Happy New Year?

The ball has dropped, the tinsel is fading, and the fireworks and celebrations are spent. Advent is over, the new year is here and things have not changed. I look around and see no radical move of God, no deep and lasting transformation. Like last year, my resolutions look more like my Christmas wish list – mostly dreams and unfulfilled longings.

The beginning of a new year brings hope of renewal, fresh starts and clean slates. That is what I used to think. I guess I have lived a few more years and am more realistic these days. I now know that January 1st is significant only because it’s January 1st. In other words, it is simply a date on the calendar. It only appears rosier because it is the first day of a new year.

Happy New Year?
I was talking with a young woman recently, and she commented that she would like to cut 2012 out of her past, as it was an incredibly difficult year for her. Maybe that is your story. It is definitely mine. I specifically remember thinking at the beginning of 2011 that it was going to be a year of transformation, of change, of good things and brighter outcomes. As the year went on, I realized things were still hard. A troubled marriage plagued my husband and I and, although we had some help along the way, things had not changed all that much. It was five days before Christmas, and he packed up and left. The truth is that I was no princess –in fact, if I were him I probably would have left me, too!

At the time, I recall feeling relieved. I woke up the next morning and asked myself, “Did that really just happen?” As the day went by, I came to terms with the truth. My husband was gone. Now what? I was in shock, angry, sad and confused. I was overwhelmed to now be facing Christmas alone. I was in a fog, yet I had to rearrange schedules and make alternate plans. I was humbled as I thought about having to tell family and friends. As the days went by and I had to face the new year, I thought, “What is so happy about a new year? My life is a mess!” My situation had not improved this year; it had actually exploded before my very eyes. Can there be anything good about the coming new year?

Death and resurrection
As the days turned into weeks, God met me in my pain. He comforted and consoled my aching heart. He taught me more about his love for me as he gently pried idols from my hands. What I wanted was an easy way out. What I hoped for was the ten speedy steps to restoring a marriage. What I was banking on was a quick fix and a painless resolution. What I learned is that God’s love for me is far greater than I had imagined. He knows what is best because he created my very being. I would have settled for far less. But God, in his infinite wisdom, knew what our marriage needed most – a death and resurrection. A marriage improvement program does not help when two people are gasping for air. A few pointers and tips on how to have a great marriage may sound good, but offer no lasting solution for sin-wrecked souls bent on selfish desires. The only lasting and transformative solution is that which God alone can provide – newness of life. It is the same for all of us. It is what we all need. Our problem is not that we have merely made a few mistakes and need a little help. My miseries and your miseries are not a result of getting a few things wrong. If we were merely sick, a prescription would be in order. However, our dilemma is far more serious. We are dead. New life is what we need (Ephesians 1:4-5). This is God’s work. By grace, he enters our lives. He descends into the mess and the grit of our sin-ravaged hearts, breathing new life into death.

God killed our old marriage and raised it to newness of life. It was the only way. It was not without a fight. Day by day, God was ripping the flesh off our bones and calling each of us to lay down our pride, our selfish desires, and our old ways of blame shifting, isolating and defending. Week by week, God showed us the uselessness of trying to do things our own way, and the utter loneliness and despair that protecting our own egos brought.

The tension of this new life
It would be easy to end this story here, and to leave you with the impression that everything is fine now. Isn’t that the typical Christian testimony? “This bad thing happened, God intervened, and now everything is fine – praise God, hallelujah, the end.” The problem is that it is not the end. In the words of the famed radio broadcast journalist Paul Harvey: “And here’s the rest of the story.”

We are still sinners. We still sin. We both act out our selfish desires and defend our positions, believing that we are right. We are both good at it, too! It could easily overwhelm our guilt-ridden hearts if we believed that somehow we are now supposed to get it all right. Many Christians believe that. However, it is not what the Bible teaches. We will always struggle with sin. That is why I need Jesus! That is why you need Jesus! If I could live perfectly, I would not need Christ! The Christian life is not the story of Christ rescuing us from a sinful past and bringing us into a perfect life. It is the story of Christ rescuing us from death and making us alive in him. Our struggle with sin is ongoing while we are on this earth, but now Christ is our defense. His death has saved us from future eternal punishment, and from present guilt and condemnation.

My husband and I still struggle. We make mistakes and then ask for forgiveness. We blame shift, self defend, and then we fall once again into the arms of Jesus who loves us unconditionally.

Happy New Year reveals a deeper longing
As the new year unfolds, I don’t think about the happiness of it all. Instead, what presses on my heart is a deeper longing, a longing for newness. The new year causes me to contemplate what heaven on earth will be like. It causes me to anticipate Christ’s return. We just celebrated God’s incarnation in the birth of his son Jesus. That promised King is coming back again, and he will make all things new and wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4). Let that be our hope for the New Year!

Lori is the Director of Care Ministries and Women’s Support at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. She blogs regularly at lorileighharding.blogspot.com.

 

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