Jeremiah 31:7-14; Isaiah 42:1-9
John 1:1-18; Matthew 3:13-17
We are beginning a new year. Each year at this time we have an opportunity to consider new beginnings, new births, and new possibilities. The bible is full of new beginnings. The greatest of these, is the birth of Jesus, the Incarnation of God as a human. †Jesusí birth invited us to partake of the greatest beginning of all: when our eyes were opened to the Kingdom of God.
The opening verses of the Gospel of John announce this new beginning. We humans rely on laws and rules to get things right. We have a rule or a law for all sorts of activities and behaviors. We are creatures of routine and habit. Rules and laws allow us, we feel, control over our lives or the lives of others. Ö rules and laws after all are predictable. But John in the beautiful opening of the Gospel proclaims a new beginning: when laws and rules take a back seat to grace and truth. Through Jesus in this New Year, this time of new beginnings, we can order our lives by grace and truth and the love these bring. Laws and rules will follow from that. But no law, no rule can order up grace, truth and love. Indeed John calls us to a new way of living our lives, truly a new beginning.
But the Bible has many new beginnings leading up to this and subsequent to it. The prophets were frequently promising folks a new beginning and call them to re-start their lives. In Jeremiah, the people are to be rescued from their exile and led to a new Israel where they will be free from oppression, free from illness and free from hunger [Jer. 31:7-14]. Isaiah proclaims that a suffering servant will arise among the people who will show them how to begin anew: ďthe former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare Ö [Isaiah 42:9].Ē
The Gospels in many ways proclaim the new beginning that was the life and teachings of Jesus. In Matthew we are told how Jesus left his old life of being a carpenter and entered his new life of a wandering preacher marked by his baptism. And from that point on he would lead people into new beginnings of leaving their restrained lives of poverty and oppression into a new life of hope and grace.
New beginnings. In many ways that is what our beliefs are about. Jesus is constantly challenging us to follow the way he offered. Today is a chance of a new beginning of living in faith and not being overwhelmed with expectations Ö the rules and laws of our lives. We are offered a life of grace and hope even in the darkest, most anxious times.
This New Year brings a new beginning to my family. We have a grandson to be born in April. My son and daughter-in-law will no doubt experience quite a new beginning when the boy is born.
Quite a bit of change has happened since my son, the father, was born and today.† When Laurie was pregnant, her pregnancy was a good one and all we did was have a sonogram in black and white. We didnít know the babyís gender. But we had a healthy son.
Today, so much more tests can be done to check on the baby. Sonogramís are in color and three dimensional. And doctors can check for various conditions. Our grandson is very healthy Ö far more than we knew about Jeffrey.† We are very pleased to know that Luciís pregnancy is coming along very well and the baby is healthy. Iím also happy they have peace of mind about the baby.
But Ö there is no way to rid a pregnancy or anything in life of risk. We live in a society that obsesses on being in control.† We want to have a plan in detail so we can anticipate each step in our lives. We want nothing left to chance. And therefore we are fundamentally a faithless society. Our plans are like laws and rules: our attempt to rid ourselves of risk.
I suggest that in this New Year, we can have a new beginning by nurturing our faith, to face uncertainty and risk not alone but within the presence of God. We can have a new beginning being tuned to Godís presence with us. God is always with us, but we donít see God or ignore God Ö we are wrapped up in our secular lives and though God is in our secular living God wonít scream at us to look. We have to tune our spiritual sense so we will see God in our secular lives.
A good place to start is counting our blessings. I know that sounds trite, but how often do we really do it seriously. Reflecting on what God has done for us keeps us intentionally within the embrace of God. If we thing about it, we can list so many events that could have gone bad but went in a favorable way. My daughter was caught in the Christmas blizzard. She slowly, very slowly felt her way home safely. It was a terrifying event for her, but it came out ok Ö by Godís grace. She could have just as easily slid off the road or been in an accident.
But we can also easily overlook blessings. A lot of things can happen in the course of our lives that are risky, unpleasant, disappointing, or fearful. Some events in our lives are horrifying. But did we get through them? How did we get through them? Thereís an old saying, that God doesnít give us more than we can handle. I donít think thatís true at all. God is always with us through the good and difficult times. We can come up against a difficulty that is overwhelming and beyond our resources. We need help to get through it, if we are going to get through it. It is that realization of needing help that is God saying to us, I am here and you need to go here or do this. God is in the boldness that we muster to reach out for help. God is in the people who take note of our need and reach out to us.
These are blessings too.† Have you ever reflected on your past and been amazed how much you have survived and dealt with? Thatís a blessing too.
My son and daughter-in-law will be raising a son soon. Itís not easy raising a child. Thereís a lot of risk in it. Thereís a lot of confusion. There are a lot of battles. But of course there is the joy and love that out weigh these. Itís a God-given miracle to bear a child and watch him grew into an adult often bigger than yourself. You have 20 or more years to influence the child and then watch as he becomes a father too. That is possibly the most wondrous blessing. Thank God we got through it. Thank God we had it to do.
In this New Year, remember all that God has done for you. And God isnít going away. God will be with you in this New Year.† Itís a new beginning.
Our new beginning can also be nurtured by being tuned to God every moment in our lives. St. Paul says to us to pray always. By that he means to be with God every moment of our lives.
In Russia there is the tradition of the Poustinia. Poustinia means ďdesertĒ.† In its spiritual meaning it is a place or a state where one goes to focus on God. It is a quiet and secluded place that you enter to find God who is within you.† It is a place that might be a quiet room where you will not be disturbed or it might be a quiet place or time within your own mind. It is a place that is available to you and in which you can spend the time praying.† It is a place you can talk to God.
Do you have a Poustinia? Do you feel God with you? Do you regularly talk to God (itís not crazy to do so)? Is God always in your head?
Itís not crazy to talk to God in your head, like God was a close friend. Review your day with God. Ask God what to do. Ask God for help. Share with God a beautiful sunrise or a good event. Even get angry at God.
It is not sinful to be mad at God. After all God created us and all of creation with free will. We make mistakes. Others make mistakes. We go off on our own judgment and refuse to listen to God. Others do likewise. Even the non-human creation can be destructive. All of this is caused by Godís gift of free will. So even though it is a magnificent gift that we would never want to give up, itís still Godís fault when something goes wrong.
So itís ok to be angry at God, but if you are, listen closely. God may plant an idea that will get you past your anger.
And finally be in the present. I suspect that we all have a schedule of sorts, things to do today and tomorrow, plans for vacation, an agenda at work, expectations that we be available at such and such a time in such and such a place. We can become slaves of the unpredictable future.
The future extends into the generations: it will go on and on just like the past records the generations. But the present is an instant, an infinitesimal instance. Being present requires us to suspend ordering our lives and organizing the future. It requires us to simply be Ö
To be present is to focus on God with you in the moment. It is carrying your Poustinia within you. It is to clear away concern for the past and future, and leave only concern for the present. What is happening this very moment? Where is God in this moment? What does God want to happen in this moment?
To be present in the moment is to be fully available to the folks around you and to GodÖ and to yourself. It is not easy. None of these ideas come ďnaturallyĒ. Counting all of our blessings, praying always and being in the present take intentional efforts. But once we learn to do these in a routine way we are opened to God and closer to the Divine.
So itís a New Year. Itís another chance at a new beginning. Let us begin our new beginning with becoming closer and more aware of God. God is still speaking to us. God may be offering us a new beginning. We need just to listen and talk about it to God.
Think about it Ö
Godís grace and love be with you Ö