This year was the very first year in my life I did not enter the “New Year” while on my knees in prayer. (Although we did pray for our lavish midnight dinner just a few minutes before but that apparently doesn’t count). Instead I stood in a large room surrounded by friends, all shouting out a countdown and filling the air with thunderous applause. I still love Jesus just as much, and I anticipate to be just as loved and blessed this year as if I had prayed right at the transition from 11:59PM/2012 to 12:00AM/2013.
GOOD TRADITIONS ARE GOOD
First off, I am fortunate to say I grew up in a world not heavily polluted by the more well-known and “sinful” sins, such as drug abuse, alcoholism, murder, thievery, rape, adultery, or anything else known to be “bad” by any upstanding moral “Christian-ish” person. On the contrary my upbringing taught me to shy away and run from blatantly open sin, if only because I would be severely punished. I also grew up in many godly traditions, such as the necessity of reading the Bible, or praying to Jesus. Those are very good things. Another good thing we always did (with three different Slavic Pentecostal churches that I was a part of) was “pray in the New Year” during a Watchlight Service. It is a good tradition! Prayer to Jesus is always good! On Christmas day? Yes! On Tuesday? Yes! On New Years Eve? Yes! It’s always good to pray. You can never go wrong if you pray! Many people prayed like they did at any other second, out of genuine humility. Yet, I have recently began to see how bad people can take a good tradition make it a bad thing.
FIRM TRADITION-KEEPING IS BAD
I recently had some conversations with fellow believers who were not raised with the same tradition and the first thing that came to my mind was the harsh judgments and arguments some people in my past “firm tradition” culture would make against these believers. I remember hearing the speeches of some who prayed as the clock struck midnight. Doing a good thing they made it a bad thing. Much like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14, some were obsessed with their own virtue. They would rant on about how the pagans and backsliders would cheer, yell, kiss, or applaud during their New Year’s celebration. I often heard tales of how wicked those people are who ring in the new year at Times Square, and how immoral they are for not praying. Yesterday I realized that all this time I was there with them, thinking I am holier and ought to be more blessed because I pray this exact minute instead of shout or applaud. I was nodding my head, agreeing, and judging. I was using my manmade tradition to lay guilt on those who did not follow our self-created, unbiblical though good, tradition. We used that tradition to tarnish those who did not have that tradition.
A HYPER-RELIGIOUS FOCUS ON RITUALS IS OLD TESTAMENT
Another thing this brings to mind is the overactive emphasis we often have on ceremonies and rituals. Yes, in the Old Testament the Bible was filled with ceremonies and rituals. If you wanted to be forgiven, you would kill an animal to sacrifice it. However, the Bible later explains how those ceremonies and rituals were something given to a blind culture to reveal a great thing to come. That great thing was Jesus. The sacrificial animal-slaughter ceremony had no power in itself; it only symbolized that one day Jesus would be likewise be destroyed for our sins.
Old Testament rituals are actions that symbolized a Christ to come. They did not have inherent power or intrinsic ability to do anything. Those ceremonies are and were powerless, only Jesus (whom they symbolized) and the faith of those who obeyed really mattered.
What we often do is ascribe special magical powers to a sacred ritual. Such as “prayer during the transition between years is actually more important than other prayer.” Or that this first prayer on New Years eve determines your blessing for the year. We would freak out and be so sure to pray at that exact time as if the time of prayer determines something for God! (“Ooops Ivan, sorry your prayer for blessing in this New Year won’t work, its already 12:01.”) We took our simple human calendar, sprinkled some superstitious paganism and shamanism over it, and said this ceremonial prayer if done at the special time, will appease the wrath of God and earn us blessing in the New Year. No! Only the cross of Christ can appease God’s wrath. Only the cross of Christ can earn us blessing. It’s always the cross of Christ; never our ritualism in the form of a special sacred prayer at a special ceremonial window of time!
Rituals and ceremonies are either powerless symbols that point to the Cross (where all power comes from), or they are nothing but superstitious shamanism.