I was in an art class yesterday creating watercolor paintings. We were each given a beautiful cream colored piece of paper, about 1.5 ft. x 2 ft. and told to begin any way we would like—splash color on the page or start out small. Be bold or timid. Make shapes or none. This paralyzed me for a few minutes. What if I made a mistake? What if the color I chose was the wrong one? What if everyone else was going to be timid and I started out bold and splashy. This was not an artwork to sell or be in a show or hang up in my home—it was just a sheet of paper to experiment with, and yet I did not feel free to just go wild and put whatever came to my mind or hand. It was, after all, my sheet of paper that I had paid for with the class. What was I afraid of, really? I was afraid of being exposed – as childish, inept or worse yet, weird. This is what looking at a New Year feels like to me, also. I don’t think, “Yea! Free to be me and express who God made me to be no matter what people think!” Rather, I was thinking, “I hope I don’t mess it up.”
Usually, I love beginnings. A new start—the only way to describe the feeling of new beginnings is the sense of promise—this time will be different. I will be all the things that I want to be. I will say all the right things and be the person I want to be. I will employ my best attitude and behavior so that this relationship, this job, this school, this life will go better than yesterday, last week, last year.
What we think we love about new beginnings is that we can leave behind all the disappointments of the past. The regrets, the missteps, the hurtful things someone said to us or we said to them, the missed opportunities, wrong turns, failure of words or actions. Sweep them out the door and be ready for a new life, the new me—the better me—the ‘never going to do that again’ me. The New Year triggers this longing in us— a fresh start to forget the past, and be someone new.
I am reading the book Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarity. One of the main characters, Jane, has moved every 6 months for the last 5 years, hoping to catch a glimpse of the perfect life for her and her son; one with friends, safety and a good life. She finally settles in a beach community because it looks so perfect, with beautiful, wealthy people playing on the beach with their children. Surely, this is a place where there is no pain or fear. This veneer of achievement, however, hides a tangled web of resentments, hurts and insecurities that are in any family, no matter how it appears from the outside. Jane’s longing to start over and feel new is also deep inside all of us. This will be the year that we will be happy. This will be the year when everything goes right. This will be the year that my good-self shows up instead of my bad -self.
Our dilemma as human beings is that we like to begin fresh because we forget that things end in the same way eventually, with us in need of help. We find that we are not sufficient to make our lives the problem-free spectacles of human perfection that we believe. I’ve been watching the Netflix series The Crown, about the life of Queen Elizabeth II, and it is a reminder of human fallibility. Elizabeth, who is the supreme governor of the Church of England and expected to be close to divine, is just as human as we are. Each time there is a new beginning for her or England or her marriage or her sister Margaret, human limitations and her inability to read the future result in far flung wars, political missteps, divorces and separations, and parenting headaches that are so easy to see in retrospect yet so hard to see when you are in them. Being human is a gift from God because when we get to the end of our power and understanding of the world, we can surrender to Jesus Christ who has the power of love, redemption and resurrection.
As I stood there looking at my piece of paper in the watercolor class, I found myself drawn to the light colors and away from the dark. Our longing for new beginnings would sweep away all past experiences that reminded us of our deep need for God to save us from ourselves. We want to start new because we don’t want to be reminded that under our management, our lives careen off the road. We want to be self-sufficient and write the playbook.
We forget that like Queen Elizabeth, we are dependent on God’s presence and benevolence for our very life and the guidance to live in God’s world.
What a blessing today’s gospel text in John is for us on this New Year’s Eve. Listen again to the words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being with him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the day and the darkness did not overcome it.”
In the beginning was the Word. The Word is a person, not a thing. The Greek uses the term Logos for Word and what it means for us is a communication from God, a revelation of God to us. The Word is Jesus Christ, who is the heart of God and has always been present in the world. At the creation, the Word was there. God spoke his heart into the material world and everything we know as earth and heavens came into being. In the beginning, all things came into being through the heart of God being spoken into the universe. No one has ever seen God, John tells us, until Jesus came to show us the heart of God. Jesus is God with skin on.
This applies to you. God imagined you in the beginning —you were created through the heart of God, Jesus Christ. Your life was created by the light that shines in the darkness. No darkness can overcome it. Your beginning was in God’s beginning.
In the beginning of last year, of this year, of every year in your life. There are no beginnings that Christ has not been a part of. The beginning of the planet and the beginning of you. Human beings are the most complex creatures in the universe and a very rare species. You are so very precious to God. You were made by the light and for the light. God loved you so much that he put himself into a tiny baby so he could walk around on the planet and let you know that he was willing to sacrifice himself for your rescue. God’s plan has always been a rescue plan.
Now if you are going through a dark period in my life, you might be wondering, “Well, if Jesus Christ was in the beginning of my life, why is it so hard? If Christ was in the beginning of my marriage, why did it fail? If Christ was in my beginning, why do I or my loved one have cancer? Why did my parents divorce? Why did my child die? Why is the world such a mess?” Yes, the world is not as it should be because of the effects of Sin. There is injustice, pain, sickness and hurt. But just as Christ is the heart of God spoken into the world—Christ is the heart of God spoken into our lives with tenderness, compassion and presence. The world will not be perfect, nor will we, until Jesus comes again but He has promised that he will be with us until the end of the age. When you are alone in a hospital room with a new diagnosis, could Christ be with you? When it is dark and you are afraid, can you feel someone tenderly present with you? When you lose a game, fail a test, have relationship problems, feel lonely, does knowing someone cares help you? This is why God came with extraordinary tenderness as a vulnerable baby to reveal himself to us so that we would know we aren’t alone. He was with God in the beginning and he is with you now, looking into your future with the knowing and understanding only your Creator can have.
What did I learn in the watercolor class? That a clean sheet of paper is an unlived life—one with no faith, no freedom, no risk, no love, no joy and no courage. There are no bad colors in the world—God uses all colors in our lives. The dark colors give definition to the bright hues, but the light is not overcome by the darkness. This year, like all other years, will be just a part of the great watercolor of your life, with its defining dark colors, splashes of joy, deep blues of hardship and the brilliant jewel colors of rebirth and resurrection. In God’s graceful hands, your life is a masterpiece that can only be fully seen in light of the His eternal love. And at the end, when you see the watercolor of your life, you will have eternal life with Him.