Even though it is not a religious holiday, in many ways I have always thought of New Year’s as the most Christian of all holidays. No offence to Christmas or Easter, but the idea of starting over, of putting away your past, of being redeemed, is, in my book, at the root of Christianity. It is significant to me that we celebrate the new year at the beginning of Winter. September 22 each year marks the beginning of fall – a time when the Northern hemisphere of earth begins to be tilted away from the Sun. Fall is marked by leaves beginning to fall from trees, vegetation starting to die, the days getting shorter. Winter begins when these processes are complete. At the start of winter, the Northern hemisphere is tilted to its furthest point away from the sun: leaves have disappeared from trees, all vegetation is dead, and the days are the shortest they will be all year. In a way, fall marks the point when death and darkness begin, and Winter marks the point of their totality. And it is ironically at this point that we celebrate newness and redemption. One might think redemption is best celebrated in the spring when everything starts to spring back to life. But Christians are acutely aware—maybe more than any other group—that for there to be new life, there must first be death.
In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul says, “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (6:4). To Paul, just as Jesus could not be raised if he had not first died, we must experience death to our old selves in order to experience new life. Notice that Paul is not here talking about dying to our earthly bodies and rising again in heaven. Instead, he is speaking directly to church members, reminding them of their new life in Christ. While it is nice to think that we all have taken on new life and now live the lives Christ wants us to live, if we are honest with ourselves, we constantly fall short of this. We constantly need to seek redemption. This is the beauty of New Year – It comes every year. It reminds us that just as death and new life are a cycle on earth, sin, death, redemption and resurrection are also a cycle in the Christian life. May you take this time of New Year’s celebration to remember your death in Christ and your rebirth into a new life of peace, forgiveness, and love.