When the New Year is Only the Beginning

In early December, my sister had a baby.

Her fourth baby, to be exact.

At 4 o’clock in the morning I got a phone call, grabbed the bag I had packed and kept ready “just in case,” and jumped in the car to drive to her house. When her three older children woke up a couple of hours later, they were surprised by my presence and by the news that Mommy and Daddy were with the doctor and, pretty soon, they would get to meet their new baby brother.

It was all very exciting.

Experiencing this for the fourth time with my sister, I recognized some familiar things: the tears of joy that I just could not keep to myself, that identical little nose I had seen three times before, the feeling of being completely overwhelmed because I just did not know that it was possible to ever love such a tiny human so very much.

But some things were brand new this time. This was the first time I had been around in the days leading up to my sister giving birth, so the waiting and anticipation were much different from my end. We waited, longer than we thought we would have to wait, and every day felt like it stretched out a little extra long as we were all on alert, ready for the moment we would spring into action and everything would change.

The baby was born during the first week of Advent. That recognition took on a whole new flavor for me as well—one of waiting and anticipation. Suddenly I was thinking in a different way about what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph as they moved through their days, wondering when their baby, the promised Son of God, would arrive. Was Jesus born sooner than they expected, taking them by surprise on their inconveniently timed trip to Bethlehem?  Did he come later than they would have preferred, maybe hoping that he would have been safely delivered and in Mary’s arms as they made the long journey, so they would know what to expect, how to plan, what to prepare for?  Of course, we know that whatever their expectations, the baby Jesus arrived right on time—in Bethlehem, as was foretold, with a crowd of shepherds not too far away. They were the perfect ones to join in the first celebration of the birth of this holy child.

The interesting thing about waiting for a baby to be born is that it feels a little bit like finishing one race only to find yourself at the very beginning of the next one.  You have broken the tape and crossed the finish line, the waiting and the anticipation have all led up to this glorious moment when you hold a precious, brand-new life in your arms—and then you realize that everything in your life is about to change, and there’s no turning back.  You have given birth not to a child who you will quickly hug and kiss and then send on his or her way, but to a child who will need you to meet every basic need, every day, for many years.  Though we can read the gospel accounts quickly and see the span of Jesus’ life in a matter of hours, Mary did not in fact give birth to a fully-grown Messiah who already walked and talked and was ready to save the world the very next morning. My newest nephew, and the Christ-child, and any baby who has recently been welcomed into the world, all have required constant nurture, attention and care. When you bring a baby into the world, it is a long-term commitment, not a short-range accomplishment.

So where does that leave us?

We have moved through the Advent season. We have rejoiced and celebrated the coming of the Christ-child, our Messiah and King.  And now, we look forward in hope to a new year filled with fresh starts, exciting possibilities, room to dream and hope and grow.  For many, the New Year awaits with a sense of anticipation, a readiness to welcome a new season, a reset or restart. This is often a time for trying new things, for creating new goals, for committing to some kind of change. But oftentimes, we end up rolling our eyes, shrugging our shoulders, and laughing a little as we realize that our well-intentioned “resolutions” have almost completely faded somewhere around mid-February.

This year, what if instead of simply welcoming the New Year with a burst of excitement that quickly fades, we view it as a signal of new life bursting with fresh potential and possibilities? One that, with all its possibilities, will require some specific attention and care and nurturing along the way?  What if we can look at our hopes for the new year and understand that it won’t come all at once but more like a baby who slowly learns to walk by first crawling, stumbling, and even falling. What if we cling to the assurance that little by little, with a little nourishment and care, over time, we just might see a fully-grown life transformation take place in this next season ahead?

What are your biggest hopes, dreams, and goals for 2018? What would it look like for you to think of the year ahead as a long-term commitment rather than a short-range accomplishment? And what if you willingly extended grace and compassion to yourself along the way?  What would it look like for you to walk with dedication and perseverance, committing yourself to getting back up again and continuing to move forward as many times as it takes?  What would it look like for you to truly HOPE for new things in this new year?

Let’s bring in this New Year with celebration and rejoicing.

And let’s rise to God’s fullness for our lives one step at a time.

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