The clock strikes midnight,
the fireworks go up,
and as they light up the night sky
they usher in the dawning of a new year.
Hogmanay has always seemed like an odd celebration to me. This belief stems from the fact that January 1stin many ways seems no more or less noteworthy than any other day in the year. At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Christ, at Easter we celebrate His glorious resurrection, and at New Year we celebrate… turning the first page of our new calendar? On one level it all seems rather trivial to me, and yet I think this particular day does stir up something of significance in each one of us: hope.
As we consider the infinite possibilities of what the next 365 days may have in store, the outset of a new year often fills us with optimism. This becomes all the more compelling when the previous 365 have left us feeling dissatisfied. Indeed, this is a celebration tinged by the fact that it is often accompanied by a time of self-examination which rarely leaves us feeling content. Little wonder that as the bells chime we are all ready to wipe the slate clean, leave the past behind, and start again. New year, new you. Hope… but for what?
Ultimately, I think we find New Year so captivating because it seems to offer us the hope of change. We recognise that in our lives, as in the world, things are not the way they are supposed to be. In some mysterious way, entering a new year reminds us that the curtain has not fallen for the final time in the play that is our life; it has merely reached an intermission, and the final act is yet to come. There is still time to turns things around, and now is the time to become the people we want to be: smarter, richer, healthier, or whatever our idea of positive change might be. When so many of us begin a new year feeling this way, it is little wonder that the four-thousand-year-old tradition of making resolutions is alive and well today. We identify the change we desire, we muster all our strength, and we endeavour to make this year the beginning of a new, more satisfying journey. Sadly, in time, this path usually ends up looking much like our previous one, and we struggle our way to the next December 31st, awaiting another chance to get it right.
Upon reflection, I have come to realise that there is nothing trivial about the feelings Hogmanay stirs in us. We all have a deep-rooted desire for change which is well-founded. Where we often err is in believing that the beginning of a new year, paired with our inner strength, can provide the solution. Whilst we are right to seek an opportunity for change, too often we look in the wrong place. When our souls cry out for transformation, the reality is that it is available to us; all we have to do is look up.
In His ‘Sermon on the Mount’, Jesus said: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33, NLT) Jesus’ teaching was often radically counter-cultural two-thousand years ago. In a society driven by ambition, competition, and self-interest, Jesus called on His followers to live humbly, love others, and seek God; and He still does. As it turns out, our longing for change is not misguided; it is simply often misplaced. We think we know best what we need, and we regularly try to get there on our own strength. What Jesus reminds us is that ultimately God knows what we truly need, and if we would only turn to Him we would receive the strength we need to become not the people we want to be, but the people that God created us to be. The way things are does not have to be the way things will always be, provided we give God the opportunity to follow through on His promises. Not on our strength, but His; not on our schedule, but His; and not in the way that we desire, but in the way that He desires. Our imaginations can come up with countless possibilities for resolutions we could be making, but truly there is only one which we should all be making each day: to seek the Kingdom of God above all else. But how is this done?
In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul wrote: “Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2, NLT) If we are to seek God’s Kingdom in our lives, what Paul reminds us is that each day we need to turn to God and turn away from the ways of the world. We need to submit ourselves to His will and obediently follow where He leads. We need to worship Him through the way we think, speak, and act not just on Sundays, but every day of our lives. This is what it means to seek the Kingdom of God, and this is where we will find the transformation our souls are longing for.
In closing, as another Hogmanay has come and gone, this year I am resolved not to try to go it alone in my search for change. This year, as with every year, should be about seeking God and His will for my life. In doing this I trust God’s promise that I will be transformed, because we serve a faithful Lord. As the great old hymn goes, He is my ‘strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow’. This truth is for you too, and I hope that when December 31st 2018 comes around we will be able to stand together in awe of the fact that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and that is something truly worth celebrating.