What an exciting proclamation! It is the hope of new creation. It is the excitement of possibility!
Maybe you’ve made plans for the new year. Sometimes we take this opportunity to make commitments to live our lives in new ways. Stores have already begun transitioning their stock from red bows and jolly gifts to products that are designed to either help us meet new goals or take advantage of our desire to do so.
It’s a time when our choices are ever before us. We are invited to fuel our optimism and be thankful for a new year fill with hope or give way to pessimism and fear that we will forevermore be held to the patterns that we have up until this moment created for ourselves. Our future is not determined by these. The Lectionary text for this week from Galatians 4 reminds us that we are redeemed, not longer slaves to whatever law once held us, but children, and therefore, heirs of God.
In this time our past is also ever before us. We’ve seen compilation videos and reflections of all sorts through social media, news stations, and TV shows. We are invited to look back at the year that we leave behind. We pause either to give thanks or to say good riddance; though sometimes we heartily say both!
Something that we don’t really do during this time is live whole heartedly in the present. While that may sound like an indictment in a culture steeped in a theology that calls people to live only in the moment, it’s not. As God’s people we are gifted a rich history of God at work, not only in our lives, but also having worked in the lives of those who have gone on before us. The past is part of our story. It helps us know from where we came not simply to speak to where we are but to speak to where we can go. We are not left with these stories alone. We are called to hope. We live in a kind of perpetual new year as we profess, “Christ has died; Christ is Risen; Christ will come again.”
We don’t live simply in the moment – we live in the light of God’s grace, which has set the stage for us to arrive where we are and which makes provision for our future.
The New York Times published an article in the opinion section titled, “We Aren’t Built to Live in the Moment.” In this article, psychologist Martin E. Seligman and journalist John Tierney suggest that the gift that distinguishes humanity from many other species is both our ability to truly look toward the future and to utilize that information in our everyday decision making.
One thing that the authors of this article note is that persons who are experiencing depression overestimate future risks and imagine far fewer positive outcomes. This isn’t causative information. It doesn’t explain depression, but it does speak to the ways in which our brokenness serve to separate us from the love of God which professes “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38b-39)
Our ability to look toward the future is informed in part by our past, but it is not held captive to it. Things may have gone wrong in the past. Maybe we made wrong choices. The new day brings a new choices. Things may have gone well in the past. We may have skated through, like Paul, imagining that our actions left us self-sufficient (Philippians 3:4-6). Our future is determined by neither of those, but by our willingness to be open to God’s direction our life. God is there in our moments of good riddance and in our moments of gratitude.
Our future, while beginning in this moment, is also not held captive by our present. Our future is made possible because the God of all creation loves us and makes way for us to not only have life which is our future but to, in the words of our savior, “have life abundantly.” (John 10:10)