In a couple of days we will have the name of an old god close at hand. January is named after the Roman divinity, Janus. It seems fitting, really. Janus is depicted with two faces, one looking forward, one looking back. He was thus the god of transitions, doorways, and beginnings.
Since January is when we face back to the year we just wrapped up, and face forward to the one we are kicking off, we are in a two-faced, Janus, mode of musing as we prepare to step out of 2021 and into 2022.
King Solomon famously reminds us that there is a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to weep, and a time to laugh. This past year, my family had our fair share of that motley mixture in this thing called life.
In the spring, my daughter was married to the love of her life and began a new career. In the fall, my dear wife was diagnosed with uterine cancer, underwent surgery, and began the long road to recovery. In the summer and fall, we celebrated the birth of two healthy grand-nephews. In the spring and winter, we laid to rest my wife’s last two surviving grandparents.
Birthdays and Deathdays.
Laughter and Letdowns.
Janus-like, we face one while we face the other.
But you know what? Some days it’s hard to tell where the good ends and the bad begins. We don’t know whether we’re cry-laughing or laugh-crying, for, like waves on a beach, both keep coming at us nonstop, lapping the shores of our lives.
All the while, we just keep traversing the calendrical road, sometimes walking, sometimes crawling or stumbling toward the new year. And here we are, at the cusp of 2022.
The Unerasable Eschatological Hunger
Buried deep in our human psyche, there seems to be more than a need—almost a necessity—to celebrate the arrival of a new year, at least in some way. It’s like an unspoken, unlegislated cultural law, as instinctual as swaying to music or smiling at a newborn.
Ancient peoples understood this. Study Mesopotamian culture. Study Egyptian culture. Study Hebrew, Persian, Greek, or Roman cultures and you will find that they all celebrated the death of the old year and the birth of the new. You just don’t simply let one year end and another begin without marking it in some concrete way, commonly with a party or feast.
Why? I suspect it’s because of this: humans are all hoping—often against laughable odds—that this new year will be better than the last. Our finances will rise. Our work lives improve. Our waistlines decrease. You know the list. This is the stuff from which our annual resolutions are made.
Hiding beneath all these wishes and desires, however, is the unceasing, silent moan of our weary souls that We. Just. Want. Life. To. Get. Better. More love, less hate. More unity, less strife. More compassion and mercy, less finger-pointing and chamber-emptying and self-righteous posturing on the left and right fringes of our deeply riven world.
In other words, we yearn for the advent of a better world, where peace is the rule, where the rulers are just, and where just and caring people surround us.
Part of being human is this unerasable eschatological hunger for a world made right again. People long for the new heavens and new earth, whether they realize that’s what they want or not.
Part of being a Christian is showing the world where their soul’s itch can be scratched. Because scratch it they will, with one thing or another, to no avail.
One will become addicted to career advancement or social approval, while another to meth or vodka or victimhood. One sexes his life away with a string of hookups while another drinks or works or plays her life away.
Whether in the bed or the boardroom, men and women are always looking for that Magical Thing that will finally make the itch stop.
But it won’t. The deep human yearning for something better—and the ongoing inability for anything in this world to provide that—will not go away.
At the close of the year, it just seems more pronounced. A deeper, more painful hunger. We stare back at this year’s failures and losses and fears, and we just know there has to be, there must be, something better. We peer forward to this coming year’s resolutions and goals and plans, and we know there just has to be, there must be, something better.
The only question is: What is it?
Recalibrating What it Means to Be Human
The Christian answer is in a recalibration of what it means to be human. For us, what it means to be human cannot be defined by humanity. That means that I won’t find it within myself, my spouse, my children, my team, my friends, my favorite Hollywood actress or political hero.
None of them can provide for us what it means to be human because they are only humans themselves, mere mortals.
We need to look higher; or, rather, higher and lower simultaneously.
A recalibration of what it means to be human begins and ends in a single man, born a Jew, born of a common family, but of uncommon history. He is Theanthropos, a lovely Greek word that means Godman. Is he human? Yes, fully. Is he divine? Yes, fully. In him, earth has been heavenized and heaven has been earthized. To touch his body of flesh and blood is to touch the fulness—not the halfness or thirdness but the fulness—of deity. In him higher and lower come together.
Union and communion with Jesus of Nazareth, dying to our old selves and becoming a new self in him: that is our divinely-ordered human destiny. In him, humanity reaches its zenith because in him flesh and blood are united with divinity, so that henceforth and forever, that God is man and that man is God. And when we, men and women, are washed into that Godman in the life-altering waters of baptism, it is no longer we who live, but he who lives in us and we who live in him.
When that happens, the universal human itch is scratched by the singular divine finger.
He, Jesus alone, is the answer to the unceasing, silent moan of our weary souls. He, Jesus alone, is who swallows our bitter disappointments of last year and pours us the wine of hope for this year. He, Jesus alone, feeds that unerasable eschatological hunger for a world made right again.
In Christ, all our past disappointments are answered by his all-encompassing mercy. All our present worries are answered by his all-abiding presence and protection. All our future wants and desires for a world made right are assured. He is coming again, and a new heavens and new earth will be along for the ride.
As we leave 2021 and enter 2022, let us give thanks to the Father for the Son who, in the Spirit, changes everything. And I mean everything. For in him, we reach our human destiny of oneness with the Triune God.