Happy New Year! “New”: there’s a word to catch our attention. It can sell anything from computers to cosmetics. Preferably in bold red capitals with a bright yellow starburst behind it. But of course today’s sexy new is tomorrow’s boring old, and this sort of newness doesn’t satisfy. It is doomed to disappoint, and just sets us up for the next purchase.
So what sort of New Year do you want. Not, I imagine, one that loses its shine as quickly as an ill-judged resolution. Nor, I suppose, just new in the sense of yet another, and another: quantity, yes; but quality, no.
What my heart wants, and I suspect yours too, is better called renewal. The sort of transformation that sees hurts repaired, addictions released, poverty relieved. That brings comfort for bereavement, peace for war, hope to the sick at heart. That sees a society and a world come into being in which terror, greed, injustice and violence are no more.
That of course was the sort of world that Jesus proclaimed, in the synagogue at the beginning of his ministry, and in the Sermon on the Mount. That vision, shared all those years ago, is just as relevant to our lives today. All too often, we settle for second-best; for disbelief and disappointment.
But Jesus’s words still ring in my ears. I choose to believe that we can do better. I choose to believe that there is a force and a purpose in the world, the Spirit and the Love of the living God, that has the power now as ever to transform the kingdoms of this world into what Jesus called the kingdom of God. A kingdom that transforms power itself by turning it into self-sacrifice and service. A kingdom where everyone is equally a child of God and every child is loved.
I suppose in theory God – if you’ll forgive the picture language – could just have said, “Let it be so.” But he chose the harder way, because he wanted us to choose it for ourselves too. He chose to help it happen in person, and that it should start to happen through the transformation of our individual human hearts. If we want the world to be new, to be renewed, first we have to want the same for our own inner selves too.
So that has to be for me the only New Year’s Resolution that really matters. The only way that Happy New Year won’t ring hollow a day later. If you and I can choose to open our hearts to the indwelling Spirit of God, we will see our characters begin to change for the better, new virtues grow in us, new habits form in us, new love show in our actions. And person by person, heart by heart, a new sort of society will be built.
That’s how it happened in years gone by when people like you and me were inspired by their faith to found hospitals and schools, abolish slavery, care for children, improve working conditions. It’s how it’s happening now with night shelters, food banks, and credit unions; with the work of the Children’s Society, the Mothers Union and Christian Aid. It’s how it can happen in 2015, across Suffolk and across the world, if we say yes.
That would be a New Year to celebrate. Let’s help it happen. And let it begin with us.