New Years’ resolutions, the Sunday after Christmas, and a Wholeness and Healing service; this sermon was the result!
As is often the case, Tom Wright’s For Everyone series was very helpful…
Resolutions Readings: Luke 2:15-21; 2 Corinthians 4:5-12
We’re reaching the end of another year. A year which had the driest spring for 100 years and was also the wettest on record. A year in which the economy didn’t get any better, and we celebrated the Jubilee and sporting success. And, as we reach the end of another year, our thoughts may very well turn to New Years’ Resolutions. Well, at least if you’re an editor with space to fill in your paper or on your website. And, of course, if you’re a vicar who needs a way of starting a sermon!
So, we have articles with titles like “13 new years’ resolutions everyone should make”, reviews of smartphone apps to help you keep your resolutions, websites to help you pick your resolutions, and a review of the top ten most common resolutions – travel at number 1, treating yourself at number 3, and saving money at number 9. Which may reveal one of the problems with New Years’ Resolutions.
But, I think that the interesting thing about resolutions is what it tells us about ourselves. It tells us that we have a desire for things to be better, for things to be better in our own lives and in the world. But, one of the problems with resolutions is that they’re so difficult to keep to. That’s largely because they’re usually things that we feel we ought to be doing, but perhaps don’t really want to do, or they’re contradictory – like travelling more and saving money, or they’re vague wishes we’ve got with no real plan on how we’re actually going to do them.
It’s perhaps a bit like the shepherds we heard about it our first reading. Have you ever wondered what happened to the shepherds? Like so many other people we read about, in the Bible, in our newspapers, they just vanish. The shepherds were the first evangelists – they told others the good news. They were excited, they had seen amazing things, they wanted to tell people about them. But, unfortunately, that doesn’t sustain anyone. I’m sure that we all know the feeling of our initial enthusiasm wearing off, and things getting harder. And we see this every year. Christmas, and Easter, we celebrate, we attend extra church services. And then, the week after Christmas and Easter, we have Low Sunday. Low Sunday because the numbers are down, Low Sunday because that’s perhaps how we feel.
That’s the problem with trying to do things by ourselves, in our own strength. Which is not what we’re supposed to be doing. We’re the body of Christ, held together by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul writes we are hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down. But, he writes we are not crushed, not in despair, not abandoned, not destroyed. Which doesn’t mean that it doesn’t feel like it at the time. Paul writes at the start of this letter (1:8-9): “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”
So, when Paul writes that he, and we, are not crushed, not in despair, not abandoned, not destroyed, he isn’t saying that it won’t feel like it. He’s not one of these people who says these things not having experienced anything more traumatic than a broken fingernail. He knows what it feels like to be at the end of your tether, when the light at the end of the tunnel turns out to be an oncoming train. “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”
And that’s the problem with resolutions. We rely on ourselves, whether that’s wanting to travel more, spend less, or even help other people or pray more. We rely on ourselves being able to do these things. If we could, we’d probably already be doing them! And that’s even more the case when we are facing real difficulties, real struggles, when we’re seeking light in the darkness. We know we can’t rely on ourselves.
And the thing is, we don’t have to, we shouldn’t have to. We’re meant to be relying on God and relying on each other as the body of Christ. That means we need to be actively seeking help, from God and from each other. We are the body of Christ. We are empowered by God’s Spirit. We know that light shines in the darkness.
Paul wrote the words we heard to remind the Christians in Corinth that looking at him wasn’t the point. He was the messenger, not the message. The message was the same good news that the shepherds celebrated. And, whether the messenger is a rough shepherd or a highly educated rabbi, as Paul was, isn’t that important. The message remains the same. He was writing this to remind the Corinthians that if they were expecting the messenger to be able to float through life with no problems, no difficulties, and no set-backs, then they hadn’t been paying attention.
The shepherds celebrated the good news, having visited a teenager who had had to give birth far away from her family and place her new-born in a manger. Soon, this new family would have to flee the country and live as refugees. Paul had been repeatedly flogged, stoned, shipwrecked and the like. He knew how hard the good news could be.
So, let’s not be surprised by the troubles that we, and others face. But, this doesn’t mean that God is indifferent, that God wants the suffering we experience. God, in Jesus, suffered, Paul suffered, we suffer. But, God’s desire is that we have wholeness, that we have healing. God longs for his kingdom to come on earth. God longs for light to shine in the darkness. And God did something about it. We’ve celebrated that at Christmas. We’ve sung about it this morning, in the words of Hark the Herald Angels Sing, “Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings”. We can go on celebrating it in the rest of our lives. With part of that celebration being seeking the help that God wants to give us.
So, what is making you feel hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down? What things do you long to be released from, do you long to get rid of from your lives? Ask the God who raises the dead to raise you to new life.
In what simple ways can God’s treasure shine more brightly within our jars of clay? Ask the God of good news to help you be good news to those around you. Let light shine in the darkness.
Don’t make resolutions, instead lay down burdens and take up the challenge of being and doing God’s good news. And know that as you do so you have the Holy Spirit helping you. Amen.