The ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions, some 4,000 years ago. They celebrated the new year not in January, however, but in mid-March, when crops were planted. As part of a massive 12-day religious festival known as Akitu, the Babylonians crowned a new king or reaffirmed their loyalty to the reigning king. They also made promises to the gods to pay debts and to return objects they had borrowed. These promises could be considered forerunners of our New Year’s resolutions.
For early Christians, the new year became the traditional occasion for thinking about past mistakes and resolving to do better in the future. In 1740, English clergyman John Wesley created the Covenant Renewal Service, most commonly held on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. These included readings from Scriptures and hymn singing, and served as a spiritual alternative to the raucous celebrations normally held to celebrate the coming of the new year.
While there is good and no harm in any occasion for self-refection and commitment to improve, God wants so much more for us than the occasional holiday or special event. We are so special to him, in fact, that he invites us to live in kingdom covenant with him, a daily relationship and renewal. And THAT is true cause for celebration—the party of the ages!
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me, and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me, and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG)