As we find ourselves ambushed by the dying of the year—how can it possibly be December already—the retail machine is making sure our minds are turning towards Christmas. Carols have been on rotation in shopping centres for weeks already, and the advertising is unescapable.
What Dreams May Come
It’s not just Christmas that is on its way, of course. Before we know it we will be saying goodbye to the year gone, and welcoming a brand new one. Like a blank page waiting for a pen, it has the potential to be a continuation of our existing story, or it could bring something completely new. Whatever the future might actually bring, there is a sense of the potential possibilities in the air.
Perhaps that’s why around New Year’s many of us will be seized with a desire to make some resolutions. It might be to eat less or healthier, to exercise, to save our money, or to be nicer—but most will revolve around the idea of doing or being better in the coming year than we did in the one just past. While we can buy a gym membership or give up smoking at any point of the year, and technically one date is no more special than another, it’s far more likely that we will do so as the new year dawns.
We Want to Believe
While many of the resolutions may not last past the first few weeks or months of the year, it shows the power the idea of new beginnings has in our minds. And, while it’s the New Year that has become weighted with cultural significance and expectations, making it convenient date to feel inspired to reflect on our lives and resolve to do better, the truth is that the concept of a fresh start is one that captivates us all year round.
Whether it is movies or real-life news, we love stories of people who have been able to turn their lives around somehow. It’s not hard to see why—who among us doesn’t have something that we wish we could go back and do differently, or have parts of our lives we wish we could do better? Seeing other people manage to start over helps us believe that maybe we can, too.
Good News for Everyone
At the heart of the Christian message is the idea that it’s never too late for anyone to change. The Bible full of remarkable stories of people transformed by an encounter with God, even people who society had given up as hopeless cases. Tax collectors and prostitutes were almost equally reviled in the community at that time but, instead of avoiding them, Jesus included them in his offer of a new start—and they embraced it with far more fervour than the so called righteous.
No less than in Christ’s time, today we often look at people who don’t measure up to society’s standards and assume that they don’t want to change. But Jesus understood that there are many people want to make a fresh start, but have been made to believe it’s not possible. Like the Pharisees, modern society is happy to tell people all the ways they fall short, but when someone wants to change refuse to give them a second chance, making it impossible to leave their past behind.
Counter Cultural Claims
The message of the Gospel is that second chances are possible, that no one gets to decide that certain people don’t deserve to be given the same chance to change if they want to as everyone else, and that we can escape our past and make a different future.
Not Just for Some
Regardless of who we are, pretty much all of us will find ourselves wishing we could leave parts of our past behind, and make a better future. Sometimes it might seem like that is impossible, that we are doomed to stay stuck where we are, which is why New Year’s Day appeals to us so much because we want to believe there is still hope.
Thankfully, two thousand years of lives radically transformed proves not only that there is always hope for us, but that we don’t have to wait for a certain date—we can decide to make the change we need right now.
David Goodwin is the former Editor of The Salvation Army’s magazine, War Cry. He is also a cricket tragic, and an unapologetic geek.
David Goodwin archive of articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-goodwin.html