Summary: This sermon is the first in a series for January 2017 called "Start Something New." Many focus on body image issues when making New Year's Resolutions. In baptism, we have "put on Christ," and God sees His perfect, sinless Son. THERE'S your new body!
It’s that time again—time to set lofty goals for yourself. Time to aim high for 2017. Time to dream that you might be one of only 8% of Americans who actually fulfill a new year’s resolution! Year after year, we do this to ourselves…no matter how many times we fall into the 92% failure category. This year, like every year, people are set on making their resolutions into realities. New Year’s resolutions are nothing new, though—humans have been failing at self-imposed expectations for centuries upon centuries.
The Babylonians, for instance, would make promises to their gods at the beginning of each new year—promises to return borrowed items or tools, or to pay their debts. The Romans, too, started the year off by making vows to their god Janus—hence the name January. In the middle ages, at the end of the Christmas season, knights would reaffirm their commitment to chivalry through a rite known as the “peacock vow.” In the 1700s, various Protestant denominations began “watchnight services” late at night on December 31st and into the wee hours of January 1st; at this time, they would pray for resolutions they had made. And in the United States, since the Great Depression the percentage of adults making New Year’s resolutions has gone from 25% to about 50%. There’s just something about the human experience that stirs up a determination within us to change, to improve, to start something new.
If you do a Google Search on “Top Ten New Year’s Resolutions,” most often you find body-related goals. On some of these top ten lists, you’ll see multiple body-related resolutions. Most often on these lists: lose weight, exercise more, eat healthier. It’s no wonder at this time of year, you see more commercials for Weight Watchers. Parking lots at the gyms and fitness centers you drive past are full of cars (for at least a couple of months). Friends on Facebook and Twitter are posting more health-conscious updates. And, did you know that the day after Christmas, the Fitbit App was the most-downloaded free app? (http://appleinsider.com/articles/16/12/26/app-store-trends-suggest-top-christmas-gifts-vr-drones-cameras-amazon-echo) We want change. We want to better ourselves. So what better place to start than the thing people see most? It’s obvious. The first place to start is the body.
I even found—while doing my Google searching—I even found an article from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons entitled, “Plastic Surgery and New Year’s Resolutions.” (https://www.plasticsurgery.org/news/blog/plastic-surgery-and-new-years-resolutions) The author, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon (surprise, surprise), noted some of the same things I’ve mentioned. That, often, on the top of people’s lists of resolutions are body-related goals. The author indicates more people consider plastic surgery at the beginning of the year as a path toward achieving these body-related resolutions, and to improve one’s self-esteem. And, interestingly, he also suggests that—and this is a direct quote: “the popularity of social media and the rise of the ‘selfie’ have made individuals more conscious about how they look. No longer is plastic surgery something that one considers as they age. It is not uncommon for people in their 20s to have plastic surgery to improve their image, which can subsequently influence their professional lives through social media.”
In other words, we make these body-related resolutions; we seek change for ourselves, not necessarily for our own self-esteem, but for the approval of others. We stand in front of the mirror, and we pick apart every little detail we don’t like about the image looking back at us. We compare ourselves to others around us or those we see on TV. We convince ourselves that life could be better if I could change THIS about how I look. And it doesn’t help that we hear people make comments about others’ weight issues. We hear fat jokes, and fear being the butt of such jokes. On the flip side, we hear talk about a person being all skin and bones. So, clearly there’s a happy medium on the spectrum of weight--between "fat jokes" and "skin and bones"--and you imagine that you could maybe get there someday, in that happy medium. But to think that way is foolish, because the scales, so to speak, are not tilted in your favor. That mirror will still be waiting for you, ready to show your flaws. And, unfortunately, we unwittingly pass these image issues onto our children, who then struggle with their own distorted body image issues. And the cycle continues. Happy New Year.
Don’t get me wrong—if you’ve made a New Year’s resolution I will support you in whatever way I can. If you are seeking to make healthy choices in diet and exercise, I applaud you and admire you, and I hope you are successful. And if you go the route of plastic surgery, for whatever reason, that’s fine—I claim no expertise on the theological implications of cosmetic procedures. All I am saying; all I want to do is to make more than abundantly clear that our culture is so focused on body image. And that affects us all in one way or another, to varying degrees. We all become obsessed with body image.