New Year, New Birth

WITH 1995 just around the corner, many of us are looking forward to making a fresh start. These words of Christ to St. John the Divine in the book of Revelation always encourage me at the New Year or whenever I need fresh inspiration: ``Behold, I make all things new'' (21:5). They tell me that no matter how I may have messed up in the past, God's mercy is so great that I can start again with a clean slate.

That's pretty encouraging to me, particularly when I'm trying to get some part of my life in order. And what's really great is that Christ Jesus' life confirms the presence of God's mercy. Jesus understood God so well that he was able to transform people's lives.

Among the individuals who were touched by Jesus' certainty of God's mercy were an adulteress, an extortioner, a prostitute, people considered outcasts because of their ethnic group or social class. The list of people he healed includes lepers, the blind, the deaf, the lame, those suffering from mental illness, and many others. Each of these people was given a new start. So as we face a new year, we can feel encouraged by the wide array of people who experienced God's love through the restoring power Christ Jesus brought to bear on their lives.

This Christ-power is still present to all who faithfully follow the Master's teachings. It enables us to change the direction of our lives, to stop defining ourselves as material beings, and to recognize that we are truly spiritual. This is what Jesus is talking about when he says, according to John's Gospel, ``Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God'' (3:3).

This kingdom of God is really what we all want--peace, joy, harmony, love, goodness. It is genuine brotherhood and sisterhood, love for one another that doesn't rest on the whims of human emotions but grows out of the fellowship we find as children of God.

This change of thought--from the material to the spiritual--tends to be a gradual process, but it's something we can start right now and can develop as each new year advances. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, explains the basic elements of this change in an article called ``The New Birth.'' It is published in her book Miscellaneous Writings. She says: ``The new birth is not the work of a moment. It begins with moments, and goes on with years; moments of surrender to God, of childlike trust and joyful adoption of good; moments of self-abnegation, self-consecration, heaven-born hope, and spiritual love'' (p. 15).

The new year is an ideal time to embrace this idea of ``the new birth''--to build a spiritual foundation that will last. Since Jesus taught that God is an all-loving Father, we can begin by doing more to trust our divine parent. We can, for instance, make a stronger effort to look for whatever is good in our experience, instead of mulling over our troubles. We can also look for good in others--even others who don't at first seem to have much to recommend them. Let's make a point of cherishing the good in ourselves, too.

This focus on good will help us to accept God's direction more readily because we'll be seeing life from a more spiritual standpoint. At the same time, we need to be willing to correct flaws in our thought and behavior. And this improvement will come naturally as we gain a greater appreciation of our good qualities and realize that these are the ones we want to develop. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that feeling loving is a lot more fun than feeling hateful, being cheerful is more enjoyable than being angry, and so forth. And as we express our God-given spiritual nature more and more fully, we'll enjoy the discipline of thinking about ourselves in this new and refreshing way. Then, instead of condemning ourselves, we'll be moving forward with the sense of goodness and joy that stems from understanding more of our genuine, spiritual identity.

Each new year is an opportunity to progress--to work toward a better and happier life, to love each other more, to get to know God better. And no matter how many New Years you've seen, it is never too late to enjoy ``the new birth,'' presented to us by Christ.

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