As a student I loved September! The beginning of a new school year meant a fresh start with a new teacher and a stack of new notebooks with blank pages ready to be filled with learning and ideas. Nervous excitement and anticipation accompanied those days! As an adult, I find the transition to a new calendar year brings some of the same feelings.
As we approach the new year we often see images of the outgoing year as an old man with a long white beard, stooped and frail. The new year is imagined as an infant, chubby, joyful and full of possibilities. We enter the year with anticipation. There may be known joyful events—a wedding, a new baby, graduation, or other transitions—and there is also the possibility of unexpected opportunities. Like a new notebook, the year is waiting to be written on with the experiences and events before us.
We also hope to leave behind the weight of sadness, worry or struggles of the past year, including our failure to change as we had hoped. We set new goals to quit smoking, lose weight or change relationships.
Yet all is not completely new. We do not start from scratch. We bring the past with us—for good or ill. We have been shaped by the past year, and those that came before. We bring what we have learned and experienced as resources to draw on as we face new experiences. And we bring the baggage of fears and anxieties, griefs and sorrows that have not been healed or integrated into our present selves. We bring our human capacities and frailties—our strengths and weaknesses and broken relationships.
So we stand at the cusp of a new year with hopes of a fresh start tempered by our history. We sometimes look more like Jacob Marley’s ghost in A Christmas Carol, dragging the chains of our past into the present, than a newborn infant with an open future. Thankfully, we know that we do not face the future alone. We can hope for transformation that heals and embraces new possibilities because we enter the future hand in hand with God.
God sees the possibilities in us—and invites us to let go of what hinders and blocks us from being who we are created to be. God offers forgiveness for anything we do that hinders us from receiving love—and promises that the future we long for in Christ is always ready and waiting for us. We face a new year—or any transition—in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection that offers new life.
Whatever lies before us in 2024 as we leave 2023 behind, we know that God is with us.
A prayer for the new year from Southwark Cathedral, London, U.K.:
God of new beginnings,
of hope and deliverance,
dawn us with fresh opportunities,
equip us for new tasks,
fill us with eager longing,
thrill us with fresh starts,
that with the past behind us
we may look to all that lies ahead
with faith in Jesus,
hope in you
and love for all.