Hope for the hopeless in the new year

Photo credit: Photo by Jerry Kiesewetter on Unsplash

by Matthew V. Moss

Call me cynical, or just call me a Lutheran of Germanic descent, but beneath all the confetti, binge drinking and wild parties of our culture’s New Year’s celebrations I sense something depressing lurking. No, I’m not talking about those half-mournful, half-celebratory tributes to all the celebrities we’ve “lost” in the past twelve months, though those can be quite useful reminders that we are all mortal, even the best and brightest stars among us. 

Alas, I am talking about the sheer hopelessness that drives many of our resolutions — and the pessimistic joking about how long it will take for us to fail at them. While all the bands are playing and every news outlet has their team on the scene covering the greatest parties in town, one theme repeats — hoping for the best in the new year. Who doesn’t want that? Raise your champagne and — “Cheers!” 

This is not just a general spirit of wishful thinking, however. Our New Year’s parties, whether they’re the big ones being televised or more local and familial ones, are filled with real, living, breathing human beings who are rather hopelessly hoping for things to change, and not just change, but improve. Dissatisfaction and even deep sorrow over life under gird our New Year’s festivities and the whole discussion of resolutions.

One man resolves to start a new and exciting career. So now, with the party ongoing, he repeatedly checks his email on his unaffordable iPhone, hoping against hope that even though it’s New Year’s Eve and no one is at work, maybe — just maybe — an HR rep from one of the myriad companies to which he has applied will have responded with an offer of an interview or even a job. Truth be told, it’s not a new resolution. Nor is this new behavior. Checking his email in hopes of a new job offer is a ritual act he performs no less than six times a day and has for the last six months of working the poor-paying job he hates. 

With no news, he waits and hopes. He’ll check again in an hour. What’s different tonight is not the fancy suit and plastic 20-18 sunglasses, but rather the “hope” for a fresh start that comes with a new calendar year. But is there really any reason for hope in flipping the page from December to January? No. Not in the slightest. How hopeless. How depressing are these paltry, desperate resolutions and the hopelessness society has when its only hope is found in closing out one twelve-month cycle to open another.

What’s more, our New Year’s resolutions often fail to address the things that are really wrong in our lives. A resolution to exercise can temporarily hide (but not fix) the marriage problems that you and your spouse are feeling. A dietary resolution can only distract you from your children’s behavioral issues — issues that, for all the hours of searching your heart and the Internet, you are powerless to change.  Giving up one addiction — whether harmful or benign — may help you achieve the illusion of self-control in one area, but it leaves untouched countless others. If all we have to hope in is the fact that December 31, 2017, becomes January 1, 2018, then our hope is pretty frail. The clock ticks over, the ball drops and nothing really changes.

The world may press on in this dismal manner, but the Church is not so destitute in Her hope. Our hope is not in the simple grinding of the gears on the universal clock that takes us from year into new year. Our hope is in the one, true God who is very much active in the daily life of this world. He can and does open His hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing (Ps. 145:16) — a job for the jobless, a home for the homeless, food for the hungry and most of all, hope for the hopeless. When we lack the needs of the body we turn to His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, by which He bestows what is needed. So we pray, “Our Father who art in heaven … give us this day our daily bread,” finding our hope in a tender Father rather than a mere New Year.

And yet … how do we know that this God the Father is any more trustworthy than “Father Time”? We grieve our broken relationships, our ailing bodies and our diminishing bank accounts. We recognize our bad habits. In a moment of truth we may admit that no amount of human resolve can really fix these things. More than that, the passing of Father Time has done nothing to help us with these problems, and there’s not much hope he will next year either. So how is our heavenly Father any different, a cause for more hope?

This Father in heaven, unlike Father Time, actually demonstrates His love in the person of His Son. In the person and work of Jesus Christ, our Father has dealt with our biggest problem, one that no amount of human resolve or will power could ever remedy. That is our sin and the human mortality that comes as the punishment for sin. Through the death and resurrection of God’s Son, we have the certain hope of redemption. We even have daily renewal in the Word and Sacraments of Christ’s Church.

You don’t need to wait until the next New Year’s Eve for such fulfillment. That is a cause for yet more hope! We do not lose hope if the Father waits to provide our wants or even our needs, not even if He does not provide them at all. After all, whatever He gives or does not is according to His will and timing. We do not lose hope on account of what He may withhold, because our hope is fixed on what He has already given and continues to give without fail — His Son.

When your earthly problems are not simply weight loss or joblessness but the very real evils of sin and guilt, you know that time alone cannot address them. And yet God does not leave you in hopelessness. He grants daily and rich forgiveness brought to you by His Holy Spirit through His Word. This is what God, our Father who art in heaven, has done for us purely out of love. It is in this light, the light of what He has already done, that we may have more hope in His providence than we have in Father Time or our New Year’s resolutions. In God’s Word of Life and by the work of the Holy Spirit all things are made new, even this sinner’s heart and spirit (Ps. 51:10). So, hope in the God who gives His Son for you. Pray for your daily bread, but do not lose hope if it does not come (now or ever). Rejoice in Christ, and have a truly happy New Year.

The Rev. Matthew V. Moss is Senior Pastor at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church & School.

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