Living as I do by the rhythm of the academic calendar, I’m used to the feeling of cycles. Parents of school age children understand this. Every fall marks a new beginning, and every spring an ending, punctuated by summer vacation. For me, every September brings the hello of a new crop of students, each with a story to tell; every June brings a goodbye, as a previous group moves on to the next chapter of their lives.
Thus I think more in terms of the September to June academic year than the January to December calendar year. But that’s not to say that, for me at least, 2014 didn’t have its own uniqueness: the joy of officiating four weddings; the sadness of watching my son and daughter-in-law move out of state; the all-consuming passion of starting and finishing the writing of a new book; the challenge of new health problems.
Then comes this day, January 1st, with its tradition of marking and celebrating the beginning of a new year, with the attendant sense of hope and possibility.
Here on the blog, I’ve been writing a lot about resurrection lately, as I work my way through 1 Corinthians 15 on Sunday mornings. For Christians, there is no better symbol of hope and newness than the new life we will enjoy, when, to quote Paul, “this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality” (1 Cor 15:54, NRSV) — the body that decays and dies must put on, like a garment, a new body in the likeness of our resurrected Lord.
But it’s important to remember that for Paul, this is never just about our future life, but the present one. In Ephesians, Paul teaches that we are to clothe ourselves with newness (2:24), which means a concrete change in attitude and conduct toward one another (vss. 25-32). He makes a similar point in Colossians: clothing ourselves in newness (3:10) means putting on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love, and gratitude (vss. 12-15).
And for Paul, all of this is because we have a sense that time is moving on, and God’s story is nearing its climax:
Now our salvation is nearer than when we first had faith. The night is almost over, and the day is near. So let’s get rid of the actions that belong to the darkness and put on the weapons of light. Let’s behave appropriately as people who live in the day, not in partying and getting drunk, not in sleeping around and obscene behavior, not in fighting and obsession. Instead, dress yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ, and don’t plan to indulge your selfish desires. (Rom 13:11-14, CEB)
This isn’t about predicting some kind of timetable for Jesus’ return; it’s about always living in anticipation of that event, whenever it happens, and wanting to be properly dressed for the occasion. We will eventually be given the unimaginable blessing of clothing ourselves with a resurrection body — but through the very Spirit of Christ, we are to clothe ourselves with new life in Jesus Christ now.
For Christians, whatever the cycle of the years may bring, this is where newness is truly found, each and every year: “if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived” (2 Cor 5:17, CEB).
May we know and live the reality of that newness in 2015, whatever our hopes for the new year.