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What Christians can learn from Jews about New Year

In a few weeks we will be ringing out the old and ringing in the new, with the best of intentions to make a fresh start on the first day of January. Paul Weller’s song Brand New Start embodies the hopes and aspirations of most people as they approach the New Year: ‘I’m gonna clear out my head./I’m gonna get myself straight./I know it’s never too late/To make a brand new start.’

Resolutions have always been part of Christian spirituality but our resolutions must never be an end in themselves. Christian resolutions are not merely a matter of clearing out our heads and getting ourselves straight. During 1722 and 1723, the New England Puritan Jonathan Edwards famously composed 70 resolutions, starting with the words:

“Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.”

Edwards’ primary resolve was to do whatever he thought to ‘be most to God’s glory’ and to do whatever he considered ‘most for the good and advantage of mankind in general … whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.’

The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, began at sunset on 28th September. In Hilchot Teshuva (The Laws of Repentance), the influential mediaeval Jewish philosopher and rabbi Moses Maimonides wrote that during the ten days between Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement, ‘It is the custom of the entire Jewish community to give greater amounts to charity, and [do more acts of] good deeds, and to be concerned with fulfilment of commandments from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur, than the rest of the year. It is the custom to arise in the night during these ten days to pray ... until the day dawns.’

The Yomim Nora’im, the Days of Awe, between the two great festivals have grown in importance in Jewish tradition. In the period leading up to Yom Kippur, many Jewish people make the effort to set things right with their neighbours and to apologise to those they may have offended during the previous year. ‘Before seeking divine forgiveness,’ says Jewish scholar Bernard Bamberger in his commentary on the Torah, ‘Jews have often settled quarrels and disagreements among themselves.’

Mitch Glaser, the President of Chosen People Ministries, says this tradition ‘encourages humility and vulnerability and promotes the healing of broken relationships’ and suggests that if Christians would set aside one week every year to seek the forgiveness of others and were ready to forgive those who had offended them, it would have a renewing and refreshing effect on the Church.

There is something in that. The transition from the old year to the New Year is such a time but for believers in the Messiah, confession and forgiveness should be the pattern of our lives. Every time we prepare to go to communion, or the prayer meeting, or to do evangelism, or to conduct a Sunday School class, or to lead a Bible study, or even before we pray privately, we would do well to remember the words of the Lord in Matthew 5:23,24: ‘Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.’

Whatever we do for the Lord, it will be of little use to make resolutions for the coming year if we do not take steps to resolve the outstanding issues of the last twelve months between ourselves and others. If we refuse to hear the words of the Lord, we will be put to shame by Jewish people who do the very works we refuse to do.

And when you do make your resolutions for 2012, please resolve to pray daily for the salvation of Jews who are ‘zealous for God but not according to knowledge’.

Yours for the salvation of Israel,

 

Mike Moore

This article was first published in the Winter Herald 2011

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