How do we understand the “new” in this New Year?
That which is new isn’t always new, at least in the sense of having never existed before. Anyone who has worn a sibling’s hand-me-down knows how “new” can be a relative term. What is new for one person is old for another.
As we begin 2011, another new year, there are three definitions of “new” that might be helpful. These definitions are also relevant as we look at the work of the church, especially as we continue to strengthen our missional identity and prepare for the Mennonite Church Canada assembly in Waterloo, Ont., this summer.
- That which is different can be new. Something routine for one person, if never experienced before by another, can be new. A different approach can be new. A different point of view can be new. A different understanding can be new.
This is a gift of the church. The gathered community of faith in Jesus Christ is where the Holy Spirit functions to bring new and fresh understandings. Biblical truths, although timeless and foundational, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the gathered community of faith can produce discernment that can feel different. Jesus used the form of a parable to produce different understandings.
- A rediscovery can be new. If something forgotten has been rediscovered, it can feel like something new, even though it has already existed before. This, too, is a gift of the church. As the gathered community of faith joins in worship, the Spirit of Christ can prompt a rediscovery of truth. Such a rediscovery can feel like a fresh expression of faith. Ezra ushered in a fresh expression of faith when he led the people of God to rediscover the Law. Although the Law had existed before, its rediscovery prompted a fresh and new response.
- A re-embrace of something already known can be new. I know that selfishness leaves me feeling empty, yet I can slip into this behaviour. But it is not until I re-embrace the joy of living more fully for God and others that I experience a new sense of fulfillment.
This is also a gift of the church. The people of God gathered in loving community, mutual accountability and commitment can encourage a re-embrace of deeper discipleship. Such a re-embrace can feel new and exciting as greater peace with God and others is realized.
This New Year—2011—has never existed before, yet the prospects of the year may feel rather familiar. As the people of God, the beginning of another year can be welcomed by anticipating a fuller experience of that which is new. The faithfulness of God’s grace and mercy can give us confidence to welcome that which is different, receive that which is rediscovered, and accept with joy that which God will prompt us to re-embrace. With such eagerness realized it will be a New Year.
Willard Metzger is general secretary of Mennonite Church Canada.