I love New Year’s. For me, there’s something about the closing of one year and the opening of the next that brings great excitement. Whether I intend it or not, I find myself instinctively reflecting on the meaning of my own life during this season every year. It’s a time to reevaluate my habits and to possibly form new ones. It’s an opportunity to rid my life of unwanted clutter and to start afresh. The New Year offers an opportunity for hopeful anticipation of future potentialities. For the follower of Christ, it means new possibilities for encountering God’s grace.
As 2020 fades into our oblivion, there seems to be near-universal excitement about finally closing a year that brought us COVID-19, racial injustice and social unrest, and further political polarization. I deeply resonate with those who look to 2021 as the chance to finally close the book on a year that has brought destruction, heartache, and fear. I understand why some might exclaim, “I’m so glad it’s finally over!”
As we together wave goodbye to what has certainly been a tough year, let’s make sure that we remain realistic about what happened at midnight when the calendar transitioned from December 31, 2020 to January 1, 2021. A new year is not going to make all of our problems go away. It’s not going to heal COVID-19 patients or end the pandemic. It’s not going to cause Republicans and Democrats to start getting along. To be completely honest, 2021 doesn’t have the power to change a thing.
The reason 2021 can’t fix our mess is because our mess is found deep within the human heart. We are selfish and sinful by nature. Our natural instinct from birth is toward self-exaltation and self-gratification. We do not love the God who made us, and we do not love our neighbors as ourselves. If we loved God, we would obey him. If we loved neighbor, our world wouldn’t look like it does.
We don’t need a new year; we need new hearts. We need to be a new kind of people. To hope in the changing of a calendar year to fix our problems is futile. We need something to change within us.
The good news is that God promises us this very kind of change. A long time ago, God revealed through one of his prophets that he intended to do something within people that would revolutionize the world. He promised this, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
Ezekiel was prophesizing about the coming of Jesus. Paul would later apply Ezekiel’s imagery to those who trust in Christ: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). To be in Jesus is to receive a new heart. Jesus uses the imagery of being “born again.” When we follow Jesus, we get a brand-new start. The old life passes away. A new life comes into existence. No matter what your past holds, regardless of your record of regrets, Jesus promises a new life to all who call upon his name. If you want a new start, it starts with Jesus.
2020 was a taxing year. So many are worn out. So many are hurting. So many are frightened about the future. If that describes you, don’t look to a new year for hope. 2021 will not make your problems go away. In fact, it will certainly bring with it new problems yet unforeseen.
There is one, however, who is willing and able to make all things new. Jesus invites us to come to him, at any time and in any year: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).