Here in central Virginia where I live, many churches celebrated New Year's Eve, as they have done for years, with prayer.
Worshipers still commemorate Dec. 31, 1862, when African- Americans, perhaps nervously, waited out the night for the Emancipation Proclamation to take effect the next day. President Lincoln's proclamation, which freed all slaves in Confederate states still at war with the Union, is remembered today as a time of hope, new beginning, and rededication.
At this time of year when there are so many conversations, articles in the newspapers, and blogs about resolutions, I find it inspiring to think about the New Year as a new beginning of freedom.
What I mean is that I believe God made man perfect, and freedom from evil should be our normal state. In the first story of creation – the first New Year, if you will – told in the opening verses of the Bible, I read that God made man in His image and likeness, and that this man, which includes male and female, is "very good" (Gen. 1:26, 27, 31).
Yet it seems that all too often we feel we've fallen short of this divine seal of approval and don't have the freedom to be good. We might feel trapped by bad decisions in the past, poor health, or even a sense of our own unworthiness.
I've learned that the "New Year" of creation, when all is "very good," is not something out of our grasp. The solution is to assimilate more of the life of that "image and likeness of God" that is very good.
Living this way, to the best of our ability, raises us from false concepts about ourselves as hopelessly separated from God, as tangled up in old and mistaken ways of thinking, as dragged down by sickness or grief.
As we live this way, it's much more natural to see our true identity shining free and clean. Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Monitor, wrote: "Discerning the rights of man, we cannot fail to foresee the doom of all oppression. Slavery is not the legitimate state of man. God made man free" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 227).
Years ago I felt that I had made a number of bad decisions that were negatively affecting my personal as well as my professional life. I had allowed myself to fall into quite a depressed state, and I even felt that I was unworthy of experiencing any good turnaround – that in some sense I deserved the malaise I was in. About that time, a friend pointed me to a biblical promise of hope: "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning ..." (Lam. 3:22, 23).
What happened next was like a bolt of lightning. I suddenly realized that God's mercies were new, right then, and that God loved me. I felt washed, cleaned, renewed. I realized that I was no longer enslaved by my past decisions, because God's ever-new mercies had freed me. That was the end of my depression. I was able to rebuild my self- confidence on a spiritual basis. This was a great help when, a few years later, I successfully met further challenges that might have pushed me over the edge. I was already liberated.
At this season of new beginnings, I am grateful to be reminded of the examples of my neighbors who use this time to commemorate their ancestors' emancipation, and to contemplate all humanity's emancipation from all things that would try to keep us from feeling God's judgment on His children, "Very good."
Where the Spirit of the Lord is,
there is liberty. But we all,
with open face beholding as in
a glass the glory of the Lord,
are changed into the same
image from glory to glory, even as by
the Spirit of the Lord.
II Corinthians 3:17, 18