Beginnings and Endings
The world is full of beginnings and endings. We end the year with a sense of reflection, often whether we mean to reflect or not. We might begin a new year with the same involuntary reflex, looking ahead whether we want to or not. We look ahead with a certain hope—another year, another chance, a new day. Or we look ahead without it, carrying with us the same fears, the same longings, the same resolutions. A more cynical riposte might be: Is there ever really anything new about a new year?
When the past or present seems so broken that its shards seem to reach well into the future, new days are often filled more with fear than with promise. I remember a time when I could see the end of a difficult situation, but I could not see a beginning unmarred by the residue of the past. "Is there really such a thing as new day?" was the question I held disconsolately. A friend gave me the following words and asked me to hold them instead:
"But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
'The LORD is my portion,' says my soul,
'therefore I will hope in him'" (Lamentations 3:21-24).
Spoken in a time of exile, I imagine these words were as pungent for the people they were spoken to as they were for me. The ancient writer of Lamentations held fast to the assurance of things new, even in the midst of a situation that blinded him from any vision of what that could possibly mean. In all of the suffering and sorrow surrounding him, it would not have been unreasonable for him to admit that he saw no way out. With all the damage that had been done, with the uncertainty of exile, and the finality of a destroyed Jerusalem, no one would have blamed him for seeing new mornings as nothing but a cynical promise of more of the same.
But this was not the lament on his lips. Written in the style of an ancient funeral song, the writer's words, though consumed with death, call to this God by name: The steadfast love of Yahweh never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. Another translation reads, Because of Yahweh's great love we are not consumed; his mercies are new every morning. What the writer was able to see in the midst of his own lamentation is that only an all-powerful God can truly make a new beginning, a new creation. And new mornings, new years, in and of themselves, are useless and worse than useless if they are not seen as belonging to the one who makes all things new.
And often, it is in the midst of a definitive ending that this particular God brings new beginnings to life. In a poem called "Ash Wednesday," T.S. Eliot describes redemption as a figure moving about ashes and endings.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream.
Perhaps there is something restorative about a new year's walk, something hopeful in unread visions and new days, precisely because there is a coming new day that this God has promised. Even if you don't yet believe in this God, this might be a promise you can hold on to. Perhaps you might come to see that the hope promised in new mornings, the assurance of new mercies and new beginnings, is only a hint of the promise of a certain redemption, a new creation, a new earth. In this higher dream, God is the dreamer, redeeming worlds, redeeming time. God's redemption is the great love that prevents us from being consumed from the darkness.
It is no coincidence that the last words of the Christian story are aimed at describing the beginning of something more than we see now. Depicting the vision of "a new heaven and a new earth," John reports a voice crying out: "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away."
This day is new because it is a day made by the creator of visions and beginnings, the God who came to live among mortals and who offers himself as a new portion every morning until we are fully remade. Behold him come, for this is the Christian hope of genuine newness.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.