Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Shanah Tovah

Sounds like a new rock group that just hit the charts, doesn't it? When I first heart this expression over thirty years ago, I thought so, too. But, of course, it isn't. Shanah Tovah is a Jewish expression with several related meanings. For example, it means, "Happy New year!" Even more specifically, it stands for a longer expression which means, "May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year." I prefer this last expression because of the tradition it springs from.

          The Jewish New Year, which incidentally never occurs in January, introduces a period of personal examination. According to the tradition, during this time, God "looks into the hearts of men and examines not only their deeds but their motives as well." That's a little scary by itself especially when you realize He does this all the time anyway. But God also calls on all men to examine themselves. In fact, in the synagogue on New Years's Day, the cantor (music leader to us Christians) blows the shofar, the ram's horn trumpet, to call upon the faithful to repent of all their misdeeds of the past year and to return to God with a humble spirit so the next twelve months may be richer in the service to God and to men. Not a bad way to start the year for any of us. Not a bad reason either.

          Ten days after their New Year's Day, the Jews celebrate Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Here's the real motive for the self-examination. On this day, Rabbi Meir said, God opens the books of judgment and the penitent are at once "inscribed and sealed" in those books for their good for another year. And so, the greeting, Shanah Tovah.

          I am not a part of this tradition, and my year does begin in January. By the grace of God, my name is already inscribed in the Lamb's Book of Life, not for the coming year only but for eternity. Still, the tradition does teach me some important things because my days contain offenses that need confession, repentance, and forgiveness. Now at the beginning of this New Year, I am made aware again that I need self-examination, not only for the next ten days, but pretty much every day thereafter. How can I best do this?

          Much the same way Israel does -- by prayer and the Word of God. Jesus said, "Search the Scriptures...they...testify of Me" (John 5:39). By reading the Bible, I get better acquainted with the Lord. As I get to know Him, He provides guidance and sound advice through His Word which is "a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path" (Psalm 119:105). He clearly tells me how He wants me to live and how to honor Him with my life. He commands me to bring every thought captive to Him (2 Corinthians 10:5). His Word provides spiritual nourishment, food for thought and life, "sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb" (Psalm 19:10. NASB)

          In prayer, I lift my heart to God and recite humbly in words my feelings, my thoughts, and my wishes to Him. I focus my attention on the glory of God, my Father, my desires for the well-being of myself, my family and those I love, and my gratitude for all God's blessings. Prayer provides the channel for confession and penitence on New Year's and every day throughout the year. Prayer compels me to recognize my dependence on God not only for my very existence, but also for my health and for the provision of order and sense in my life.

          God, on the other hand, straightens up the messes I too often make and uses even the most painful experiences to help me grow (Romans 8:28-29). In that growth, I hope that you can see more the evidence of His gentle hand molding me into the shape of His Son. And what I wish for myself, I wish abundantly for each of you who read this, that through His Word and through prayer, we may all "grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ" (Ephesians 4:15). Then we can express to each other all the time the literal meaning of of the abbreviated expression Shanah Tovah, "Have a good year!"

No comments:

Post a Comment