Some 35 years ago my New Year’s column was on the "Hopeful Promise of Newness." It noted how often the word "new" is used in modern advertising. New and improved anything is announced with appropriate flourish.
This fascination with the new is rooted in an innate sense that the new gives promise of something better than the old. The human spirit is suffused with the hope that tomorrow can be better than today.
Political parties look for new faces. Fashion designers dream up new styles. Architects develop new forms. Athletes attempt to set new records. Journalists search for new angles. Many conversations begin with the casual greeting, "What’s new?"
Indeed, the news itself fills key moments of the day: reading the paper at breakfast (or checking the news on one’s cell phone or other electronic device), listening to the car radio on the way to work, watching the local, network or cable news throughout the evening.
There are few holidays more popular with adults than New Year’s and few moments more dramatic that the midnight passage from one year to the next, heralded by party hats, horns, orchestras, dancing and, of course, the slowly falling illuminated ball from atop the old New York Times building in Times Square.
It was this basic human instinct of hope that Jesus Christ touched by his preaching of the "Good News" of salvation. That is what the word "Gospel" means.
Jesus came to announce a "new covenant" (Hebrews 12:24), to give us a "new commandment" to love one another (John 13:34), to offer us the possibility of becoming "a new creation" (Galatians 6:15), a "new self" (Colossians 3:10), with a "new heart" and a "new spirit" (Ezekiel 18:31), called to live in the "newness of life" (Romans 6:4), and to serve in the "newness of the spirit" (7:6).
"Behold, I make all things new!" (Revelation 21:5) is the stunning promise of the Christ-figure. Those who heed the Word shall enter the "new Jerusalem" (21:2) and dwell in a "new heaven" and a "new earth" (21:1; Isaiah 65:17).
While this may be empty poetry for many, these words of promise are at the core of Christian faith, "the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1).
How we and the church at large translate that hope into language that is intelligible, and how we and the church communicate it in a manner that is compelling and persuasive, are challenges that are never fully addressed this side of the second coming of Christ.
But we are never exempted from making the effort, and the beginning of a new year is as suitable a time as any to be reminded of that and to recommit ourselves to the task.
Often that determination to turn over a new leaf in life and to rededicate ourselves to our highest ideals takes the form of New Year’s resolutions.
The "realist" insists that such resolutions are made to be broken. On the other hand, resolutions do serve a purpose. They help to define our hopes, whether about ourselves, our family and friends, our church or the world around us.
As this new year begins, each of us should resolve never to lose hope.
Father McBrien is a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame.