Celebrating New Year’s for Eternity

Well, it is now the last week of 2011. It almost seems as though the year just began, and now it’s over.

Many of us at this time of year begin to do some introspection of ourselves and analyze our lives over the past 12 months. We ask what we did well, and what we could have done better. We enjoy recalling the happy times and still feel sadness over the losses.

Although January 1 is only another date on the calendar, for most of us it marks a new beginning; a new season of life. It’s a chance to start over. But then you give it a few months into the new year, and we all return to the words of King Solomon:

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
     vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
     at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
     but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
     and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
     and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
     and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
     but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
     there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness;
     a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
     nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
     and what has been done is what will be done,
     and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
     “See, this is new”?
It has been already
     in the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
     nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
     among those who come after.”
(Ecclesiastes 1:2-11)

When we look at things from Solomon’s perspective, what we must realize is that we continually live between New Year’s celebrations. The farther behind us the last one gets, the closer we are to the next. And there is nothing that really changes on those days except the numbers on the calendar.

If we can be really honest with ourselves, if this is the totality of human existence — we live, and work, and watch the years come and go, until we finally die — then it really is all vanity. If this endless cycle is all we get, then we must purpose ourselves to take as much joy from our brief and meaningless existence as we can. “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die” (1 Cor. 15:32).

But for the Christian, our vision is much bigger than this. In Christ, our hope is set on the idea that there is something more than this life. We are eternal being created in the image of the eternal God. This thing that we find ourselves in now is only a small glimpse of the joys that we will experience when we move on and dwell with Him forever.

What that means then is that as Christians, we don’t despise the joys of the world as some have done, but we don’t look to worldly joys for our ultimate satisfaction either. Instead, we delight in God as we enjoy the good things He has made and allows us to experience here, year after year, and we look forward knowing that the days will only get better and better forever with God.

Yesterday morning on my way to church, I was listening to a song by Aaron Keyes that says, “You’ve only just begun to show your greatness and power. We’ve only just begun to see Your almighty hand,” and this thought came to me. Even a million years into our eternal existence with God, those lyrics will still be true. We will only have seen and experienced the beginning of the goodness of God. Even in eternity we will find that there are new aspects of God to delight in every day forever, and it will never get old.

That is why Christians have for centuries, now, declared in song that “when we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.” Every day of those 10,000 years will be filled with more and more reason to praise God. His goodness will overflow forever. We will never run out of time or reasons to delight in Him.

So bringing it all back down to earth, today: 2012 is about to enter the scene, pushing 2011 out for good. And in this new year as in the old, there will be reasons for celebration and reasons for sadness. So, just for now, before getting overwhelmed with grand ideas of how life will be different in the new year, can we just stop for a moment and recognize that no matter what has happened in the past or what the immediate future holds, that what our hearts are really longing for is to see and experience God’s goodness that will last for eternity.

If you haven’t taken the time to do so before, let me invite you one more time in 2011: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8) And then as we move into 2012, realize that the joy that comes truly is only just the beginning of what God has in store for you for eternity.