The practice of making New Year’s resolutions, at the very least, dates back to the Babylonian Empire. At the start of each New Year – and for them the new year started with the first planting in March – they would make promises to return borrowed items and pay their debts. The Romans began the New Year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named. Janus had two faces, one looking to the past and one into the future. By making promises backed by sacrifices they hoped to secure forgiveness for their wrongs of the past year and garner success for the new one.
Many of us participate in this yearly practice with a greater or lesser degree of success. Some of the more popular resolutions include improving physical and mental well-being, improving finances and getting out of debt, getting a better job, reducing stress and becoming less grumpy, taking up a hobby, spending more/better time with family, praying and growing closer to God, and the list goes on. Yet, by the end of February, about 80% of us have given up. Unable or unwilling to take the risk and effect the changes in our lives necessary to fulfill our resolutions, we look to the next year and another go-round.
I’m not aware of Jesus asking anyone to make promises to do better in the New Year or any other time for that matter. Rather, he asks his followers to take the risk of faith. The parable of the talents found in Matthew 25 is an example. A landowner goes on a trip and leaves his unimaginable wealth behind with three of his servants. Two have the audacity to invest everything for which they are responsible, accepting the tremendous risk involved. The third, fearing the wrath of his master buried the money with which he had been entrusted. (At the time this was considered prudent business practice – seriously!) When the master returned he rewarded the two servants who had doubled his money through investment. The third he punished and took away what had been given to him. Often read as a story challenging us not to squander the gifts and talents with which we have been blessed, it is a parable about risking all for the Realm of God.
Jesus calls us to risk our lives on the veracity of what he said and did, on the truth of what he does and says. To have faith in the one who shows us the way of God’s love, who was executed and raised from the dead, this is risky business. In a world where people and nations seek revenge, to forgive is a risky thing. When despair and cynicism are considered appropriate responses to life’s circumstances, you’re taking a risk to hope. To care for others, exercise compassion, practice hospitality, to be one who loves deeply is to risk all for the God who loves us all. To leave what we know and journey where God wants us to go, is a big risk.
We are a risk-averse people. The God of love, however, calls us to be risk-takers, to risk everything for God’s realm of love. So this year, instead of making New Year’s resolutions, let’s take the risk of faith. We really can’t fail.
In hopeful expectation of God’s coming realm,