all. Promptly at midnight, the lighted ball started to fall toward Times Square as thousands celebrated. She watched for a while with a child’s wondering eye. And then, as children often do, went to the heart of the matter: “Grandpa,” she asked, “What are they so happy about”?
What indeed? How could I explain it to her? This great collection of seemingly gleeful people was celebrating a “new year.” They somehow wanted to believe that the turning of the clock and the joyful shouting and singing could put away the failed old year and begin a new year bright with promise. This new year, we always desperately hope, will be the best of all. This year we will get things right. This year we will lose weight, eat right, exercise more…in short, do all those things we have meant to do in the past, but this time the new year’s resolutions will work. Won’t they?
In truth, the celebration fades as quickly as the television picture, and our resolutions usually end up tossed out with the Christmas wrappings. Even my granddaughter knew that the whole thing is a fraud. It’s an illusion. The turning of the clock from December 31 to January 1 doesn’t really make anything new. It is simply one day becoming another. We are the same people facing the same conflicts and concerns. Nothing has changed except the number of the year we’ll forget to write at the top of our checks.
Nothing is new, and yet—“. . . the One who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’” (Revelation 21:5)—everything is new. Even broken down old years and hopeful new years, and bad days and good days, all of it is made new.
In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther reminds us that in our Baptism “. . .the old person in us with all sins and evil desires is to be drowned through daily sorrow for sin and repentance, and that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” Most marvelously, what is made new on New Year’s Eve is us. We enter the new year the same way we enter each day—new. We are forgiven. Free from the mistakes of the day and year past, we are renewed once more by God’s Spirit. This day and every day, we have a chance to be what God is calling us to be. We don’t have to wait for New Year’s Eve. We don’t have to hope that the turning of a clock will somehow fix things. We don’t have to grind out futile resolutions or work to produce good intentions. We simply trust that at the fountain of God’s grace in our Baptism we are forgiven and free to be shaped into what God wants us to be.
But living into God’s newness, our new life in Christ, can be difficult. A whole army of people and events can make us stumble into old ways of thinking and doing. There is no easy way to overcome all these, but here is one way that might help:
Perhaps you are like me and often feel overwhelmed with things that need to be done, people who need to be attended to, obligations that must be fulfilled. Even in retirement I have found myself falling exhausted into bed on many nights. How does that happen? How does it happen that we get so busy with our obligations and our doing that we find ourselves wound down to a small frazzle at the end of the day? How can we live our new life in Christ if we are burned out at the end of the day?
One of the reasons may be that we have forgotten about the biblical rhythm of things. Even though the Sabbath was a time of rest at the end of the week, the days themselves were turned the other way. Genesis sees God creating the days with the words “there was evening” and then “there was morning,” Chapter 1 verse 5 says, “There was evening and there was morning, the first day.” That sequence of evening and then morning clearly placed a time of rest at the beginning of the day. Rather than falling exhausted into bed at the end of the day, the biblical people moved into the day rested from a night’s sleep that they had enjoyed at the beginning of the day. It may seem like a small thing, but it’s important.
Scientists tell us that it takes most of us about 7-10 minutes to fall asleep. Certainly, we can use those minutes at the end of the day to gather our regrets, add up our mistakes and fret our way into a weary sleep. Or we can use those before-sleep minutes to begin a new day—a day that ends with the fading of the sun and begins as the Spirit moves over us in the coming darkness bringing comforting quiet and sleep. What a great way to begin. As our eyes close, instead of worrying over the day past, we can begin the day with prayer and purpose.
The old day is gone, after all. The troubles of that day, the mistakes, even the sins—we have to let all that go. So, the first step is to put the old day away with a prayer like Luther’s evening prayer: “I thank you my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear Son that you have kept me this day from all harm and danger and I pray that you would forgive me my sins where I have done wrong and graciously keep me this night….”
And then, refreshed with the forgiveness that God has for us in Jesus Christ, we can begin to lean into the day that is to come. We can set out to do what we know we can do and leave in God’s hands the things we know we won’t be able to do. We can rest in the love that God has for us. And then, comforted, forgiven, reassured, and renewed, we can go to sleep.
Then when we rise, we are not staring at a stark new day, but—revitalized in body and spirit—we are ready to continue a day already placed in God’s hands and begun with God’s blessing.
Maybe it’s not a big thing. Maybe it is only a matter of changing our point of view. But in this hectic world, we need every help we can get.
Try it. Turn your days around. Make it evening and then morning—a new day. Not only will we enter the new day refreshed and forgiven, but we will be celebrating the new life in Christ that we enjoy by His grace.