I simply love this time of year. Sure, Charlie Brown was right; the commercialization of the holidays can be disheartening — and probably even dangerous to our souls. But the holiday season also prompts many to reflect, ever so briefly, on the birth of Christ, whose birth is hailed in the scriptures as “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” I don’t think it’s any accident that the good will we experience during this season (often called “Christmas cheer” or “the Christmas spirit”) just happens to coincide with more people thinking about Jesus than any other time of the year.
And for similar reasons, I also love the end of one year and the beginning of a new one. As 2017 winds down, we inevitably cast our gaze back over the past 12 months and we do something quite rare: we reflect. Our devotion to technology and entertainment and social media greedily laps up all available space, time previously given to acts of reflection. Look around the next time you stop at a red light or stand in line at the grocery store and count the number of people on their phones. Even if only for a half-minute, we take every opportunity to prostrate ourselves before these handheld altars. Believe me, I know how preachy all of that sounds, but it’s the truth: we are largely an unreflecting people.
But the end of the year creates a natural platform for looking back and, just as importantly, for looking ahead. This is the time of year that we make goals for ourselves, resolving to cross some things off of that bucket list or to lose those pesky 15 pounds. For a moment or two, we allow ourselves the gift of transcendent vision, to imagine our lives not as they are but as we would want them to be in the year to come. So we sign up for guitar lessons; we join a gym; we renew our passports and begin planning that trip to Australia. And I love all of this, because this type of reflection is purposed and intentional. It is reflection aimed at transformation. And I believe any time we are thinking about transformation, we are walking on holy ground.
The problem with most resolutions, however, is simple: we lack resolve. We want to learn to play the guitar, but we don’t want to build time in our schedule to practice. We love the idea of losing weight, but we’d rather hit the snooze button than get up and go to the gym. Nearly all of our attempts at transformation are predicated on our strength, our determination, our will power.
But true transformation is not simply a matter of will power.
True transformation is ultimately a matter of God’s power.
Again, I know how preachy that sounds. (I see some you rolling your eyes.) But this is one of the truths I hold most dear; I believe it with all of my heart, because it is my story. Transformation is God’s business. When your strength wears out (and it will), you recognize your complete inability to transform yourself. When your resolve wavers (and it does, quite often), you understand the limitations of your own determinations. We have limited power to transform because of the limitations of our resolve and our determinations. Our transcendent vision is grounded by earthly flesh.
But true transformation emanates from without, not within. This news is announced from on high with angelic host and the glory of the Lord: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And this was the purposed intention of God, to intersect earthly flesh with divine power. To what end? Transformation. The Christian scriptures reflect on God’s transformative power: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
In the year to come, may we all experience the transcendent power of true transformation. To God be the glory.