So then, 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
Maybe it’s just me. But it seems like 2017 has been a strangely catastrophic year. I’m not talking about my own personal challenges, though there have been some of those. I’m talking about story after story of destruction and devastation in the national and international news. Racial violence and terrorism. Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes. War and the threat of war. Inexplicable mass shootings.
Part of me can’t wait for 2017 to be over. But another part of me doesn’t really expect 2018 to be much different. January 1st, after all, is just another day on the calendar. It’s not a magic reset button. The world is still broken.
The apostle Paul seems to think that we’re already living in a new era. The cross and resurrection marked a watershed in world history. His words might sound a little odd to those whose ears are more attuned to modern ways of thinking: Yeah, yeah, big deal. So one more person decided to become a Christian. Congratulations. But what difference does that make? The world is still a mess. And don’t get me started on how Christians themselves are so often part of the problem…
Granted: it’s sad to say, but we who profess to follow Jesus often live more out of our brokenness than out of the newness Paul describes. But Paul’s point is not that Christians live in complete newness the moment they pray a Jesus prayer. His point is that the very possibility of anyone being in Christ in the first place is itself something new; it marks the dawn of a new day in the relationship between God and humankind.
We as human beings are predisposed to notice what’s negative and dwell on it; that’s part of how we avoid trouble and survive. The one driver that cuts us off on the freeway is the one we remember, not the thousands of others who drove courteously and safely. We may have had many delicious meals at our favorite restaurant, but the one we remember forever — and the one that keeps us from going back — is the one that gave us food poisoning. And for our relationships to be resilient, we need many more positive interactions to make up for the effect of one negative one.
Paul is as clear-eyed as anyone about the cluelessness of Christians and the problems of the church. He is writing, after all, to the church in Corinth, a congregation that gave him no end of grief. And yet, he confidently declares that the old has passed away and newness has arrived. Why? Because in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, people act and think in new ways — even if in the very next moment they go back to their same old stale, defensive, and hurtful habits.
What we see is a matter of what we look for. We already expect the same old same-old, and it’s practically guaranteed that we will see it. But what if we took Paul at his word, and looked for signs of newness instead?
We just might discover that everyday miracles abound, even in our own lives and hearts.
That would be worth so much more than a Happy New Year, for joy in God’s new creation points us beyond 2017 or 2018. It points all the way into eternity.
So Happy New Year — and beyond. Celebrate what God has done, is doing, and will yet do.