On January 1, the sun came up and things happened mostly like they normally do. In fact, the earth's rotation means that the sun has been coming up pretty much ever since there was an earth to rotate, although it used to happen more often because the earth rotated faster.
who use Gregorian-influenced calendars -- most of the world has to at
least take notice of them even if they have their own calendar -- mark
the beginning of a new year on that day. It's not different from any
other day in any way but that one, and as I mentioned there are several
other calendars in wide use that don't note it at all. Rosh Hashanah,
the "Jewish New Year," happens in September. In 2012, New Year's Day on
the traditional Chinese calendar will be January 23. Muslims observe
years according to the "Hijiri calendar," and date each year from
Mohammed's pilgrimage or hijira from Mecca to Medina in November
of 622. Users of these and other non-Gregorian calendars often use the
Gregorian dates in most things that don't involve either culturally or
religiously important observances.
Because we tend to
look at the day in terms of starting a new year and a new set of dates,
we often see January 1 as a chance to do something different. We look to
adopt new habits or new practices that will benefit us -- ask anyone
who works at a gym what it's like the first few weeks of the new year
and you'll see what I mean. We also look to stop old habits or unhealthy
Some of this may be a mental thing. We
knew last year that we needed to exercise more and eat less (we knew it
after Thanksgiving dinner if no other time) but because the new year
represents new chances and a new start, we may feel more motivated or
encouraged about starting that pattern. Other people are probably
starting similar new patterns at the same time and we can encourage each
other. All around us are signs of new starts and new beginnings:
Posters with babies wearing sashes that have the new year on them,
checks with the old year scribbled out and the new year written in, and
so on. All of this pushes us in our new resolution for renewal as well.
Everything around me has been renewed, so I can be renewed also!
The opposite, it would seem, would mean that trying to feel a
sense of renewal in the midst of the same old thing would be harder. If
all the new year's posters were cut in half and I only had pictures of
the tired old guy with last year's number on his sagging sash, how
motivated would I feel?
There's nothing wrong with taking our cues from our surroundings and
using our environments to help motivate us. We may like to pray with an
open Bible in front of us or in a place where we can see something that
inspires thoughts of God, like a cross or a peaceful natural scene. We
may like to exercise with a picture of a very healthy person on the wall
in front of the treadmill as a sign of our goal. Or maybe a picture of
our own significant posterior as a sign of what we're trying to get away
from. Or maybe even a picture of the donut with which we can reward
ourselves for our hard work and as a reminder we'd better work
harder if we're going to eat donuts.
Our problem can come when we believe that the cues do more than just
encourage and motivate. If we believe that the cues themselves make
happen then we've crossed the line from motivation to magic, and we're
doing more to get in the way of change than help it. Look at this scene
from Luke. Joseph and Mary have brought Jesus to the Temple to offer the
sacrifice all Jewish parents made for their firstborn children. They
have done so since the time of the Passover, more than fifteen hundred
years before this! At the temple their baby boy is remarked upon by two
old people. But it is in the midst of this setting of centuries-old
ceremonies and decades-old believers that the sign of God's new work is
Nothing around them changed. Anna and Simeon were still old and
probably passed away not long after this. A Roman governor still ruled
the province of Judea and Roman soldiers still strode through the
streets of Jerusalem in the sight of the temple. Mary and Joseph still
had to figure out how to be parents, something that apparently comes
with no manual.
And yet, in the middle of all of this tired old ordinary, God had done an amazing new thing. In Jesus, God had entered his own creation in order to heal that creation's broken relationship with him and with each other.
Every day starts a new year, really. It's been a year since the last time it was that date, so it's a whole new year even if it doesn't get its own special themed calendar. And every day God also begins anew, offering you and me the chance to do that as well. Isn't that some very good news?