As a new year approaches, a mawkish paranoia sets in. Looking over our shoulders, we add up our good choices, our praises, and our reasons to celebrate. We balance them against our persistent bad habits, criticisms from others, and those haunting mistakes we wish never happened. Our ledger, as always, skews red.
We tally our failures with resolve to fix them. Then, before we know it, our resolutions pitch upon our jagged, immutable human nature. Any success we had, now dented and cracked, buckles under the weight of our enduring ability to fail. Hope falls to staves yet again.
Our resolutions, and any hope of redemption, fail because we build them upon a precarious foundation: us. We look within ourselves to change things. The inevitable happens. We fall short; we miss the mark. When we predicate change on ourselves we build our hope on sand. Blind to other options, we resolve to return to resolutions and man-made hope to observe the coming new year.
Yet, God gave his people a way to commemorate a new year far different from our new year’s resolutions. The beginning of our year demands “do more; be better; make a change.” The message of God’s new year speaks the opposite.
God’s New Year
Before enacting the final plague against the Egyptians, God came to Moses and Aaron. “This month shall be for you the beginning of the months. It shall be the first month of the year for you.” (Exodus 12:2)
He gave them instructions for celebrating this new year: take an unblemished-year-old male lamb; kill it; spread its blood on your doorposts; roast the lamb; wear your belt and your sandals; have your staff in hand; eat it in haste.
When I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord… for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt.(Exodus 12:13–14, 17)
God’s established new year celebration for his people didn’t celebrate their worthiness. Nor did it commemorate how well they worshiped God in the midst of suffering. It celebrated God’s salvific work on their behalf. It celebrated their absolution as God’s judgment passed over them.
And when your children say to you. ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you will say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’ (Exodus 12:26–27, emphasis add)
For All People
Jesus, by his words during his last supper, transformed this Passover meal — a new year celebration of one people’s salvation history. Jesus brought the historical Passover meal into the present for all people. And he made it a meal celebrating the absolution of all people.
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26–28 emphasis added)
Like the original Passover feast, this meal’s foundation excluded the work and worthiness of his followers. Jesus instituted this transformed new year celebration upon his work of forgiveness, life, and salvation on the cross.
Jesus’ body and blood replaced the lamb’s body and blood. Christ’s cross superseded the doorposts. Instead of rescuing one people group out of slavery to another, Jesus brought all humanity out of enslavement to sin that corrupts all.
Absolution Over Resolution
Christ’s work affects the change our resolutions fail to achieve. We cannot free ourselves anymore than the dead can bring themselves back to life. By his work Christ provided a forgiveness of sins, an absolution of failures — past, present and future. And “where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation” (Luther, SC. VI.).
God’s new year calls not for better resolve; rather it declares us absolved. It doesn’t call us to set greater goals than last year, spiritual or otherwise. God’s new year speaks grace and mercy. God’s new year calls us to see what God has done for us.
Our new year says, “ do more; be better”. God’s new year says, “I rescued you out of slavery to sin because you could not free yourselves. You were dead and I made you alive in me. Take heart, my child; your sins are forgiven. It is finished.”