The earth orbits the sun at a good clip. It fairly bustles, travelling at nearly 67,000 miles per hour, slowing or accelerating slightly depending on where it is in the arc of its ellipses. That ellipses is not the reason we have seasons – the 23.4o tilt of the earth on its rotating axis causes those – but it may be a factor in the intensity of the seasons. At any rate, earth, swinging through its orbit at breakneck speed (while also spinning on its axis at over 1000 miles per hour), clocks around the sun in just slightly over 364 days (our calendars compensate for the difference by adding every 4 years a day to February).
Why am I inflicting this amateur, armchair lesson in schoolboy astronomy on you?
To make a simple point: the New Year is actually a new year. December 31st marks the completion of another circuit around the sun – it’s the tape across that year’s finish line – and January 1st fires the starting gun for the next lap. (Well, more or less: the dates are arbitrary. There’s no fixed cosmic starting block. A more intuitive way to mark the annual cycles would be to measure them from solstice to solstice – winter or summer – or equinox to equinox – spring or fall – but we’ve chosen our way and we’re sticking with it).
Which is all to say, the new year is actually a new year. It is not some mere human invention. Something ends, and something begins. Something dies, and something is birthed. The old has gone, the new has come. So those cartoon images we attach to the moment –the year that’s dying depicted as a hoary, decrepit old man, the year that’s arriving portrayed as a plump, diapered baby – are not far off the mark. And it’s fitting we countdown the last minute of the old year, that we toot the horn and blow the fireworks and, at the stroke of midnight, kiss our spouse.
Because it really is a new year.
How fitting that God, who made the planets and the stars the laws by which they operate, loves newness. He is the God who, at any point, with nothing more to work with than our willingness, can change stuckness into forward motion, despair into hope, fear into courage, death into life. He is the God who makes beauty from ashes. He is the God who can bury the old and create the new.
“And he that sat upon the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new’” (Rev. 21:5).
And he does this with nothing more to work with than our willingness.
And so another New Year’s tradition is appropriate: the making of resolutions. I plan to take stock of what’s grown old, tired, brittle, shrivelled, mangy in me – in my heart and mind and marriage and parenting and vocation and relationships – and then to ask God to make all things new.
Would you consider joining me? As we begin the New Year, let’s make it truly a new year.