“Gone away is the blue bird; here to stay is the new bird,” says Winter Wonderland. It seems that the beginning of a year brings with it a sense of renewal, an idea that there is a new start to be made. New year’s resolutions are just an illustration of that mentality. Sometimes—perhaps when we think of what happens to new year’s resolutions by the time February comes around—this renewal idea seems a bit silly. But I think the mistake is one of focus, not one of essence. For, you see, there is another renewal that is brought to mind at this time of year: the renewal of humanity and of all creation.
In His Incarnation, the Lord refashioned humanity. In Orthros, at the katavasiae for the feast we sing:
Prophet Habakkuk in his ode was foretelling mankind's remaking, when of old he was granted to see its type in a manner past expression: From the Virgin mountain as a newborn infant the Logos emerged, to refashion the peoples.
In His Baptism, He identified Himself, voluntarily and without sin, with fallen humanity. Our renewal in Christ is seen again here, as we sing again during Orthros:
In the Spirit, O David, come be present and sing out to those being illumined: Now approach to God in faith and be illumined. Adam who was fallen cried aloud, being the poor man, and truly the Lord heard him; and therefore He has come, and in the streams of the Jordan He renewed him, the corrupted one.
Wash yourselves and be clean, says the Prophet Isaiah, and put away your evildoing from before the Lord's eyes. All you who are thirsty go now to the living water. For Christ will sprinkle those who, believing, run to Him with water that renews; and He baptizes them with the Spirit unto undecaying life.
As we pledge our allegiance to Him in our own sacrament of Baptism, the priest asks God to
“Put off from him (her) the old man, and renew him (her) unto everlasting life. Fill him (her) with the power of Your Holy Spirit, unto union with Your Christ; that he (she) may no longer be a child of the body, but a child of Your Kingdom;”
However, living, as we do, in the world, and being subject to its pushes and pulls, the exchange of the old man and the new becomes a constant, as seen in one of the prayers of the daily office of the ninth hour:
Rescue us from the hand of the adversary and forgive our sins, and mortify our mind set on the flesh; so that we may put off the old man, be clothed with the new, and live for You, our Master and Benefactor. And thus may we follow Your commandments, and arrive at the eternal rest, where the dwelling is of all those who rejoice.
Our renewal parallels our salvation: we have been renewed, we are being renewed, and we will be renewed. Thus, we ask each day that we be constantly renewed in the new life which we received at our entry into the Church. Each day we follow the admonition of St. Paul to put off “the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:22-24).
Christ is the new man, the second and last Adam, in whom creation is recreated, humanity is refashioned, and we are brought to life from being dead in sin. In Him we have been clothed at our baptism, for “as many as have been baptized in Christ have put on Christ.” It is this garment that we need to care for—“preserve unspotted,” as the baptismal service says—in order to have it as an acceptable wedding garment at the heavenly banquet.The new year is a time when our need for constant renewal in Christ is brought into focus through the feasts we celebrate. Let us use the hymns we hear at this time as reminders to cultivate holiness in our lives: be vigilant with our thoughts, pray, fast (Great Lent begins on February 26, which is sooner that it seems), confess, commune, and be generous with our time, money, and love. Through these, we wash, and are clean; and we put away evil from [our] souls (cf. Is. 1:16). Thus we preserve our garment spotless so we may be counted with the blessed of the Father.