One of the common practices around the New Year is to make resolutions regarding changes we would like to make in our lives. A resolution often involves some alteration of our lifestyle, quitting a bad habit or adopting a good practice. Where did the idea of making resolutions at the New Year come from? History.com says,
“it is believed that the Babylonians were the first to make New Year's resolutions around 4,000 years ago, and people all over the world have been breaking them ever since! The ancient Babylonians made promises to their gods, such as vowing to pay debts and return borrowed farm equipment, in order to earn the favor of the gods and start the year off on the right foot.”
It seems wise and good to most people that we seek to improve ourselves. Whether this is out of a desire to be a better and healthier person, feel good about ourselves, gain the approval of others, or even to seek the favor of God. In Exodus 12 we read of the circumstances when God instituted the New Year for his people Israel. What is the event or occasion for God instituting a New Year for his people? Is there any mention about using this time for determining areas where we need to improve ourselves and planning the efforts we will make to accomplish this change?
In Exodus 12 God brought the nation of Israel freedom from slavery in Egypt and instituted the Passover, telling them this was to be the first month of the year for them. God instituted a new calendar for his people. This first month was to include the remembrance and celebration of God delivering his people from slavery in Egypt and his gift of their freedom. The New Year was not instituted to celebrate people’s efforts to change, for often there is little to celebrate, as our intentions do not always equal results. However, God’s actions resulted in the redemption of his people from bondage to freedom, and from servitude to sufficiency, from death of their children to the beginning of new life for the next generation, to gain an earthly possession and inheritance!
This celebration came to fulfillment under the Lord Jesus, who is the Christ or Messiah. He has freed us from the bondage of a sinful nature through a new birth. He has given us the right to become the children of God. He has blessed us with the promised Holy Spirit who empowers us to live an overcoming life. He has granted us the assurance that as we suffer for Christ in his life we will correspondingly reign with him in eternity!
At New Years, as at any time, it is good to seek to improve our lives. But, God seeks to remind us of something better than our efforts when he instituted the New Year for Israel. I don’t think it is God’s desire for us to strive to change and do what is right when our effort is not always enough, while having good days and bad days, maybe feeling guilt over our struggles and failures, or finally giving up in frustration. In Romans 7 we can read about the Apostle Paul’s frustration with his efforts to quit his bad habits and do what he knew is right. It didn’t work! Paul clearly expresses the failure and futility of his own efforts. Then he relates how he found freedom from the things he wanted to stop and power to do what is right through the life of the Lord Jesus and then living in the Holy Spirit.
Jesus invites us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). In the book of Hebrews we read that God’s desire has been for his people to enter into his rest, but many did not enter that rest because of unbelief and disobedience. Scripture clearly shows that God desires us to enter the place of rest where we experience his goodness as a gift. Then our response to God’s generosity is a change of heart with a desire to please him, follow Jesus, and obey his commands. God gives those who trust in Jesus a new spiritual nature whereby we become God’s children and receive God’s power to live in newness of life! This is far better than trying to keep a resolution through our own efforts! This is worth celebrating! It is a true New Beginning because it is a gift of God to us! Celebrating God’s gifts to us is the right way to begin the New Year.