Tonight, people all over the world will gather for New Year’s Eve. Traditions of welcoming the new year vary, but they usually involve eager anticipation as the excitement builds closer and closer to midnight. Even when we don’t know exactly what it will hold for us, the promise of a new year offers hope, fresh beginnings, and second (or third or fourth) chances.

Our family tradition on New Year’s Eve is to host our closest friends for a taco bar, games, and lots of laughter. I’ll admit that in our forties and fifties, it’s getting more difficult to stay awake for the ball to drop at Times Square. But we do our best, and there are plenty of spots for a quick nap if anyone needs it! Even now, halfway through a century of life, we all get breathless with excitement as the midnight hour approaches. We look forward to the new year with hope and fresh commitment to better our lives.

John the Baptist wasn’t waiting for a new year, but he was definitely waiting for something new. He believed with his whole heart that the promised Messiah would come—and not in the far-distant future but immediately. John didn’t know what the Messiah would look like, how he would bring change to the world, or exactly where he would be. All John knew was that a Messiah was coming who would be greater than anyone present, past, or future.

Imagine the faith John needed to sustain his ministry, preaching about a person he didn’t yet know and could hardly explain. Was he ever tempted to claim the role for himself? If he was, he overcame it, always pointing to the “Chosen One” who would come. Did he feel anxious as he continued to preach with no Messiah in sight? Perhaps, but his certainty in God’s promise kept him going. Was it hard for him to step down when Jesus finally appeared? Maybe, but John never lost sight of his purpose—to point to the Messiah. John preached with faith and hope and passion, sharing about Christ even though he “did not know him” (v. 31).

As we enter this new year, with all its promise and uncertainties, let us be thankful for John’s willingness to pave the way for One he did not know so that we could all know him as Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Savior. Happy New Year!

Discussion

• New Year’s Day is just another day, a flip of the calendar page (or a fresh calendar newly hung on the wall), the next set of twenty-four hours in our lives. What makes it feel so different, so significant, so fresh and new?
• What are your New Year’s Eve traditions? How do they help you celebrate the close of one year and welcome the next?
• Consider reading the whole story of John the Baptist in the Gospels, from his leap in his elderly mother’s womb to his murder by Herod Antipas. His calling was difficult and dangerous—and all for someone he met only at the end of his brief life. What helped him keep pressing forward into the unknown?
• We don’t know what 2024 will hold for us. What can keep us pressing forward into the unknown with hope, faith, and love?

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University (BA in English, 2000), has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her teenage daughters, Samantha and Natalie, her husband John, and the family’s two dachshund mix pups, Luke and Leia. She likes supporting community theatre productions and is often found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who. And she always has one book going and several more waiting to be read!

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