Isaiah 61:10-62:3 Psalm 148 Galatians 4:4-7 Luke 2:22-40
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
So we are here at the very end of 2017. In many ways it was a remarkable year for us. Two of our congregations marked important anniversaries and we all started on a new course after engaging Congregational Coaches to stimulate our thinking and to help us find our future direction. What also made it remarkable was not only the successes or the joys that came from that, but the achievements of others who strove against all odds to rise to greatness, and by obscure boffins making lifesaving discoveries while labouring over chemical formulations in their laboratories. Sadly natural disasters devastated many places, ISIS was defeated but continues isolated terror attacks all over the world. It was also a year marked by division and scandal at home and abroad. International friends no longer seem to be so, as they turn their vision inwards and erect barriers. New allegiances are springing up all over and uncertainty reigns. Profanity and vulgarity have replaced normal discourse. If there was a time when people needed God this is one. For all its joys and successes we certainly don’t want another year like 2017. / We just celebrated the most innocently joyful time in the Christian calendar – Christmas. We are about to now follow Jesus’ life, His Naming, His Baptism and very quickly His cruel death on a Cross and then His triumph over Death – His Resurrection. From the Season of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love we will be thrust into despair at the Death of the Messiah on Good Friday. But we are eternally blessed because after Death comes Life. And then we spend the next half of the year after Easter trying to understand those two seminal events – Jesus’ Birth and His Death, putting them in context, by listening again to His teachings, His Miracles and the triumph of His Kingdom.
It’s time to take stock on a personal level too. I’ll echo John Lennon, in a Christmas song he sings “So this is Christmas, and what have you done ? Another year over, and another just begun”. What have you done ? Have you lived the Gospel this year ? Do you plan to next ? Although in this time we may feel defeated by all the rotten things going on around us there is one certainty, God is in Charge, there is hope.
John Lennon finishes that Christmas song with this prophecy “The war is over, if you want it”. Lennon was speaking of the Vietnam War but his call can be applied by us to today; to the war on Humanity, we are our own worst enemy, we don’t take care of ourselves nor each other the way intended; the war on our Environment, we risk our own island home, by not taking care of the air, the water, the soil and the purity of Nature; the war on Morality there is not a day goes by when some scandal doesn’t hit the news, because people have forgotten or never learnt how to live righteously. Those wars can be over if you want it enough. / The year that is beginning I hope will be lived in the light of which Isaiah speaks. He sees a new and glorious age one where faith in God increases and shines among all nations.
So what about a New Year’s Resolution ? Here’s one we can all do, it doesn’t cost anything, it doesn’t require us to give-up anything. The only onerous thing about it is that it requires us to do something. But we don’t even have to move to do it. Do you remember the Psalm ? Eleven times it says “Praise”. Of course Hallelujah means “Praise be to God” as well. Praising God is an easy thing to do, a necessary thing to do, even though we actually spend most of our time asking for something for ourselves or for others. But when we look around there is so much for which we should praise God; life, air, water, soil, plants, Nature, family, friends, intelligence, memories, health, emotions I could go on and on. The Resolution ? As soon as you open your eyes in the morning, before you move, before you get up to pee (no matter how urgent) just say “Hallelujah, Praise the Lord”. That’s all. Then get on with your day, do your normal things but do them in the light of God’s presence. That last thing, believe you me, will make every decision you make that day and action you take that day so much simpler and better.
And all the things, I complained about earlier, will be resolved if everyone lived in the light of God’s presence. You have problems in your family ? Who doesn’t ? If your family came to Church, heard the Word of God, had fellowship with committed Christians like you, those family issues would disappear; likewise in a wider spectrum and even on a national and international level disputes would be gone. Internationally the trouble is others are guided by their religions, many of whom claim to be guided by peace, but really are guided by the desire for peace for themselves, at the expense of others. Christians believe in outreach and the welfare of all. We are called to be the servants of others and each other. When no one is clamouring or scheming to be top dog, we all do well. / In ages past Christianity, like all other religions, spread its Gospel not through Peace but by the force of arms, the Crusades are a fine example of failure that way, Islam failed in that way too and will fail again if it persists in violence. Christians used colonization to bring reasonable forms of government (democracy) but did virtually nothing for the Spirit behind that government. Christianity cannot be spread by force only by Love. Jesus said that “They will know you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35) and being His disciples living by Love we will overcome opposition from others. Love overcomes all things (1 Corinthians 13). To Peter, to us all, he said that if we to profess to love Him we will love others, take care of them, guide them (John 21:15-17). Jesus forswore the Sword and opted for Service.
This is not a resolution because you have little control over it but it can be a desire, hopefully a prayer too, that this next year we will spread the Gospel to our families, our friends and those who are not, to bring a little Peace and rightness to this distraught but otherwise wonderful world. Amen.