“Happy New Year!”
How many times will you hear or read those words in the next few weeks? And there’s that tricky question of when we should stop wishing people happiness and revert to more generic greetings? When is a year no longer new? Perhaps more fundamentally, what do we actually mean when we call a year “new”? The dictionary definition of “new” gives us three options.
1) Something that never existed before that has its beginning.
That is certainly true of a “new year.” 2022 has never happened before. Time, at least as we experience it, moves sequentially from one moment to the next. There is past and there is future. Sandwiched between the two is the irreducible – and scarcely definable – moment we call “the present.” As God’s people, we receive each moment as a gift from him to experience and use. A sequence of time to be redeemed (Eph 5.16). A series of opportunities to make the most of (Col 4.5). We must be careful, though, to remember that one in seven of these days is given to us as a Sabbath to rest and enjoy God’s person and gifts. Those moments are not ours to use, but his to shape us. Making the most of every precious moment does not mean slavery to the clock, but joyful servanthood to the Lord of the years.
So, how will you use the gift of 2022?
2) Something that has existed for some time, but has recently become ours.
If I say, “I’ve got a new outfit,” I don’t mean the clothes are new in the first sense of the word. They existed before I bought them. Instead, they’re new to me. This second sense of “new” isn’t exactly true of a new year, but it is how we experience time. Each day comes to us, and we must make it our own. As we reflect on each day, we build memories and seek understanding.
As people who trust in God’s providence, a new year is a reminder that God has a purpose for us in it. This year is new not only because it hasn’t happened before, but because God has new things in store for us. New ways and times to know him and to make him known. New aspects of his character to discover. Whatever priorities we might have for our use of time, a critical one is to embrace the truth that all experiences – both good and bad – are wrapped in God’s grace and underpinned by his goodness.
So, what will you learn from God in 2022?
3) Something that gives a fresh beginning to something old.
If you manage to keep your resolutions to lose weight and get fitter by Spring 2022, you might describe yourself as a “new man” or a “new woman.” It’s a way of saying that you are making a fresh start. What was old has been transformed, and something new is here. A new year can be new in that sense too. Perhaps you’re sincerely hoping 2022 will be new in this sense, especially if 2021 was tough for you, as it was for so many.
As we reflect on the challenges of 2021 and the continuing uncertainty about the pandemic, the wish for a happy new year may sound hollow. You may long for this new year to be different, but you may be too weary to feel it as more than wishful thinking. Yet, whatever 2022 brings, there is no question that it will change you. You won’t be the same person on 31st December 2022 as you were on 1st January. That’s true physically (just take a look at those old photos!) but it is true for our character too. The big question is whether you’ll change for the better or the worse. Will you drift further from God and become less like his Son, or will you draw close and be transformed a little more into his likeness?
There may be new things to learn about God this year, but there are certainly old things you already know that need to be rediscovered.
So, how will you be renewed in God in 2022?
As we begin a new calendar year, then, we should pause and pray that 2022 will be new in each of these senses:
That we will cherish and use the rhythm of our lives – including rest – for God’s glory.
That we will encounter the Lord afresh this year, in new ways that give us hope and strength to serve him well.
That we will be transformed by our God so that each new day, we are empowered both to see him clearly and to serve him faithfully whatever challenges we face.