…If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
-2 Corinthians 5:17 (TNIV)
New. New stuff. If you’re anything like me, you know something about newness this time of year. New clothes, crisp and fresh and stylish. New gadgets, shiny and exciting. Stuff still wrapped in plastic or nestled in tissue, books with bindings unbroken and spines uncreased.
New is potential unfaded by time and wear. New is expectation. New is beauty. New is possibility. What is new replaces what is worn-out, ineffective, inoperative. Our culture loves what is new. New technology. New possessions. New homes. New clothes. New cars. Hey, today you can even have a new you if you find the right plastic surgeon to erase the marks passing years leave behind and replace or enhance body parts you don’t care for as they are. We long for the new because on some level we believe it will bring us fulfillment and happiness. We’ll be regarded as successful, admired by others, and feel good about ourselves if only we can have what is new.
But “there is nothing new under the sun,” says the teacher. Whoever wrote that had obviously experienced the disillusionment that we feel when we first realize that newness doesn’t last. The luster wears off of our shiniest new gadgets and toys. This year’s new clothes are old ones next year (or the year after that). Excitement about new stuff gives way to familiarity, which eventually, almost inevitably, gives way to contempt.
New, it turns out, doesn’t deliver.
That shouldn’t be surprising when we think about it. Whatever I may have that’s new, I am still me. I can decorate the outside with stylish new clothes, but down inside is the same old me with the same old problems and struggles and sins. I can go out and find a new wife, but I’ll bring into that relationship the same old me who contributed to the problems of the marriage I bailed out on. I can get a new job, buy a new home, move to a new city – but none of that makes me new. I’m the same old me.
If you doubt it, ask yourself in a month or so how different all the new stuff you’ve received over the last few days has really left you. By that time, the credit card bills will have come in the mail. All the new stuff you have will have begun to lose some of its shine. That will be a good time for you to ask yourself some questions. Start with whether or not you’re really any happier than you were before. Then go on to ask yourself how what you’ve received makes you a better person. Are your problems gone? Is your character improved? Is the guilt you carry for past wrongs relieved?
New is not what the church is known for. We are old. We are tradition. We’re considered by some to be irrelevant and outmoded, holding to an outdated morality and an out-of-fashion worldview. By definition, we are a community who find our identity in an “old, old story” that dates from a world that no longer exists. But in that old, old story is a paradox that we ourselves often fail to see, because it’s the story of God’s breaking into our world in a way that has implications for as long as human history remains. “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!”
The old, old story of Jesus makes the astounding claim that in Christ, God has remade his creation. Whenever someone puts his or her trust in Jesus, so the story goes, God acts in that person’s life just as dramatically as he did at the beginning of time. Just as surely as God said “let there be light” and dawn broke for the first time, in Jesus God speaks light and the dawn of a new day into the life of a believer as well. Jesus spoke of a new covenant, a new arrangement with God, sealed by his death. He told his followers to look forward to “the renewal of all things.” Paul writes of believers living a “new life,” raised from the dead with Jesus in the glory of God. He promised that in Jesus our minds are renewed, that we are renewed inwardly day by day, that we are “made new in the attitude of [our] minds.” The Bible speaks of a “new birth” that comes through Jesus and of a “new self” that we can choose to put on because of what Christ has done. And we’re reminded, as followers of Jesus, that instead of being too preoccupied with this world “we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth.”
The language is hardly ambiguous. The claim of the story of Jesus is not that once upon a time, long ago, a man named Jesus lived and taught and had influence and died. The claim of the story is that in Jesus Christ God has made everything new, that he has re-created the heavens and the earth and that he has even re-created us. The old, old story tells us that our history no longer has to tyrannize us. That our sins no longer define us. That our anxieties no longer imprison us. That death and evil no longer have the last word. The old, old story reveals to us that, stunningly, the world as we know it is fading away and that because of Jesus it will one day be replaced by a new heaven and new earth, that sin and death and pain and fear will disappear from creation forever, and that God will complete his project of making everything new.
So here we are, surrounded by all our new stuff. Anticipating a New Year. Caught somewhere between Christmas and the New Creation, between Christ’s coming in a Bethlehem stable and his coming in glory, bringing with him the renewal of all things. The old, old story reminds us that in Christ we are given the privilege of experiencing a new creation. We have been graced with a foretaste of life in Christ, enjoying his presence, illuminated by his glory, living for his purposes, trusting in his promises. It turns out that there is indeed something new under the sun – or maybe more accurately, under the Son.
Our salvation is not in a New Year, no matter how successful we may be at keeping our resolutions. It’s not in new stuff. It’s not a new situation, or a new relationship, or a new hobby, or a new look. Our only hope for salvation is that the God who created us and the world in which we live might step in to undo the damage we’ve done to our world, our fellow human beings, and ourselves. And the fact is that he has. In Jesus, he has.
The old has gone. The new is here.