Let us pray: Dear Savior, with Your glorious birth the old has passed away and the new as come! We now are saved, redeemed, restored, and made wholly new in You! Likewise, the old year is fast fading and a new year beckons. We know that it will be filled with promise and heartache, joy and sadness, excitement and boredom. But today none of this matters because armed with Your new birth, our new birth, we can approach it all with confidence that You will bless us and our labors eternally. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, OUR NEW BORN KING!
TEXT: Ephesians 5: 15: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”
Dearly Beloved In Christ:
Every year we celebrate the new year with a certain sense of anticipation. Both Debra Ann and I are tired after the Christmas services and everything that goes into them. But, we’re relieved that a fresh, pristine new calendar is dawning. Each year we quietly sit together and talk about the past year. Most of those times we end up bidding the old year: good riddance! That’s because, in the words of Paul in our lesson: “the days are evil.” Loved ones are lost to death, sickness or health concerns took their toll, world events are disquieting—we’ve seen most of life during our years together. But, by God’s grace alone, we’ve coped with it all and are still here. He blest us and got us through the tough stuff of life. Likewise, every year we also turn our thoughts to a new year. What will it bring? What will make us laugh? What new challenge, and blessing, will God lay before us? As we go to sleep on New Year’s eve, we rest in His loving arms knowing the next day will usher it all in once again.
I’ve lived through the nuclear age with bomb drills and fall-out shelters when I was very young. Next came the disquiet of the ’60’s with Vietnam and social unrest. My sisters were living in Detroit during the ’68 riots. Let’s just say my parents watched a lot of TV news broadcasts while that went on. Then came the zooming of inflation and stagnation in America during the ’70’s. People literally “bet the farm” on prices continuing to go through the roof, and when farmland prices collapsed their loans wiped them out. Then came marriage and more school and my entrance into the public ministry—including coming east. It was a whirlwind. I soon re-discovered that people can be wonderful and others can be awful. The economy boomed for a while and then America’s drift away from its Christian roots began to take its toll on our collective psyches. The ’90’s brought distrust to our nation, distrust in the political and social structures. Instead of “believing in the future” we began to disbelieve almost everything while putting on a cheery facade. A new millennium dawned. Y2K worries abounded. Terrorism struck. More wars were fought and “won,” but not really. Perhaps the last 15 years can be characterized: “The frustration age.” People were and are frustrated with government, the economy, their job, their school, their impotence to really change anything for the better, frustrated with everything.
During my lifetime I’ve learned many things, however. 1. Complaining gets you nowhere. 2. Look past the noise and see the substance beneath it all. 3. Heed Ben Franklin’s advice and don’t go into debt unless you’re very sure you can cash flow it all. 4. Never take your health for granted. 5. Value genuine friends—who will almost always be Christians because they know the meaning of forgiveness. 6. Savor moments of joy and the serenity of the simple—it’s rare. And 7. Never give up on God because He never gives up on you! The manger, the cross and the empty tomb prove that, don’t they?
St. Paul’s words in our lesson are: A Prescription For Coping With and Appreciating the New Year. He begins by telling us to be “wise not unwise in how we live.” Although we live in a youth dominated culture where everything new, young, and glitzy it celebrated—the fact remains young people are generally not very wise. They haven’t lived long enough and been beaten up by life enough to gain wisdom. So, they swallow the Kool-Aid of social media and pop culture and later on, when it falls apart, perhaps they will learn from their mistakes. Wisdom and age tend to go hand-in-hand. Wisdom asks: Why? It asks: “What are the consequences of this or that?” Wisdom is cautious. Wisdom sticks with God and His age-old truths because they’ve been shown to work. Yes, the 10 commandments really are guides for living, avoiding a lot of trouble, and being blest.
Paul goes on to say that we should also: “Make the most of every opportunity.” This is where New Years enters our equation. Literally every day is an opportunity for doing something meaningful with your life. It doesn’t mean every day will be as exciting as the Super Bowl, or have the emotionalism of your wedding day. Let’s face it: most days are a bit mundane. Yet, from the simple comes the sublime. Those of you who have gone Spring fishing with kids here at church, don’t those memories make you smile? Don’t they comprise part of your bucket list of New Year’s eve smiles? My point is: life doesn’t have to be grandiose to be meaningful. Kindness, compassion, taking time with another, speaking the truth in love to them—these are the building blocks of a blessed new year.
Paul ends by reminding us of something we already know too well: “the days are evil.” I tell people that I believe in original sin. So, I believe people are basically bad, not good—apart from Christ. This means that I don’t wear blinders when I deal with others, so when they do something awful I’m not stunned, but when they do something noble and pure I’m genuinely, pleasantly surprised. Knowing this lay of the land in people’s hearts enables me to truly appreciate and never take for granted God-wrought actions by others. And that brings me to each of you. Paul writes: “And may God, who has begun a good work in you, continue it unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Fellow Christians make me smile. They gladden my heart. New believers gladden me even more. And they cause the angels in heaven to rejoice. If we can gladden God’s heart by appreciating each other and showing that appreciation and sharing it with our extended sphere of influence, 2016 will be a watershed year for all of us. May God so grant us the love of Christ to make it happen! Amen