How many times have you said that phrase over the past week? Countless times, I suppose. I’d ask if you really meant it when you said it; but that would be rude, so I won’t. And I do sincerely wish every one of you a Happy New Year. But even as I wish it, I wonder how often we pause and think about what we mean.
As I thought about those people I’ve wished a happy new year upon, I saw three fairly distinct intentions behind that wish. Much of the difference had to do with my relationship with the person to whom I was talking. See if you agree.
First of all, “Happy New Year” is, for me at least, a seasonal greeting. So at the grocery store after checking out, I’ll wish the cashier a “Happy New Year!” Here is the outer circle of acquaintance, an interaction with another person who has been made in the image of God but someone I know virtually nothing about, unless they’re wearing a nametag! Nonetheless, I want my conversation (even with strangers) seasoned with grace and a smile. So let’s label that wish under Gracious Civility and pray that God would use us, His people, to show His goodness and grace to all the world, even in passing.
Next are those folks I see or interact with more frequently, a neighbor or friend for instance. When I say to them “Happy New Year” it is a genuine wish for general health and happiness in 2013. I really do mean it, and mean it with more feeling than for the person I greet in passing and probably won’t see again. But am I committed to doing much to see that my wish becomes reality? Well, yes, I guess I am in fact! As a Christian I know that I am supposed to “love my neighbor as myself” and so I will pray for them and if there is a need that I’m aware of, I’ll try to help. I also understand that ultimately, genuine happiness depends on having a right relationship with God through Christ, and that having good spiritual health is even more important than good physical health.
So I will be intentional in pursuing a better relationship with those I’m around often, and I will seek to show the love of Christ and speak the gospel of Christ clearly and consistently. So we see that this New Year’s wish is more than mere politeness. Let’s label this wish under Gracious Community and pray that God would use these regular contacts as opportunities to sow the seeds of the gospel and make disciples within our neighborhood and among our circle of friends.
Third, I wish my family “Happy New Year!” and am bound by blood to do all I can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to see that happen. God, in His good providence, has related me to them for His glory and their good. For example, our marriage is to picture Christ and the Church (see Eph. 5:25-33). And we are to take every opportunity to teach our children the things of God (see Dt. 6:1-9). And we have a responsibility to our parents, both while we are young (obedience, e.g. Eph. 6:1-3) and when we are older (care, e.g. 1 Tim. 5:4 & 8). Thus, when I cheerily say “Happy New Year!” I had better have in mind the daily reality of thoughtfully, prayerfully pursuing True happiness together. That means believing that the mundane moments of life matter and ought to be used intentionally and with grace. Having a “happy” new year means dedicating it to God’s glory and us to His service all 365 days of 2013! And since God has put me this close to these people I need to be careful about letting our relationship drift apart. So I’m going to call this wish Gracious Closeness and pray that God gives me grace: grace to love my wife like Christ loved the church, grace to not exasperate my children but to provide for them, body and soul, and grace to please God in my relationship with my parents (and in-laws). I understand this kind of love is costly, but we are called (and God gives us grace) to put to death the old man and put on the new (Eph. 4:22-24; Rom. 6:11-13).May God bless us with gracious closeness with our Church Family, too!
So, I wish you “Happy New Year” once again! Pray for me and I’ll pray for you, that together in 2013 we exhibit God’s grace in every relationship (and especially in our church family).
May God richly bless you,