Christ, the Only New Thing
It is a sort of happy coincidence that on the civil calendar the New Year begins in the midst of the Church season when we are keeping the feasts that celebrate the birth of the Lord, His circumcision, baptism, and finally His meeting in the temple on February 2. This is, as I say, a coincidence because, among other things, the Church New Year falls on September 1. Nevertheless, I would like to exploit this happy coincidence as we enter the New Year of 2020.
All four of the Gospels begin by talking about the beginning of the Gospel of Christ. Matthew and Luke do so with genealogies while Mark opens with "the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ." John begins with the same words that introduce the book of Genesis, "In the beginning." Interestingly, then, the four Gospels taken together begin by, at one in the same time, harkening back to creation and by introducing Christ and the Gospel as new. The Gospel of Christ is thus rooted in the Old Testament story of creation, revelation, and covenant, but introduces into that story something new.
Now, it would be a mistake to believe that this newness regarding Christ is merely historical or chronological, as if this was simply what happened next in the story. For Christ's coming into the world is not the birth and appearance of another holy man, prophet, or king. It is, rather, something wholly new, unprecedented, and, to use a theological term, eschatological: it is the descent of the Son of God and Creator into the created world as a creature, as man. In a world where creation had been poisoned by sin and where God's covenant with man had been broken repeatedly by man, the incarnation of the Son of God introduces – in the midst of time and space – a new and heavenly beginning. In the words of the Scriptures, the Fathers, and the hymns of the church, the Son of God becomes man and man becomes God, a partaker of divine life and nature.
As we enter the New Year we will hear much about resolutions. Resolutions are attempts to change ourselves, to alter our life through diet, exercise, and countless other changes of habit. And while resolutions can be helpful, what is most needed by us is not an altering of our old life. Rather, what is most needed is an influx of and participation in the new, spiritual, heavenly life that is in Christ. Christ is, after all, the only really new thing in the whole history of the cosmos. In the words of St Nikolai (Velimirovich):
Everything in man is old, like a disease, like an old garment hung out on a thorn - such are all human victories and defeats; and when people think, when they speak, when they labor, they just bring their junk out into the bazaar; young men think like old men, old men think like the dead, the dead smell no worse than those living on earth. Everything is old.... Thou art the only Novelty, my Conqueror; after the first man Thou art the only New Man. In the sleepy caravan of history, Thou art the only unexpected oasis.... Everything concerning Thee is new, my Jesus, from birth to death and from death to eternity.
And so I wish you a happy New Year and a blessed 2020. I hope that we all have a better diet, practice healthy exercise, watch less television, etc. But mostly and above all I wish you Christ, that we be not merely “improved in our oldness”, but that we be made new.
With love in Christ,