In the ancient Roman religion, Janus was the god of new beginnings. He is depicted as having two faces, one looking back into the past, the other looking forward toward the future. January is named after him and so is the janitor who opens and closes doors.
Janus brings to mind two things: that the past year was filled with mistakes on a social level and, on a personal level, missed opportunities. Hence our desire for a fresh beginning, one that atones for the sins of the past. “Cheer to a new year,” advises Oprah Winfrey, “and another chance to get it right”. We have failed to fulfill the hopes of years gone by, and thirst for yet another chance.
We live by a combination of regret and hope. We love things that are new precisely because they bring us hope. Yet, the new car, the new house, the new job, the new dress, the new suit do not remain new and soon slip into the realm of the hum-drum. They no longer fascinate us. The new chapter in my life that was waiting to be written, turns out to be disappointing.
G. K. Chesterton put the New Year nicely into perspective for us when he said, “The object of the New Year is not that we should have a new year, It is that we should have a new soul . . .” He would have cheerfully agreed with Charles Lamb who declared that “New Year’s Day is everyman’s birthday”. Nonetheless, we make New Year’s resolutions that we fail to keep and fall back into the less than virtuous habits of the previous year.
Why is it perennially difficult for us to be born again, to forge a new soul? No doubt it is because we need help from above to fulfill our resolutions and become the person we hoped to be. “At present we are on the outside of the world,” wrote C. S. Lewis, “the wrong side of the door.” “We discern the freshness and purity of the morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendour we see.”
Lewis is expressing a frustration we all feel when our efforts to rid ourselves of our faults and become a better person fail to materialize. Among the many things that tempt us with their newness, but remains eternally new is the New Testament. In order to reform, to open the door to a holier life, we must look to Christ for assistance. Lewis goes on to say, in memorable prose, “But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not be so. Someday, God willing, we shall get in”.
The New Year opens the door to a new life. Christ dons the role of a janitor who is a specialist in opening doors that lead to a new world that is illuminated by grace. “Happy New Year” should give way to “Blessed New Year.” The New Year should follow the inspiration and guidance of the New Testament.