Happy New Years!!!
How nice. Whoop-de-doo. The calendar went back to January 1st. Alert the media. Break out the fireworks. Dance in the streets. Bring coats and mittens, it’s cold outside.
Why do we make such a big to-do over New Year’s Day? Isn’t it just a random date marking one more trip around the sun on a cosmic speck with no innate purpose other than breaking up the monotony of our days?
Quick Answer: No. New Year’s Day is much more than that and always has been.
Let’s look today at one of several important things that the idea of a New Year’s Day has provided over the ages: A point of assessment, repentance, and renewal… what many ancients regarded as a New Creation.
The Cosmic Reset Button
The Ancient peoples of the Biblical world viewed New Year’s Day as a cosmic reset button on creation and life. Each cycle of seasons, however, defined from place to place, is a cycle of life, and there is wisdom not only in hoping for a renewal of that cycle but also for self-assessment in one’s place in the pattern.
For me, born and raised in New England, school started with Fall’s ‘death,’ was exciting through to Christmas Holidays, including New Year’s Day, and then droned on through winter’s ‘languish.’ In March the world sprouted hope with spring’s ‘newness,’ and June delivered us to freedom in summer’s ‘bounty,’ until we had our fill of it, and looked forward again to school friends and change in Fall’s ‘death’ again.
Our relationship to the world and many of our cultural values were shaped by this cycle as it was lived out in that region. New Year’s Day, for us, was established at the first of a fresh month after the winter solstice; the turning of the days from increasing darkness to growing light. It came in the quiet between harvest and planting when our minds were free to consider our ways from the last cycle and to plan our processes for the next. It is a time of evaluation of ourselves, to ask honestly in the doldrums of winter, “How am I doing?” and “What do I need to change about myself and my life?”
Creation and New Creation
Far from being stories about where all the stuff came from, Ancient stories of creation were designed, in one way or another, to educate the community about the WHO (worship), the WHAT (right pattern), and the WHY (reason for being) of life in the existing created order. The idea is plain, if you know how things work and discipline yourself to maintain fundamental principles of life, you radically improve your chances of surviving and thriving.
Thus, ancient people sought to understand the way of things, the way God (or the gods) made the world function so that they could function well within it. They tried to discern and replicate life-sustaining patterns in society so that they could survive and thrive in perpetuity. They sought patterns that would make society healthy, and allow their people to go on living and reproducing for generation after generation after generation.
So creation stories were a kind of wisdom literature, and New Year’s Day was a Re-creation day when the sacred pattern of creation was rehearsed, when the sins of the past were recognized and cleansed, and when the patterns of life-sustaining creation were ritually energized for another year.
The Christian Answer to New Creation
The ancients understood something about the cycle of life that is often lost on modern folks. It is something that is important for us to recover and to intentionally hang on to through holiday remembrance—the very idea of recreation, of overcoming the sins of the past, of clearing the slate and starting out again to make ourselves and our world conform to God’s best intentions for us.
For the pagan, unfortunately, “sin” and “cleansing” had little to do with morality and ethics. They were fixated most on exploiting the rules of ritual to manipulate the power of the gods to fulfill their own human purposes. And they worshipped gods that are not gods.
In Scripture, we find similar processes of creation and recreation and New Year’s, with more successful patterns, that demanded something deeply personal from the worshipper. This is the natural result of the fact that Biblical creation and recreation pictures are founded on the inspired prophetic revelations of those who came under the authority of the One True Creator of all and not the self-aggrandizing hubris of human leaders and their perverse imaginings about creation.
For the biblical worshipper, time was not merely about keeping the human life cycle going. The One True Creator of all had a plan for His creation and revealed man’s place in this plan in His inspired Word. He made man in His image, to be His representatives in the world. He gave them His Torah to teach them what kind of people they needed to be in order to do the work that He called them to accomplish. Each person is called to wake up to Him and to be transformed into His likeness as they walk through life with Him in a personal relationship of faith and trust.
There is wisdom, therefore, in establishing a liturgical life cycle that includes time for New Year’s reflection: “This is the path of life revealed by God in His Word. This is how God made things to work. This is God’s purpose for me in His World. How am I doing with God? How am I doing with others? Am I the person He has called me to be? Am I doing what God has called me to do?”
Pause and reflection are vital components of a healthy life, especially a healthy spiritual life. Rather than continuing unabated on an impulsive life of action and reaction, take a hiatus from life and evaluate. Set your determination that this time things will be better. This time, you will be better.
Happy New Creation!