Ah, the new year, a time that inspires us to make plans and recommit ourselves to values and goals. What is it about newness that inspires us so?
Scripture witnesses to it:
"See, I am making all things new" (Revelation 21:5).
"Do not remember the former things. ... I am about to do a new thing" (Isaiah 43:18-19).
Poets celebrate it:
And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been" (Rainer Maria Rilke).
The Campaign of the ELCA is based on it:
"Always being made new."
Of course, in the midst of this comes the wet blanket of Ecclesiastes (1:9-10). To paraphrase: "There is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing that seems new? Well, it's not."
When did you last feel the breath of newness, the last time you were overcome by joy or called something awesome and really meant it? Søren Kierkegaard wrote that our search for awe, joy and fulfillment leads us into three ways of living. In the first, we take pleasure in the newness of novel experiences — a new relationship or, perhaps, a new iPad. In the second, we resign ourselves to rules and procedures in hopes that following them will bring us joy.
But in the third way of living, the religious way, we immerse ourselves in the mundanity and absurdity of daily life and find that the joy and awe of the "new" washes over us. To be religious, to find God's new thing in the midst of daily life, is "to be simultaneously out on 70,000 fathoms of water and yet be joyful."
How often does our life and work feel like being out on 70,000 fathoms of water? Yet, it's in the midst of this that Kierkegaard's religious person finds joy. While this is surprising itself, the truly shocking thing is that she sought joy there and chose to jump in the ocean of "now" that she might be awash with joy. Amid the insecurities, anxieties and pressures of daily life — amid 70,000 fathoms of water — faith in God who makes all things new grasps us, not to drown us or to pull us ashore but to buoy us with the knowledge that God is at work.
The experience of the "new" arising and the "old" falling away, theologian Paul Tillich said, is nothing less than the shock of radical forgiveness, which Swedish diplomat and economist Dag Hammarskjöld described as "the answer to the child's dream by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is again made clean."
We do not know what the new holds for us yet, but we do know that it does not hold us to the past, to old conflicts, divisions or patterns. To take joy in this moment between the "then" of yesterday and the "then" of tomorrow is to discover the possibilities of newness that God's grace opens to us every day. Even the writer of Ecclesiastes (2:24), so disillusioned by human striving, must conclude that the only way left to live is to enter fully into the eating, drinking and working of daily life, for "this, too, is from God."
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers