S ince the first of the year, I can’t tell you how many people have said the same thing to me and what they said was that they hoped the new year wouldn’t be like last year, that they wouldn’t have to go through another year like that, that it would be a better year for them. And I still hear it said even though we are six weeks into the new year as I write this. To put it another way, what so many are hoping is that this new year will be truly new, different.
But what, exactly, do they — we — mean? Maybe what we mean is not having to go through the grief and pain of losing someone else we dearly love, or that every time we turn around we won’t hear that a friend or fellow member had died. Or maybe what we mean is that we won’t have to visit five different doctors every week to treat this or that illness or pain, or that we won’t have to undergo surgery again, or that every other day we won’t hear about someone being diagnosed with cancer or some other terrifying disease. Or maybe what we mean is that we’re sick to death of the chaos and confusion of life today in this land of ours, had enough of the meanness and divisiveness that plagues us, peace of mind far from us. Or maybe what we mean is that we’re tired of being afraid, afraid of just about everything and everyone — tired of fear. Or maybe we mean that we want to be released from the anxiety that often grips us, or free of the despair that often engulfs us, delivered from the emotional battles within. Maybe what we mean by a new year has to do with feeling joy, feeling a little better, feeling a little peace of mind, strength, hope.
But what can we really do about any of this? The hard truth is that we already know what the new year will hold. The clock striking midnight on a New Year’s Eve does magically transform our lives or change the world. So we already know that the new year will be pretty much like the old year. It will hold many of the same perils and threats and dangers and yet offer promise and new possibilities; and violence and hunger and chaos will continue to plague this earth and yet also advances in many areas will bring hope. There will be moments of wonderful peace and gladness, but there will also be times when fear and despair will seek to overwhelm us. The year will no doubt bring new opportunities and yet there will also be devastating changes and painful losses. And yes, there will be sudden and surprising joy but also days of illness and deep sorrow. It’s just the truth of it. So how can things be truly new, different?
Well, perhaps the newness we seek begins with us and what God can work in and through us. The thing is, what can surely be new about a new year is how we respond to and manage all that happens. And the newness God works has a lot to do with that. It has to do with such things as faith and strength and courage and forgiveness and hope and discipleship and more. It has to do with the Spirit and a strength beyond our strength that comes to help us put the pieces of our lives back together in the midst of loss and grief, a love that comes from somewhere to love us back to life when we feel dead inside, a faith to keep us holding fast to God when we might feel that we hardly have any faith at all any more. And it has to do with trusting in God in the face of illness and disease, trusting enough to find a way through, trusting not in our own goodness but in God’s goodness. And it has to do with listening for the news we rarely hear because it doesn’t sell well or entertain — news about much that is good and gives hope. And it has to do with the courage to be kind and compassionate and to serve others. And it has to do with looking for the presence of God and knowing the peace God’s presence gives even in the midst of chaos.
And this newness is at the heart of Lent. The call of Lent is to repent, turn away, turn back to God, and seek to deepen our belief and live in a new and different way. That’s why someone has written that repentance is the truest form of revolution and why someone else has said that believing is an act of rebellion. To repent is to want to change and to be changed and such change is revolution because it is a turning away from all the little gods of our culture that want to control and shape and drive us — it is to rebel against all that seeks to be lord over us and have God as our one true Lord and be his different, peculiar people. And to believe in God is to join God’s revolution and seek the new way of God and be the new person we can be as we are shaped by Christ, not culture.
To put it another way, anyone who actually believes more in God than in themselves, who believes in the Christ of the gospels and tries to follow his way, who believes more in the truth of God more than their own opinions or the emply promises and outright lies of politicians, is committing an act of rebellion against everything our culture worships or holds dear: the self, money, looking out for Number One, success, celebrity. Even more, such rebellion says no to fear and meanness and cruelty and prejudice and violence, all of which we have come to accept as a part of life today. It is to say no even to death, the power of death to control our every thought. It is how the newness we want comes: by means of revolution and rebellion. Repentance and belief.
And this is what we’ll be thinking about on Wednesday evenings throughout Lent. A new kind of year. A different kind of year. A better year.
God be with you,