2016. How can we describe this past year? From what I’ve seen on Facebook, most people were happy to say goodbye to 2016. It was a year rife with challenges and changes. No one will miss the bitter and hateful election season and the internal struggle of how to vote. For my home state, North Carolina, we suffered the devastating Hurricane Matthew and race riots in Charlotte. Even in my church, we faced challenges and changes.
You probably faced some difficult challenges and changes in 2016 as well, perhaps in your job, your family, your finances, or your health.
For me personally, 2016 was hard. Excruciating. Almost more than I could bear. I’m thankful to say that my heart has *mostly* healed from the challenges and changes of 2016 but the scars and memories have yet to fade. That’s why I celebrated when I heard fireworks go off at midnight and I saw my my digital clock roll over to the new year. I’m ready for a fresh start.
New years are like the sweetness of a crisp early morning in the spring. New years are like a freshly fallen snow when no one has stepped outside. New years are like a pound cake fresh out of the oven, full of tantalizing aromas but not yet cut.
New years are full of hope, of promise, of newness and a fresh start. And don’t we all need a fresh start? Are there some mistakes and failures and struggles of 2016 that you are ready to release to history?
Our God is a God of newness. Our God is a God of fresh starts. Our God believes in new beginnings.
“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19 NLT
But even when God is offering us a fresh, clean, new start, He knows that the hurts of our past remain. He knows the tears that we have shed in 2016. He knows of the despair and desperation and disappointment. He knows of the grief and the sorrow and the pain.
What can we do with the challenge of embracing the hopefulness of a new year while carrying the pain of the previous one? We look to our savior, Jesus. This is what was said of him by the prophet Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
Jesus binds up the broken hearts we sustained in 2016. He comforts those of us who are mourning from things we lost in 2016: friends, family, hope, or health. He replaces our despair with praise and He gives us the oil of joy instead of mourning.
Jesus gives us beauty for ashes.
Jesus, we give you the ashes of 2016. We give you our worst days and we give you the tears we shed. We give you our colossal failures and our huge mistakes. We give you our sin and our selfishness and our pride. We give you our strained relationships and our fragile health.
We give you our brokenness, and you give us beauty.
I know that 2017 won’t be a piece of cake. There will still be struggle and conflict and hard days. But Jesus will be with us, every step of the way, continually giving us beauty for ashes. We can grab hold of a fresh, new, hope-filled new year because we have such an amazing Savior.
Happy New Year.