By Pastor Steven Molin
Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I wish you a Happy New Year! I wish you good health, and a sense of peace in all of your relationships, fulfillment in your personal lives, and a sense of pride in your achievements. May 2004 be such a great year for you that you won’t mind that its leap year; 366 days of bliss. That’s what I wish for you.
I realized recently that I like beginnings…sometimes I like beginnings better than I like endings. Oh sure, I like the end of a hockey game better than the beginning. And I like the ends of movies and the ends of good mystery novels. But when it comes to years on the calendar, I like beginnings better than endings. I appreciate the fact that it’s new, like a blank canvas, holding much possibility for me. But on second thought, maybe it has more to do with the fact that last year has come to an end. That the messes I made in 2003 are now a part of history, and I can simply erase them. In fact, I sort of did that earlier than I had planned. Last week, being the tech-savvy guy that I am, I thought I would change the batteries in my Palm Pilot. When I did it, everything was erased from my calendar. All the meetings, all the visits, all the auto mileage I’m supposed to report to the IRS in April; it’s all gone. But new beginnings are like that; the old is gone, the new has come.
Some are surprised to come into church today and find that we are still singing Christmas carols. For many of us, our Christmas trees are packed in closet or sitting on the curb. Decorations are coming down, VISA bills are coming in, and Christmas is fading away. But in the Church, we get one last view of Christmas today. The Church Season of Epiphany doesn’t begin until Tuesday, so technically, we are still in Christmas mode. But more than that, in the Church, we are still reflecting on what it means that Jesus came into our lives one day, so many centuries ago.
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When Luke tells the story of that first Christmas, he fills us in on all those details that we love to hear. The story of a manger, and a young couple, and shepherds and Wisemen; it is a story that we never tire of hearing. But when John wrote his gospel, he has a whole different approach to Christmas. He begins his account of Christmas with three simple words: In the beginning… In other words, for John, Jesus didn’t just start at Christmas; Jesus has always been. “In the beginning…” before there were houses, before there were roads, before there even was a Bethlehem, Jesus was with God. In fact, he was the Living Word of God, and he helped create the world…in the beginning…before anything else existed.
John tells us this in order to teach us that Jesus was God. It’s a concept that is so huge, our finite minds have difficulty grasping it; that Jesus was in heaven, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, but he came down to earth in the form of a human being. He walked among the people. Though he was God, he subjected himself to things like hunger, and thirst, and exhaustion. He was God, but he allowed himself to be insulted, and teased, and tormented. He walked on the earth for 33 years – an earth that he himself had created – and yet most people never even recognized him. That’s what John’s gospel says: He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not now him.
Marsha and I have a friend who retired from the State Highway Patrol, but in the later years of his career, it was his job to escort dignitaries around our state. Kim told us that, when President Clinton came to town, he wanted to go jogging one morning, and Kim followed the president’s car to Como Park. Clinton, dressed in a gray sweat suit, got out of the car, walked a few hundred yards, and then stopped to stretch. About that time, an elderly couple came upon him on their morning walk. The president’s back was to them, and they didn’t recognize him. They were within inches of the most powerful man in the Free World and then didn’t even know it.
That’s the sort of oblivious condition in which people of the first century lived. God was in the world, yet the world did not know him…He came to his own people and his own people would not accept him. Most people didn’t have a clue. They thought he was wiser than most. They admired his teaching, and they were astonished by his miracles, but they didn’t know who he was. Some said a trouble-maker, others said a prophet; few recognized him as God. But some did! This is how John tells it: He was in the world, yet the world did not know him…He came to his own people and his own people would not accept him…But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God. Mission accomplished! That’s what Jesus came to do; from the very beginning, that was his plan. He would come to the world and love people into the Family of God. And all who follow him, all who believe in him are no longer strangers to God, they are children of God. Amazing grace is what that is.
It’s a new year, and a time for new beginnings. Some of us are beginning diets tomorrow; that’s always the best day to start a diet: tomorrow. Others of us are starting school, or starting a new job, or starting retirement. Still others are beginning more difficult chapters in their lives today; you are starting life over as a single person because of death or divorce, or you are starting the New Year as an unemployed person, or as a person with a life-threatening illness. But none of us start this New Year alone; not if we believe in Jesus Christ, because he promises to be with us every day in the coming year. In a darkened world, He brings us light. Among people who are destined to die – and all of us are destined to die – Jesus promises us Life. In world where the past often haunts us, He chooses to forgive the past and presents us with a future that is filled with blessing and grace.
I want to return to my Palm Pilot for just a moment, because it speaks to one other group in this congregation, and it also speaks to me. When I changed the batteries in this thing, I wiped out every event of last year; it’s all gone. It was the only record of all the things I did – both good and bad – and now it is erased. And that’s what God chooses to do for us. Give us a new beginning. Every day. On Thursday, little Samantha Linquist received a promise; in fact, today Benjamin Karlgaard will receive the same promise, and it is this: “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old is gone, the new has come.” And that is the promise that Jesus wants to give to you, it’s his promise to forget all your sins and all your failures. It’s God’s promise to erase the record of your broken promises and shattered dreams. It’s a second chance, a blank canvas, a new beginning for you. And according to John, all you have to do is receive it as a gift, and it is yours. A new beginning from a loving God. So Happy New Year. Happy New You. Every day! Thanks be to God. Amen