“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose, new feet, a new backbone, new ears and new eyes. … Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterward.”  – G.K. Chesterton

Notwithstanding that making new year’s resolutions is usually just making a list of things to resent about yourself in the future, I don’t actually think the new year mentality is completely bad. Case in point: on January 1, 2019, my wife and I decided not to use our cell phones in the bedroom. By some miracle, we kept our resolution and I think we’re better off for it. Taking the opportunity to restructure parts your life can prove helpful. The trouble, of course, is thinking that changing parts of your daily routine is going to change the core of your being. “New Year, New Me” feels good to say, but, when it comes to changing who I am based on sheer will power, the year’s newness lasts about as long as a new car until you drive it off the lot.

Allow me to talk about one of my favorite movies: the 1987 classic, Moonstruck, starring an unforgettable Cher (who won Best Actress that year) and a perfectly cast Nicolas Cage (who, we can see now, was in his prime). Loretta Castorini (Cher) is a bookkeeper from Brooklyn who finds herself in a difficult situation: she falls in love with the brother of the man she has agreed to marry. The man, Ronny Cammareri (Cage), is a woeful, joyless sap after tragically losing his hand in a bread slicer and then losing his fiancée on account of having been maimed. Early in the film, Ronny dramatically says (and it’s Nicolas Cage so it’s really dramatic), “Is it just a matter of time before a man opens his eyes and gives up his one dream of happiness? Maybe.” Loretta ends up falling in love with this guy (who is, again, the brother of her fiancé).

Guilt-stricken and struggling, Loretta decides to take control and says to Ronny, “Look! I’m gonna marry your brother and you’re gonna leave me alone. A person can see when they’ve messed up in their life and they can change the way they do things. I can take hold of myself and I can say yes to some things and no to other things that are gonna ruin everything. I can do that. Otherwise, what good is this stupid life that God gave us?”

First of all, who can’t identify with that? That’s what New Year’s resolutions are all about — changing the way we’ve done things, taking a hold of ourselves. Every year we go through the motions because it’s empowering to think that we have the ability to get ourselves in order. It’s an honest wish, but it can be an exhausting way to live, especially after a year like 2019 (or any year).

In amazing fashion, Ronny calls her bluff. He says, “Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice — it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die.”

Wow! Apparently, Ronny understands the human condition better than any of us (notice there’s no mention of self-betterment in his, um, life cycle). But how? Is Ronny just wiser? Is he better educated? I’m afraid to say it, but I think it’s simply because Ronny lost his hand in a bread slicer, and his fiancée left him, and he’s at the end of his rope. Ronny has been through enough to know how life goes. He knows that the whole “New Year, New Me” is not just a fool’s errand, but a law that, by the end of the year, will have not only failed to improve us, but will have exposed us for how little newness there is inside of us. We are, as Paul says, born under a Law, a law that demands perfection. While, we experience it in different ways, this demand is a reflection of the Law of God and, at the end of the day, unless there is an equal sign between you and God, you will be found unrighteous.

That’s why I’m so thankful for that classic reading in Galatians (3:23-25; 4:4-7), so timely read during the post-Christmas, pre-New Year’s time in our lectionary: “God sent his Son in order to redeem those who were under the law.” He who created the Law, you see, voluntarily placed Himself under it and allowed it to exercise dominion over Him, to accuse and to condemn Him. He who was blameless was condemned to die on a cross so that through Him we are redeemed.

So, when Ronny Cammareri asks, “Is it just a matter of time before a man opens his eyes and gives up his one dream of happiness?” The answer is, “Well, Ronny, sadly, often yes.” You might think otherwise until something unexpected happens that you really just can’t control. But, in those moments, when you find that your dreams are given up and your eyes are opened, a figure may come into focus. The figure of a baby that, “when the fullness of time had come,” was born to become a man who gave up not just his dreams, but his life, so that His life is now your life.

I’ve heard it said this way: Imagine that you’re waiting at the final judgment and you get up there and God opens a very large book and it says Your Name and “A Biography, Complete with Thoughts, Words and Deeds” and God reads it (and whatever is in the margins that includes what you didn’t do). There’s good stuff in there: when you made a sacrifice for your spouse, there’s a time when you helped your kid, and there’s a time when you screamed at your kid. And, when God gets to the end of the book, no matter who you are, the final verdict will end with the words “Not Righteous.” This, in a nutshell, is life under the Law. But, imagine a different scene. You wait in line, you get your turn, God pulls out a book that is, in comparison to the first one, very small. He opens it and it goes like this: “He was born among the animals in a town called Bethlehem…” And as he finishes this book, he says “You are my beloved Son.”

Your biography is not the basis of your righteousness. Jesus’ birth, life and death has taken the place of your birth, life and death. In other words, as Jono Linebaugh says, “Your memoir has been ghost-written for you. And if you want to read it, I recommend Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.” Through Christ, your fresh start – your “New You” – does not begin on January 1. It began in a manger. It was established on a cross and fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Not just for this year, but now and forever. Amen and Happy New Year.