I recall quite vividly from my early childhood a curious impulse that I developed at the closing of one year and the coming of the next. From the anticipation and excitement that I saw in others around me, and perhaps from a measure of media hype, I had a sense that at midnight on New Year’s Eve, something truly amazing would happen, something that would totally transform things, something worth celebrating in the biggest way. My parents would be watching the TV as things unfolded in Times Square. Guy Lombardo and The Royal Canadians would be playing, as they claimed, “the sweetest music this side of heaven.” We watched with excitement as the ball began to drop down the pole. But as the stroke of midnight approached, I would run to the far end of the house where, from a darkened room, I could peer out into the night sky with eager longing, expecting that something quite magical would happen. I could hear from the TV the cheers that went up from the crowd in Times Square as the new year dawned. But to my surprise and disappointment, nothing ever happened in the night sky. There were no meteor showers or comets. Supernovae did not suddenly appear. From where I was looking, one could not even see fireworks, which can temporarily make it seem like the sky has become new. The cosmos, it appeared to me, was oblivious to our new year, and it stood unyielding against all our hopes for something really new. You might say I was experiencing my first encounter with the sense of futility that the Preacher of Ecclesiastes discusses: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (1:9).
I do not know just why I had this childhood expectation that a new year might bring a new beginning. But in myself as well as in others, I have often found that same hope emerging when something new is going to happen: a new car, a new house, a new job, a new therapist, a new spouse, or even just a new diet and exercise regimen. Almost as often, though, I have found that the cosmos remains unyielding to our hopes. The ball may drop and the crowd may cheer, but what has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun — or so it seems.
We recently marked the beginning of a new year, and probably for all of us there is that longing for things that are new, for a life that is new. Our hopes are kindled high by the promises of the gospel. But looking back on previous years, we have known that hunger before. Where can we go for satisfaction of that desire? Where can that which is new and lasting really be found?
The exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt marked a whole new beginning for them, one that would deserve annual commemoration in full. It stood at the head of the new year: “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you” (Exodus 12:2). It marked the transition from slavery to freedom, from days of oppression in a foreign land to life as possessors in the Promised Land. At the heart of this great deliverance was the promise of God to Abraham, the blessing to him and to his descendants after him that they would become exceedingly numerous and inherit the land flowing with milk and honey. The fulfillment of this promise was advancing. Time, as it were, began there. It was the birth of a new day, a new era, a new nation. So pivotal was this event in God’s revelation of Himself to Israel that the meaning of His personal name is tied to the exodus (6:2–8). In those great acts of love and deliverance, “the Lord” was revealing Himself in ways that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob never knew (v. 3). By those acts, Israel would know that He is the Lord (v. 7). By those same acts, Egypt would know that He is the Lord (7:5). Moses would later exclaim that nothing like this had ever happened before (Deuteronomy 4:32–40). Though the course of the ages afterward, and Israel’s repeated failures, seemed to mock the new beginning made in the exodus, yet the events of those days truly did mark a new beginning, or perhaps we might better say, foretold a new beginning. The Passover feast prophesied a greater exodus. It spoke of the Lamb who, in future days, would take away the sin of the world. It found its fulfillment in Christ, who transformed that feast into a remembrance of Himself until He comes to make all things new. My childhood longing lives on. It was no futile hope. Thanks be to God.