This Just In: The Ultimate Resolution
By Katie Hill
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:4-6)
Happy New Year! Yes, finally, it’s the first day of 2021. Suffice it to say that most of us are thankful 2020 is now in our rearview mirror.
With the advent of a new year, enters in one of the most commonly observed traditions: the making of New Year’s resolutions. So if you haven’t jumped on that bandwagon yet, well, you’d better get cracking! I mean…who doesn’t want to improve on their life, right? According to a recent survey, approximately 189 million adult Americans say they are resolving to learn something new, make a lifestyle change, or set a personal goal in an effort to better themselves in 2021.
I’m all for goal setting. It’s a really beneficial practice to set aside some time (January 1 or whenever) to map out short-, medium-, and long-term goals. But New Year’s resolutions tend to go one step further. The focus is on self-improvement. Again, is that necessarily a bad thing? No, but the result of putting this into practice commonly involves setting unrealistic benchmarks that you will likely manage to blow within a few weeks. So before you start resolving to do (or not do) something this new year, let’s take a moment to gain some perspective.
There are some interesting theories out there about the origin of New Year’s resolutions. One such hypothesis hails all the way back to the Babylonians. You know…the empire that took the Israelites into captivity for 48 years? Yeah, them. As far back as 4,000 years ago they celebrated their new year in mid-March during crop planting. They had a 12-day festival during which they’d make resolutions to the gods to pay back their debts. They believed that if they held their part of the bargain, then the gods would bestow abundant blessings on them. And if they did not, that was a guarantee of great misfortune befalling them.
We also learn that when Julius Caesar came on the scene in the Roman Empire and changed the new year to January 1, Romans observed echoes of the Babylonian type of observance. January, after all, was named after the Roman god, Janus, who had two heads--one looking backward and the other forward--so it naturally made sense to the Romans to reflect back on the previous year and set resolutions for the coming year. They would resolve to have better conduct in the coming year to, you guessed it, gain the favor of their pantheon of gods.
This has been a common pattern in a variety of cultures since the dawn of time: Make sacrifices to the gods to make them happy or, more accurately, appease their wrath.
Does that mean that making a New Year’s resolution is a pagan practice? No. Most of us make resolutions on a practical level and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. A new year understandably signifies a fresh start. But our tendency is to slip into the same pattern that ancient people did. Sometimes it’s so subtle you don’t even realize it. It is our natural bent, after all. “This year will be the year I finally do something right,” “Maybe I’ll finally earn the approval of others,” “Perhaps I’ll <cringe> make God smile…” Even with the best of intentions, an unhealthy focus on self-improvement can tap right into our inner Pharisee. We like to do what we can to show that we don’t miss the mark.
If you think about it, what is one of the most profound differences between Christianity and all of the other world religions? Christianity is the only belief system wherein God Himself comes down and saves His people--not based on what they have done but based upon what He has done. He fulfills the bargain. God comes down; we don’t try to reach Him because we can’t, no matter how much we might resolve to do so.
Enter in the Gospel. The Gospel in a nutshell is God’s resolution. It is His promise concerning YOU. According to Ephesians 1, He resolved before the foundations of the earth to make you His child. And His resolutions never fail. What does this mean? When it comes to the King of the universe, you do NOT need to lead an approval-seeking life. You don’t need to appease the Father; Christ already has.
Whether or not you elect to make a New Year’s resolution or several, remember this: Every day is a new day in Christ! He has promised to make you holy and blameless before Him. Every morning you can wake up with the knowledge that NOTHING can change that--not even your unmet New Year’s resolutions, definitely not your most petty failures, and most certainly not your most grievous sins! And you don’t need to pump yourself up with self-improvement platitudes. You have God’s Word and the Sacraments of Baptism and His Supper to regularly remind you that He always keeps His ultimate resolution for you: the forgiveness of sins and eternal life in Christ. Happy New Year!
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