I know, Christmas 2011 is now a ghost of Christmas past, but there is one line from a Christmas carol that directly carries over into January 1. When the Episcopal priest Phillips Brooks wrote the lyrics to “O Little Town of Bethlehem” in 1868, he said, of the birth of Christ, “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
I can’t think of a better way to describe my feelings on meeting a new year than “hopes and fears.” What things wait just around the river bend? Which days will hear laughter, which ones will catch tears? Who will arrive this year whom I do not know yet, and to whom will I have to say good-bye? What surprises are crouching even now, giggling behind the couch, poised to appear before me with a flash and a shout? And, by the way, don’t I hate surprises?
But even as I ponder, I remember that no matter what lands on my plate or runs from my grasp, there is a constant. The hopes and fears of all my years have been met in Jesus. Because His is a Kingdom whose increase will never end, I am assured that my Father will be no less good to me in 2012 than He was in 2011. He will be no less present, no less kind, no less patient, no less giving, no less… well, Father. In fact, not only will God be “no less” all those things, given the increase of His Kingdom, He will be all of those things even more than last year. And as I give in to those hopes, the fears fade away.
Of course, I, just like so many of you, almost automatically begin to resolve myself toward new things in the new year. I resolve to be thinner. I resolve to be kinder. I resolve to be more consistent in blogging. Basically, I resolve to be better. And don’t we all? I mean, who actually resolves to be worse than the year before? And yet, with all of our resolutions, we find ourselves looking at the same list of unrealized resolutions next December 31st. We have learned, by the experience of years, that we start out meaning well, but we aren’t really going to succeed. And so we don’t. But herein lies the good news: God isn’t asking for a new and improved you in 2012. Frankly, he would be happy if He just got more of the same old you He has been so in love with as every previous year has fallen off the calendar. My friend Dudley Hall has said it well:
“The very concept of us making ourselves better is a problem. First, it reveals that we don’t know how deeply we are flawed. Then it assumes that we can, by choice, permanently change ourselves by altering our behavior. And then it leaves us focused on us and our success or failure in the project. That means we are headed for hypocrisy and/or pride. We want so desperately to succeed that we will pretend to have succeeded when we haven’t. If we do succeed in some measure, we tend to look down on those who, because of their weak resolve, haven’t made it. What if there were one simple thing that could affect all those areas of needed change? As strange as it may seem, God’s command to love him with every facet of our being is the solution. If we did, there would be no need for destructive substitutes in our habits. People who are satisfied are not as susceptible to the bondage of illegitimate temptations. The man who found a treasure hidden in a field and subsequently sold all he had with joy in order to purchase the field was not concerned about getting better. He was caught up in finding and rejoicing in the treasure. What if our New Year’s choice were to be about seeking the beauty of the One who still makes heaven rejoice? What if we chose to take our eyes off our performance and put them on the performance of the One who lived and died for us? What if we meditated on his contentment and purpose? What if we rejoiced that he rejoices in us? Later in the year, someone might remark that our lives look ‘better.’ We will be shocked because we won’t have been looking at ourselves.”
So here I am. Resolved not to rely on my own resolve. Waiting and watching. All hopes. No fears.