It is the season of resolutions. As we look back on the past year and look forward into the next year we think of ways to improve ourselves. We resolve to be better – to look better, feel better, work better, love better, play better, believe better. Beneath all our resolutions, whether they concern our health, appearance, ability, or even religious devotion, is a profound belief that we are not good enough – we need to be better.
Some of our resolutions are very attainable – go to gym 3 times a week, read 6 new books this year, pay off my credit cards, quit smoking, travel outside the U.S., read the Bible from cover to cover. But just because a resolution is attainable doesn’t make it attainable. Most of us don’t keep our resolutions. More importantly, even when we attain them, we don’t attain them. Keeping a resolution may give us a sense of accomplishment. But deep down we know we are not really better people. At the end of the year there are more resolutions to make.
We could all benefit from learning to celebrate the New Year the way the ancient Hebrews did. In the Hebrew calendar New Years is a month long celebration. It begins with Rosh Hashanah (the first day of the seventh month), continues into the Day of Atonement (tenth day of the seventh month), and culminates in the Feast of Booths (fifteenth day of the seventh month). Each day centers around the theme of absolution.
Rosh Hashanah (also known as the Feast of Trumpets) is a “solemn day of rest” (Leviticus 23:24). On this day it didn’t matter if you were successful or struggling. It didn’t matter if you were holy or unholy. It didn’t even matter if you were a foreigner who followed a different religion. Everyone rested. This day was a break from the day to day routine of to-do lists, grades, performance reviews, and profit margins that drive us. On this day everyone stopped thinking about what they had accomplished or what they needed to accomplish to reflect on what God had accomplished. It was a day to gather to worship the Redeemer God who loved them unconditionally. We could all benefit from taking a break this New Years to reflect on all God has accomplished in history and in our lives.
The Day of Atonement (also known as Yom Kippur) was literally a day of absolution (Leviticus 16). This was the most important part of the Hebrew New Year. On this day the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle (later the Temple) to make atonement for the sins of the people. In the first days of the New Year, absolution not resolution would inspire and strengthen the people of God. What drove them was not the hope of becoming better; but the hope of forgiveness. They didn’t occupy their minds with promises but confessions. This was a day of repentance and grace. We could all benefit from taking time to confess our sins to God and to people we’ve wronged this New Years. God is quick to forgive.
The Feast of Booths was a time to remember that we are on a pilgrimage. For seven days people lived in tents, just like their forebears who traveled through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. The first and last days of the week were devoted to Sabbath rest. This feast was a reminder that none of us have arrived. Yet it was also the promise that all who believe in their gracious Covenant God would arrive one day in the true Promised Land. We could all benefit from taking time to remember that the best this life has to offer is no better than the tents the ancient Hebrews lived in during their wilderness travels. We could benefit from taking time to long for heaven.
All the ancient Hebrews hoped for in the Jewish New Year has been fulfilled in Christ.
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:11-14)
Absolution, not resolution. More than anything else we need absolution for the New Year. God is glad to give it. He delivered up His only begotten Son to absolve us of all our guilt and failure. Take time this New Year to rest in the mercies of God. Take time to confess your sins and thank God for forgiveness. Take time to long for heaven. Write down the New Years Absolutions which are most precious to you. And begin your New Year knowing that you are deeply loved by your Savior.