New Year, Same Story?

Judges 13:1, “Now the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, so that the Lord gave them into the hands of the Philistines forty years.

Happy New Year!!!

That refrain was shouted by countless people last night. Midnight struck and 2011 came to a close. 2012 began. For some people it meant a shout of joy. For others a sigh of relief. For some it was a prayer of gratitude as they reflected back on the blessings of the past 12 months. For some the end of the year would give way to that perpetual sense of expectation we associate with the turning of the calendar’s final page. A new year means new hope, right? The end of December means that old things have passed and all things have become new, right? Sadly, 44 years of living and over 20 years of pastoral ministry have taught me otherwise. For many people January 01 doesn’t really mean that anything will be new. Not at all. For them it’s simply, “Happy New Year!!! Same old story!!!”

Israel didn’t celebrate the advent of the new year according to our contemporary American practices. No late night parties. No gathering of musical pop stars (although I wonder if Dick Clark might have been around). No champagne (sorry, I meant to say non-alcoholic apple cider). No singing of “Auld Lang Syne.” For them the old year simply rolled over into the new year. Year after year. Decade after decade. For forty long years the people of God experienced the tiresome reality of “Happy New Year!!! Same old story!!!” The real tragedy? It didn’t have to be that way. The desperation and deprivation that marked their lives was a design of their own choosing. At any point in time the story could have changed. But not until the people were willing to change.

I don’t mean to be the voice of cynicism and pessimism but I have spent years wondering at the excessive celebration that accompanies the passing of a calendar year. It seems almost disingenuous. We don’t really think that the stroke of midnight is going to magically fix the problems of this past year, do we? Unless we learn to make different and better choices the new year will be no different from the last. That, my friends, is reality. Israel suffered through 4 decades of oppression because they refused to change. They refused to embrace the divine gift of personal choice. And as a result, the consequences from the previous year simply followed them into the new year.

Amidst all of our resolutions I want to offer one simple thought. Make one choice this year. Just one. And make it in the light of your relationship with God. How would you summarize your current relationship with the Lord? Vibrant? Growing? Healthy? Exciting? Or would your definition fall at the other end of the spectrum? Distant? Ignored? Dying? Israel’s problem began with a simple choice. They turned away from God and turned toward sin. They let go of God and embraced evil. Not for one year. Not for two. But for 40 years they chose to endure life apart from the very One who is the source of life. They said “no” to God and in the process said “yes” to 4 decades of hardship and suffering.

A truly new year begins with new choices. New choices in turn bring new consequences. The Bible says it this way, “We reap what we sow.” If you grew tired of the fruit in 2011, let me suggest that you try different seed in 2012. Don’t follow the example of Israel. Don’t stubbornly hold fast to your sin. Don’t allow your life to remain so busy that you never have time for God. Make worship and the Word a priority. Get plugged in with a growing, committed body of believers. Be about the Lord’s work. Stop making excuses. Stop hesitating. Stop all the procrastinating. Just make a choice. 2012 can be a truly happy new year. But you have to make the choice. Choose God in 2012. And let God begin to effect change in you through that choice.