New Beginnings

Posted: January 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

janus

As we go through life, we will pass from one season to another. The beginning of January is a difficult time of the year for change. Transitions abound. Christmas is over and that entails major changes. For the last couple of months, we have been preoccupied with shopping for Christmas gifts, planning and preparing for Christmas dinner and for getting together with relatives and friends.

Before Christmas, the television on any given night has a variety of Christmas movies to choose from and many radio stations play Christmas carols nonstop. Village streets are dressed up for Christmas and houses and yards are decorated with lights, displays and giant inflatable figures. I am sure each of us can name someone in our neighborhood whose December electric bill we would not want to pay. Then, as soon as December 26th rolls around, it is all over. Step into your local WalMart or other retailer and the Christmas leftovers are on clearance and the Valentine’s Day merchandise will probably already be out. There will be no more Christmas shows on TV or songs on the radio. We will eventually have to take down our Christmas tree and pack away all of the decorations. Once the dust settles, our lives go back to normal.

The end of one year and the dawn of a new one also marks a time of change and transition. One of the traditions of the New Year is the practice of making New Year’s resolutions. Do you ever make them? I usually make a few.  It seems that there is quite a long history of making New Year’s resolutions. In ancient times, Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. In the Medieval era, the knights took the “peacock vow” at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry. At watchnight services, many Christians prepare for the year ahead by praying and making these resolutions. This is still a popular practice.  Why make these goals on New Year’s Day? It makes sense that this would be an appropriate time to do such a thing, and there is actually a scientific basis for it. It turns out that timing is important in determining whether or not we succeed. The beginning of a week, a month, or a year forms what the psychologist Richard Thaler calls a “notational boundary.” So when New Year’s Day comes around, we see it as a new beginning. If there is a time to make changes in our lives, this is it. New Year’s Day offers us a clean slate, and we resolve to make changes in our lives, our behaviors, our activities.

The month of January is named for the Roman god, Janus. Janus was depicted as having two faces. One face looked to the past for wisdom and the other looked ahead to the future. Janus was thought to influence beginnings and endings and was often found at doorways and entrances. January is the time of year when many of us take inventory of the past and make corrective resolutions for the future. There are two essential steps to a successful new beginning: remembering and forgetting. January is an appropriate time for us to look back and be advised and strengthened by the past so that we may be prepared for what the future holds.

The very fabric of our faith calls us to look back and remember. Some of the most tragic stories in the Bible have to do with the lives of people and nations who forgot. When the great prophets of Israel spoke, they nearly always began by looking back. Our Jewish forebears in the faith were constantly reminded by Old Testament scriptures to remember the past. “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you . . .” (Deuteronomy 15:15a). The Jewish Celebration of Passover is an annual reminder and reenactment of how God redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt. Passover is a reminder of the past as well as an acknowledgment of the power of God.

In this post-Christmas time, I urge you to remember. Yes, there are no longer the constant reminders of Christmas … the ads on TV, the litany of Christmas movies, the carols played in the stores and on the radio … but you have your memories. There are memorable gifts, there are special moments shared with family and friends, unexpected cards or phone calls. There are moments of peace, of contentment, times when God made Himself known through the hustle and bustle. I know I will never forget the impromptu singing of “O Holy Night” at the end of our Christmas Eve service. It still gives me goose bumps just to think about it. You have, or soon will, take the Christmas tree to the curb and pack away your ornaments and decorations, but don’t pack away Christmas. The hope, peace, joy and love of the Christmas season are alive and well in each of us. Jesus came to us, not so that we can have a nice celebration on December 25th, but so that we can have life to the full – 365 days of the year.

In 2016, use the idea of a new year, a clean slate if that is helpful to you. Use this time of transition as an opportunity to reflect and evaluate. Use the positive experiences and achievements as things to build on. Learn from your mistakes and negative experiences. We need to do this as individuals and we need to do this as a church. How can we better achieve our goal of reaching others with the Good News of Christ? What things are working well?  What do we need to change? What can we do better?

We are at a transition point. We look back at the Christmas season and at the year 2015, and we look forward to the future.   As we move into 2016, remember these words from Joshua 1:9, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  Amen.

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