Now that the holidays are over and the new year is underway (and the Iowa caucuses are done), things seem to be settling back down to the normal winter routine, although yesterday the weather was trying to persuade me that it is April, not January, with warm temperatures, clear blue skies, and soft breezes. After seven cold and snowy winters, some extremely so, I thoroughly enjoyed this strange, gentle touch of spring. I know winter will return (and it will still be dark by five o’clock), but I am reminded that spring isn’t really that far away, and new life will emerge as the days lengthen and the warm breezes return.
To me, January 1 has never felt like the beginning of a new year. It’s sort of a let-down after Christmas. The music has waned, the decorations and lights must come down and be packed away for another year, and, for many people, it’s back to the old diet after a season of indulging. Instead, the back-to-school days feel more like the beginning of a new year, perhaps because nearly all my life I’ve been a student, a teacher, or a parent. With a mixture of excitement and sadness, I’ve transitioned from the more carefree days of summer to the back-to-work mornings of autumn, which will soon roll into the cold, dark season of winter. But a new school year seems full of possibilities, with things to learn, old friends to reconnect with and new friends to meet, and the busyness of classes, books, and extracurricular activities.
The Bible talks a lot about the new. According to one source I checked, the word new appears 183 times in the New International Version. From the beginning (Genesis), when He made a whole world from nothing, to the end (Revelation), when He declares, “I am making everything new!” God is always doing new things. It’s sort of His trademark, isn’t it? A creator can’t help making something new: it’s in the job description. And for us, the most important new thing is our new life, God’s gift through His sacrifice on the cross. The book of Lamentations tells us: “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (chapter 3, verses 22-23). We do not need to fear being overwhelmed by sin because God loves us too much to allow that. His compassion and grace are fresh and new every day, ready to rescue us when we fall short of the perfection that He desires for us. All of creation will be made new in the last days, but we can be remade whenever we confess our wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness: God might tire of our sin, but He doesn’t tire of washing us clean and giving us yet another fresh start.
We are writing our life’s story as we move, moment by moment, through time. Without God’s grace, our lives would be empty and our stories meaningless. Thanks to a loving and compassionate God, we can be assured that each of us has a purpose, and when we reach the end of our story we can be confident that even in our imperfection, we matter to God. But we are also characters in the great story that God Himself is writing. We might be the narrator or protagonist in our own tale, but we don’t know our role in God’s greater story until the final page is turned. Whatever our purpose is in this story of stories, we can be sure that we will be equipped and prepared to accomplish it because scripture tells us so: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). We do not need to feel threatened by the new challenges the future presents because we are the children of a loving God, whose blessings are abundant and reliable and whose love is always and eternally new.