Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the whole earth.
Sing to the Lord and bless his Name;
proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day. – Psalm 96:1-2
Tonight is New Year’s Eve, a night of parties, loud booming music, dogs howling, horns blowing, and fireworks. For me and those like me, a regular bedtime may be possible, but certainly not guaranteed, at least not until midnight strikes. Even then, noises increase, and fireworks pop, crackle, and boom for at least an hour and often several hours. It is bad enough for those of us with anxious pets frightened by the noise, but I also think about the strays without homes or lost, terrified by the noise and lack of places to escape it.
Tonight, I doubt many partiers will do what the psalmist suggests: sing a new song and bless God’s name. New Year’s Eve celebrates the end of one year and the beginning of a new one. It has been celebrated for a millennia, although not necessarily at the cross between December and January. Ancient Romans celebrated the new year by marking the day Rome was founded in 702, in March (by our calendar). Jews celebrate the new year with Rosh Hashana, which, in 2023, will start at sunset on September 15 and end at sunset on September 17. Rosh Hashana is not explicitly named in the Bible, but a reference to its observance is found in Leviticus 23:23-25. Other religions and cultures celebrate at different times as well, usually in spring, with the arrival of new life.
We mark New Year’s by considering starting over fresh, putting away old things and habits, and starting anew. Everyone jokes about making resolutions and even more about how long a person can keep a resolution they have made. The most common resolutions involve living healthier, exercising more, and losing weight. Some people hope to stop smoking or drinking alcohol. By contrast, others want to be kinder to others, give more time or money to charity, or spend more time with their families. People of faith often resolve to pray more, attend church more often, or try to live by Jesus’s teachings or God’s rules more than they do now. In a sense, faith resolutions are the new song we sing to God as we promise to change or do something better.
The important thing is to take any promise or resolution seriously. While losing weight or reading the Bible more may not have the same character of a monk or nun who takes life-long vows of poverty, chastity, or obedience. After all, most of us aren’t called to make such changes. Most of us live in a world where temptations nag constantly. We also live in a world in which to fail is to feel or experience shame and be considered a loser. Success means so much in our world, probably too much. According to his culture, Jesus might not have been considered a success like Caesar or the equivalent of the CEO of a multimillion-dollar corporation.
For some, taking a single step is a sign of success, especially for that person who has been unable to walk for some time, if ever. Jesus helped those who were shamed or considered failures to live new, healthier, happier lives simply by speaking a few words or perhaps a single touch. Did those whose lives were changed merely shrug off the changes that had happened and return to their former lives? Probably not. They recognized the depth of change and the cost of it. They owed Jesus, and the only way they could repay him was to spread the news of his gift and teachings. They could encourage others to go and listen and, hopefully, be changed.
Those whom Jesus touched learned to sing a new song, and they continued to sing it to all who would hear it. For them, the day they heard Jesus or a messenger with his words was a new year.
This year, I need to forget frivolous resolutions and make a solemn promise to sing a new song to God whether or not I say a word. My actions need to be part of my song and my life, and I mean it.
Happy New Year. Sing a new song!
Linda Ryan is an Education for Ministry mentor, an avid reader, a Baroque and Renaissance music lover, and a fumbling knitter. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter and lives with her cat, Phoebe, near Phoenix, Arizona.Follow us on social media