There is a story recorded about the historiographer Socrates which I thought was interesting.
Socrates, the ecclesiastical historiographer, reports a story of one Pambo, a plain, ignorant man, who came to a learned man, and desired him to teach him some psalm or other. He began to read unto him the Thirty-ninth Psalm, “I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue.” Having passed this first verse, Pambo shut the book, and took his leave, saying that he would go learn that point first.
When he had absented himself for the space of some months, he was demanded by his reader when he would go forward. He answered, that he had not yet learned his old lesson; and he gave the very same answer to one that asked the same question, forty-nine years after.
We have arrived once more at a New Year. It is rather hard to believe. And yet most of us feel like Pambo if we are honest with ourselves. All the resolutions we made and broke. All the things that we swore to ourselves were going to be different. All of the ways we wish we could take back the time, the words, the activity, the lack of activity, the relationships which we wish we had done a better job with.
The beauty of the Christian year is that I can’t get stuck looking at my failures forever. There certainly are times for introspection. There are certainly times for self-analysis. But the beautiful thing is that the Christian life isn’t directly about me. Nor is it directly about you. It is about Jesus! And the entire ministry of the church is centered around telling, proclaiming, and reminding each and every one of us that we have been invited into God’s story. And God is ferociously committed to doing, without fail or forgetfulness, all he has sworn to do in us and through us for the sake of Christ.
Think about it. The Christian year (that is to say, the story of the birth, life, and resurrection of Jesus) is broken up in three parts: Christmas Time (God WITH us), Easter Time (God FOR us), and Pentecost or ordinary time (God IN us). Just meditate on those three things this New Year as you seek to live a life of worship for who God is and what he has done, is doing, and will do in the world. Whether you are successful in keeping your resolutions or failing at them, God is not distant and far off. No, in the incarnation, God drew near. God took upon himself all that we are, so that we might be redeemed. In the grace of the cross and the shadow of the empty tomb, God has made himself our advocate and sacrifice. But God did more than show the way. God himself, in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, became the way. The beauty of corporate worship is that we are not making promises to God. Rather, we are being reminded of all of God’s promises to us.
So enjoy this new start to a New Year. Strive after holiness. In Christ, God has given you all you need to see sin put to death. But when you fail, know this. God is well-pleased with you just as you are. God is not in love with some better, newer, far off distant version of you. God loves you right here right now.
You and I aren’t that much different than the learned man’s young protégé, Pambo. We will take a lifetime to scratch the surface of the deep lessons of holiness and Christ-likeness. But the grace of the gospel is that whether we ever get it right or not, we are welcomed at the feast to celebrate for all eternity Jesus Christ, who waits for us with open arms. And what a day of rejoicing that will be.