How Do We Begin?
Several years ago the editor of the local newspaper emailed me, along with a number of other folks, to ask about my New Year’s resolution. I thought about responding with a carton that hangs on the bulletin board in my office.
The cartoon is from the comic strip Non Sequitur and features Danae, a precocious girl with a pessimistic view of the world, but not of herself.
Several frames of the carton show Danae sitting at a desk, working on her New Year’s resolutions. In the fourth frame, she’s whistling as she walks away from the desk, leaving behind a list that has a single entry: “Don’t mess with perfection.”
When the local newspaper arrived and I noticed my resolution highlighted on the front page, I was relieved I hadn’t gone with my initial impulse. I still love the cartoon, but I’m glad I went in a more serious direction.
Here’s what I actually wrote in response to the editor’s inquiry: “I resolve to live more in the present. I hope this will help me notice and appreciate the things of beauty, wonder, and joy that offer themselves each day.”
As nice as that resolution may sound, the question still remained as to how I would begin to keep it.
People have been making New Year’s resolutions since the ancient Babylonians began the custom. They made vows to their gods that often had to do with concrete, easily achievable tasks—like promising to return borrowed farm equipment.
Today we basically make vows to ourselves—and often those vows aren’t so concrete or easily achievable. As one writer notes, “With the threat of godly repercussion removed and more complex problems to solve, the odds of success are significantly reduced.”
But that doesn’t stop us. Research shows that as many as 50 percent of adults in the United States make New Year’s resolutions, but fewer than 10 percent keep those resolutions for more than a few months.
Despite those statistics, there’s something about a new year that instills hope that we really will follow through with our resolutions. That this year we really can change. That this year we really can begin something new, that we can experience a new beginning. And maybe that's never been more true than this year.
The gospel reading for first Sunday of 2021 reminds us that we’re moving from the season of Christmas to the season of Epiphany—both times of new beginnings. The beginning of a new understanding of God. The beginning of a new era for the world. The beginning of a new way of living and seeing.
Matthew and Luke began their gospels by describing Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem with stories of visits from shepherds and wise men. But John’s gospel begins another way.
John connects the beginning of the good news about which he writes with the beginning of all things. John’s opening words—“In the beginning”—remind us of the words used to describe the creation of the universe in Genesis. John’s words also return us to the words spoken at the end of that creation story: “And God saw that it was good.”
For John, the good news is that the same God who created the universe now creates new life again. And John seems to believe that God longs to see the world as good. A longing so deep that God sends new life and light to offer the world a new beginning.
Perhaps embracing that good news is the best way to begin—both this new year and the resolutions we may make. And may we trust that once again God sends new life and light to help us with our new beginning.
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Associate Executive Minister