We are just a few days into a new year. New years are strange things. Nothing changes between December 31st and January 1st but there is a palpable sense that there is a new beginning, an opportunity for things to be different. Hopes are expressed that the new year will be happy and prosperous (by implication unlike the old year just ended) and we often resolve to eat more sensibly, to drink less, to exercise more, to be less judgemental, to be more patient, to read more, to watch TV less, to sort out the attic, to paint the hall – but by about now we know that those things are not going to happen; life will continue exactly as before.
Changing our life always seems harder than we thought but transformed lives lie at the very heart of our Christian faith. Paul describes becoming a Christian as a completely new life and as a leaving behind of our old life. How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6.2b-4); So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! (2 Corinthians 5.17). Jesus too speaks of change being a requirement for discipleship, If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me (Luke 9.23).
Of course, these passages are not terribly instructive about what this actually means for our everyday lives, or how we are to achieve such a change in our lives. But why should they be? Perhaps it is that word daily in the quote from Jesus which holds the key. Becoming a follower of Jesus is not an instantaneous change that happens in a moment, it is a process which begins when we choose to follow Jesus. Every day we need to make that conscious decision to follow him and every day we take up our cross. And Paul surely holds the same view. That’s why, in his letters, he is constantly reminding us to be made new, to allow the newness to show.
It is one of those paradoxes. When we become a Christian we are made new. Our baptism puts the old us to death and we are raised a new person. But it is also the beginning of a process in which we are being made new every day. It is at once complete and a work in progress. But even a little change will make a difference. And every little bit of difference is a new beginning.
Hoping things will get better never works. It is God who makes the change in us, all we need to do is is to take up our cross daily. Start every day.
Then it becomes a question not of how we are changed but how we let that change make a difference in our lives and in the lives of others. Jesus makes it clear that being his disciple requires us to be active in the world in caring for him in others (Matthew 25.31-46; Luke 10.25-37).
If the new year is to be better than the old year we need to be the change we want; we need to be the ones who make a difference. It’s only by changing our little bit of the world, each day, that the world can change at all.