Summary: Happy New Year’s Eve! As we look back to our past and the resolutions that we haven’t fulfilled, and look forward expectantly, we look to the forgiveness found in the cross of Christ.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Three In One who was our hope this year and is our hope for eternity to come.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
For many of us, our New Years resolutions seem to resemble carbon dating – where we can establish the date of our resolution by how many “half lives” it has had. Here are some examples:
2003: I will read at least 10 books a year.
2004: I will read 5 books a year.
2005: I will finish Portals of Prayer from 2006
2006: I will read some articles in the newspaper this year.
2007: I will read at least one article this year.
2008: I will try and finish the comics section this year.
Or for those of you who are constantly worrying about your weight:
2004: I will follow my new diet religiously until I get below 200.
2005: I will try to develop a realistic attitude about my weight.
2006: I will work out 5 days a week.
2007: I will work out 3 days a week.
2008: I will try to drive past a gym at least once a week.
Or for those of you with money issues:
2002: I will not spend my money frivolously.
2003: I will pay off my bank loan promptly.
2004: I will pay off my bank loans promptly.
2005: I will begin making a strong effort to be out of debt by 2006.
2006: I will be totally out of debt by 2007.
2007: I will try to pay off the debt interest by 2008.
2008: I will try to be out of the country by 2009.
New Year’s Eve is a time when we think to what we have done this year, and what we haven’t. It is a time to think about the past and the future. It’s a time to think about regrets and a time to think about future hopes.
So how does your past year look like? Did you get everything done that you wanted to get done? Do you even remember what your last New Year’s resolution was?
Almost every culture has a New Year’s celebration. The ancient Romans celebrated the new year with the birth of Janus, the two faced god who could look back into the past and forward into the future. They exchanged gifts, not because they were overjoyed with each other, but as a method of bribery so that your friends would forgive you for the stuff that you had done wrong that past year. Chinese New Year is typically celebrated with fireworks to scare off evil spirits from years past, so that you can start your New Year with a fresh start. Judaism celebrates Rosh Hashannah, the “head of the year,” and then looks for forgiveness on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, one week into that New Year.
And Christianity? Well, we haven’t had much to say about the New Year except for the fact that we decided that the Gregorian calendar was the way to go and that January 1st would be our New Year. We have no special mythic beliefs that are strictly Christian, that all Christians celebrate.
But we do have a New Year. It’s just that it doesn’t necessarily happen on January 1st every year. It happens in our lives daily, and yet at the same time we’re looking for it to happen in our lives in one grand celebration of Jesus’ return and the beginning of a year that will end all years – shuffling us into eternity.
That day seems to be what Jesus is talking about in our Gospel reading for today. He says that on that day, He will divide the sheep from the goats and the righteous from the unrighteous. And the line that He uses to divide them – well – to the people there it seems to be a little bit like a quiz at the end of the year about your New Year’s resolution from last year. It seems a little bit arbitrary. Suddenly, our entire eternity seems to depend on who we feed, visit, and give drink to.
The interesting thing about the text is the response of both the sheep people and the goat people. It’s the same response. “When did we see you?” “When did we see you hungry?” “When did we see you thirsty?” “When were you in prison?” “When were you sick?”
Throughout our existence as Christian human beings we’re told about what not to do it seems. We say “follow the ten commandments” but we really interpret that to mean, “don’t do anything those ten commandments tell you not to do…any of the stuff they do tell you to do…well…that’s optional.” We say “you shouldn’t treat people like that.” We say “you shouldn’t listen to that or watch that.” And the reason is simple, the “shouldn’t’s” in the end tend to be a whole lot easier to fulfill than the shoulds. So instead we elevate the “shouldn’ts” to a place where it seems that every person in a coma should be considered a Christian saint because they’re obviously not doing anything.