Pastor Sherry’s message for January 2, 2022
Scriptures: Jer 31:7-14; Ps 147:12-20; Eph 1:3-19; Jn 1:1-18
The story is told….of a guy named Bill who called his folks to wish them a Happy New Year. His dad answered the phone. Bill said, “So, dad, what’s your New Year’s Resolution for 2022?” His dad answered, “To make your mother as happy as I can each day of this new year.” When Bill’s mother got on the line, he asked her the same question: “Mom, what’s your New Year’s resolution?” His mom replied, “Why, to make sure your dad keeps his New Year’s resolution.”
An unknown wit has added, “Dear Lord, my prayer for this New Year is to develop a fat bank account and a thin body. Please don’t mix these up like You did in 2021.”
This is the time of year that we resolve to begin again to make a better person of ourselves: Perhaps we resolve to be less critical of others and more grace-filled. Perhaps we choose to tame our tempers or our frustrations with others. We may decide to count to 10, to perfect deep breathing (inhale through the nose to a count of four; hold for a count of 4; exhale from the mouth to a count of 5). It is a robust finding in both psychological and medical research that these techniques lower our blood pressure and our respirations, and help us to relax. We may try to breathe out anger, then breathe in peace. Maybe we resolve to read a Bible passage each day, or to pray more regularly. Maybe we aim to become less self-focused and more loving towards others, more Christ-like.
Whatever resolutions you have made—and I hope you have made some—our Scriptures today focus on changing our lives for the better.
A. Jeremiah 31:7-14, our Old Testament lesson, is derived from a dark time in the history of Judah/Jerusalem (around 587 BC). A wicked nonbeliever, a puppet king, Zedekiah rules. The Northern Kingdom (Israel) has already been destroyed and dispersed by the Assyrians (722 BC). As onlookers, the citizens of the Southern Kingdom have learned nothing from Israel’s example. So now King Nebuchadnezzar of the Babylonians is attacking Jerusalem. His 30 month siege resulted in horrible deprivation. Those within Jerusalem’s walls had plenty of water from a natural spring. What they began to lack, though, was food. By the time the Babylonian king broke through the city walls, some had been reduced to eating their children. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city and the Temple, and carted off all the able-bodied to Babylon.
In the midst of this awful set of circumstances, Jeremiah is prophesying beyond this horrible time to reassure the people of God’s love. Yes, their idolatry (spiritual adultery) has brought upon them God’s just punishment. But the Lord wants them to know—that at some future date– He will gather them up from wherever they are and return them to “the Holy Land.” Furthermore, embedded in this message of comfort are indications of Jesus’ 1st and 2nd Comings. Yes, God will punish the idolaters; but because He still loves them, He will not abandon them. God says, through the prophet, (v.13) I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow
History tells us God did not give up on His Chosen People! God has not abandoned we true believers either! He sent Jesus Christ to change their lives for the better. He has sent Jesus Christ and He has changed our lives forever! Think back to when you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Haven’t you changed? I have. A show of hands in our congregation confirms that you too have changed, often radically, since being “born again” in Christ.
B. Ps 147 is a hymn of praise to God, the Creator, for His special grace extended to Israel (and by extension to us). It affirms that God controls the universe and all that is in it. Verse 2 reaffirms that the Lord loves Israel, His Chosen People. Just as in the Jeremiah passage, the psalmist prophesies that God will re-gather His people. He also states that God… heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds
A time is coming (2nd Advent of Christ) when God will again visit His people. He will then bless us with peace, plenty, and protection/safety. These actions will certainly change their lives (and ours) for the better.
C. In Ephesians 1:3-19, our New Testament lesson, Paul prays for this church out of his love for them (which he models for us). He wants the Holy Spirit to strengthen them (and us) internally, spiritually, so that they might be rooted and grounded in Christ and rooted and grounded in love. Paul wants them to be so firmly established as Christians that they never doubt God’s love for them.
Finally he prays that they (and we) might be (v.19) filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. If they—and we—are internally strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit, rooted in Christ and grounded in love, as well as filled with the fullness of God, we are going to be radically different, phenomenally better persons! And the impact we have on others will also generate positive changes in them.
D. Finally in the Gospel lesson appointed for today, John 1:1-18, the apostle John wants us to be assured that Jesus Christ was not just present at Creation, but that He spoke Creation into existence. This is why He is called “The Word,” or “the Word made flesh.” The Word spoke and creation came into being. Additionally, John wants us to know that Jesus both brings forth life and is Himself light. John admits that not everyone—then or now–will believe in Jesus, but for those of us who do, we will become/we are children of God. We will have seen God the Father in the face and in the actions of Jesus, His Son.
And, by implication, this faith of ours in Jesus will change our lives for the better.
As we say goodbye to 2021 and embark on what will unfold in 2022, let’s be intentional about changing our lives for the better.
Let’s follow the advice offered by Frances Ridley Havergal in his poem entitled “New Year’s Wishes”:
What shall I wish thee? Treasures of earth?
Songs in the springtime, pleasure and mirth?
Flowers on thy pathway, skies ever clear?
Would this insure thee a happy New Year?
What shall I wish thee? What can be found
Bringing thee sunshine all the year round?
Where is the treasure, lasting and dear,
That shall insure thee a happy New Year?
Faith that increaseth, waking in light;
Hope that aboundeth, happy and bright;
Love that is perfect, casting out fear;
These shall insure thee a happy New Year.
Peace in the Saviour, rest at His feet,
Smile on His countenance, radiant and sweet.
Joy in His presence, Christ ever near!
This will insure thee a happy New Year
In 2022, we have a new opportunity to change our lives for the better. Really, it all hinges on loving God and loving others more. I know I must sound like a broken record to you, as I say this to you repeatedly. But God is love and we worship Him, the God of love. He wants us to become more loving. By being grounded in the love of Jesus, we can change ourselves for the better; and our demonstrations of love will make a more positive impact on the people with whom we interact. If you doubt your ability to do this, remember, I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. Amen!
©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams