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The grace to start again
pastor corner

Rev. Dr. Devin Strong

Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church

Say what you will—and I could say plenty—about the dangers of the internet, but it sure puts a lot of information at our fingertips. A quick Google search for “New Year’s traditions around the world” pulled up a whole list of interesting customs.

These are a few of my favorites: • In Johannesburg, South Africa, they throw old furniture out of windows (The fraternity boys at my college did this!) on New Year’s Eve to symbolize letting go of the past and welcoming new blessings.

• In Russia, it's customary to write a wish for the new year on a piece of paper, burn it, and then mix the ashes into a glass of champagne before drinking it (A good reason to avoid Russian booze!) at a minute past midnight.

• In Colombia they carry an empty suitcase around the block to encourage lots

of traveling in the new year.

• Mothers everywhere will appreciate the fact that in Puerto Rico the tradition is to clean their homes and cities top to bottom, from indoor spaces to cars to streets, to start out with fresh energy in the new year.

• In Spain at the stroke of midnight, they eat twelve grapes to ward off evil and bring prosperity.

• And in Brazil they go to the beach (My kind of place!) because it’s summer there.

These international rituals, along with our own American habits of drinking champagne and watching the ball drop, suggest to me that humans everywhere are yearning for two things at the new year.

First, we are all searching for a grand reset.

Whether we call it a do-over, a second chance, a fresh start, or a new beginning, the point is the same. We want to leave the mistakes of the past and begin again, baggage- free. Second, we seem to know intrinsically that we cannot accomplish this clean slate on our own. Perhaps we have tried, unsuccessfully, many times to quit our bad habits, and we just don’t trust ourselves, so we are looking for luck, supernatural assistance, or magic to make things better in the new year. Whether it is eating particular foods or doing choreographed actions, many of us are willing to try anything to help ourselves into a better future.

In the church we have long understood the mortal desire to leave the past behind and begin again. We call it confession and absolution. It’s why Lutherans, and many other denominations, begin our worship services each week by admitting our failures and hearing of God’s love in spite of us. The problem is that making this a regular part of our liturgy may make it feel routine or route. The old quote attributed to W.C. Fields comes to mind, “I like to sin; God likes to forgive. It’s a perfect relationship!” For our Christian liturgy to have power, we must let the words sink into our lives.

I am all for traditions. We southerners can eat all the Hoppin’ John we want, or you can eat grapes or throw old furniture out the window if that’s your thing, but real transformation in the new year is neither magic nor luck. It is a gift from Jesus who loves you enough to die for you and rise again.

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