In an old comic strip Non Sequitur, three men are on a jungle journey and they come upon two skulls on top of poles. Also on the poles are arrows that point deeper into the jungle. One of the men cheerfully says, “Well, my guess is, it means, ‘Welcome Stranger!’” The caption to the strip is: “Why cynics outlive optimists.”
To some, being optimistic may seem rather foolish. Some think you live longer if you’re cynical and cautious. They believe the way to keep safe is to watch for danger and worry a lot. They enter the new year fearful, expecting trouble is lurking around the corner.
God doesn’t want us to be naïve and think every sign is welcoming. But He does invite us to live full of hope and free from fear being the cruel dictator ruling our lives. He wants us to go forward into the new year, expecting that good things await.
Some approach the new year as a student about to take a test for which they don’t think they’ve studied enough. They worry they are not prepared. They’re fearful about how difficult the test might be. “How will I ever be able to pass?”
The new year will undoubtedly involve some trials and testing, but the ultimate test has already been given. Jesus passed. He took the test for us. He achieved a perfect score. He lived the perfect life and presented His life as the perfect sacrifice that made complete and sufficient payment for all of our sins. Our hope and our salvation does not depend on whether we can pass the tests that will come our way in this new year. Our hope is based on the good news that Jesus passed the test for us.
Because of what Christ has done and because of God’s grace, we approach the new year not as a student fearfully taking a test, but as a child opening a gift. We are full of eager anticipation that the gift is going to be good. It comes from our loving Father. In Matthew 7:11 Jesus speaks of how earthly fathers know how to give good gifts to their children. “… how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
The world isn’t always welcoming and the signs the world puts up are scary. But the Lord welcomes us into the new year with comforting and encouraging promises. He invites us to unwrap the new year and find the good gifts He has for us and the good things He wants to do in us and through us.
We don’t need to worry so much about whether we are ready for the new year. Instead we humbly admit we aren’t ready. We don’t know what is coming. We can’t interpret signs correctly. But we rest in the promise that Jesus is ready. “For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you” (Isaiah 41:13). The Lord invites you to hold on to Him and enter the new year full of hope in His abundant grace.