Originally posted Jan. 4, 2013, at Halstad Parish. Republished with permission of the author.
A sign on a restaurant caught my attention yesterday: “Now hiring Dec. 21 survivors.”
We’ve survived the rollover of the Mayan calendar. Congress finally got us over the “fiscal cliff.” And the new year has begun.
Many of us will try to start the new year out with resolutions to make a “fresh start” trying to kick old habits and vowing to live healthier lives. The media has picked up on this and enlarged this very common need to want to make ourselves and our lives better. I notice that more and more it gets harder to separate the commercials from “media stories” (I don’t really want to call it news) about what to buy or use to get thinner, stronger, buffer, more organized, etc. And it’s all focused on doing it right now as we begin a new year — as if this is the only or the best time to make changes in ourselves and our lives.
Until it’s time to get ready for “swimsuit season.”
But that is exactly the problem with all of these resolutions. First of all, they assume that it is in our power to change ourselves and that if we don’t then it is our fault. And because it is centered around the new year, we have both the excuse and the catch of waiting until next year to try again. Cartoonists are great at skewering us in our foibles. One I saw recently had the character saying that he was just going to use last year’s list of resolutions for this year. He didn’t need to change it because he still needed to do them all!
Sometimes, we are able to keep New Year’s resolutions and make some real changes, but more often than not, what most people seem to get from the experience is a sense of failure. One more time, one more thing not completed or not fixed.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an alternative?
And there is. It’s called grace. God makes things different.
First of all, God’s love comes first, just as we are with all our faults, our bad habits, our past and our inability to fix ourselves.
There is forgiveness. When we fail, fall or mess up once again, God comes with forgiveness. There is no such thing as only one chance or second chances. Jesus talks about 70 times 70 (or more depending on how you translate the Greek).
Change does not happen on our own. As it says in the Small Catechism, “I believe that by my own understanding or strength…” but it is the Holy Spirit who calls, gathers, enlightens and makes holy the whole church. Jesus promises to always be with us.
We get a new chance every day. We do not have to wait for the new year to begin again to have a new chance. Even though you are only baptized once, we are invited to remember that baptism every day and know that every day — even many times in the day — we can come to God and be washed again from our sin, our doubts, our failures, our pain and whatever we need to bring to God. Day by day or minute by minute, God is with us, giving us new life and freeing us.
We are set free from the measuring rulers and chains of “shoulds” to love others and to love ourselves, which we can only do with God’s help and yet are the very things that mark us as people of faith. For, just as we cannot come to faith or change without God, the Holy Spirit calls us into community for our survival. It is together that we have new life.
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:13-14).
Find a link to Christine Iverson’s blog Halstad Parish at Lutheran Blogs.