Change, new beginnings are rarely easy, are they? Every Christmas we hear the story of Jesus born in bad conditions with his Mom and Dad by his crib, surrounded by animals, shepherds and a multitude of angels. Then there’s that incredible star that is reported to have been seen by Wise men or Kings that led them to the newborn king. The account is an indelible part of our tradition and reenacting it is a beloved ritual in the most wonderful sense. We love the Christmas story and we celebrate it with enthusiasm. But then each year right after the celebration, we are catapulted into the reality of a brand-new year to take a hold of. It can be an exhausting way to end and begin again but it is the way we do it, so it is a good idea to have a strategy which will be introduced to you in a few minutes!
Fast forward to the Gospel of Luke read today whereby “Simeon saw in Jesus, God's salvation prepared for all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to God's people Israel. And declared so for all to hear. So too the prophet Anna began to speak about the Christ child who would be the redemption of Jerusalem and to praise God for his arrival.” People of that time had been looking forward to change, a new and better day and this child Jesus was anointed to bring us just that. It seems to me we are still looking for that better day. Would you agree?
How do we see this event? It is tempting to think, as some theologians suggest, that the Prophets were brilliantly foretelling the coming of Jesus. However, leaving it solely at that, we inadvertently take the scriptures out of the understanding of the ancients for whom it was intended and co-op it for our own theological purposes. It becomes a kind of “I told you so” moment. What is far more important is the question, how has the greatest story changed our world? As Christians we see the birth, life and death of Jesus as the arrival of the Messiah who would bring a new, better day for the world to appreciate. I am not saying that isn’t so, but it is clear that it is only true if we actually put into practice those aspects of generosity, patience and giving that Jesus taught us. WE are called to BE the heart, hands, feet and actions of Jesus in the world and it is up to us to decide whether or not to make that practice real for ourselves and our world. The saving of our world, indeed our planet, is for the individual to discern. It is not something to judge another about. I believe our understanding of God, through Jesus The Christ, is an individual matter. It is not really up to anyone else how we relate to our Creator. It is between God and us. God and you.
What new beginning or new way of living does your understanding of God inspire in you? What will you do with your openness to God’s presence in 2018? Here are some creative ideas to contemplate for your New Year adapted from a TED thing by Julia Fawal and Nadia Petschek Rawls (Click Here to Read).
If you love the movies as I do, “Watch 10 movies that were written or directed by women.” If most of the movies you’ve seen are American, 95 percent of them were directed by men and up to 90 percent likely had male leading characters. Studies show that the movies you watch affect your career choices, your relationships, your mental health, your sense of identity and more. Commit to watching more films made by women and see how your perspective changes. Visit the website “moviesbyher.com”
“Choose one person you disagree with and take them out to lunch.” Lunch is a funny thing. It takes some work. There is usually no alcohol present to fog you up or smooth over the bumps and you are impelled to really talk to the person across from you at the table. If it is a person you are not in line with, all the better! You can truly get to know a person at lunch so give it a try. They will appreciate it.
“Schedule weekly time to be bored.” Have you ever been with a kid on a rainy day who says, “I’m bored!” It’s not just kids, we all get bored from time to time, but when someone pushes back saying, “well, find something to do!” you are challenged and maybe a little embarrassed by the statement. Of course, you can find something to do! The human imagination is an amazing thing and when you are encouraged to find something to do, your intuition, intelligence and creativity kicks in. You may find yourself reading a book you never had time to read and you learn something from it. You may find a talent that has been lying dormant within you, like the ability to write poetry or paint or cook! Take time to put down that laptop or smartphone and figure out who you are.
“Become pen pals with someone in prison.” Prison is good for keeping people who commit crimes away from society but that’s about it. There is not a whole lot of rehabilitation going on. Sometimes we forget that people inside those prison walls are indeed still human beings. You do not have to feel sorry for them if they deserve to be in jail but without connection to people outside, a person’s knowledge of the world diminishes and a soul can shrivel. That doesn’t help anyone. Give it a shot, find someone to write to.
“Do one thing that scares you — knowing you’ll get rejected.” If you play it safe all the time in life you will never grow. You can never become the person you might have become. Take a leap of faith in yourself, knowing you will probably be okay and maybe even grow from the experience. Hook yourself up to a zip line. Take a ride on a motorcycle. Go on an unplanned mini-vacation somewhere completely new.
“Talk to a stranger every week.” William Butler Yeats is quoted as saying “There are no strangers, only friends you have not met yet.” I tend to agree with that. Have you ever spoken kindly to a person whom you did not know on line at the grocery store? Or at the Post Office or the Bank? It can be an amazingly gratifying experience for both of you. Don’t make it too long so as to annoy or bore them, just be polite and kind and you will be amazed at the rewards.
“Celebrate one of your failures with friends.” “Think of something you totally screwed up — and then celebrate it. Try inviting your friends to dinner to celebrate one of your failures. Make a night of it, have fun with it, and see what you’re able to accomplish when you stop fearing failure. Failure is the absolute best way to learn and so the best way to grow and ultimately succeed.”
“Say yes to everything for one month.” Good God, I say no a lot. Do you? In our skeptical, fast paced world, we tend to want to shut stuff down and get control of it. How better to do that than say “no!” But what are we missing when we do that? What wonderful new friend or broadening of our knowledge are we inhibiting? Try this, just for a month or even a week. Say “YES” to whatever comes your way and see what happens not only to your circumstances but what happens inside of you.
“Buy fruits and vegetables that don’t look perfect.” You know, a browned up and battered banana can be sweeter and better in a smoothie or shake than one that is firm and yellow. Sometimes the aging process makes a positive difference in how your food tastes or how it cooks up. Likewise, folks with some mileage on them have vast resources of knowledge and human interaction to give. Get to know someone older and appreciate the things they have learned.
Next Sunday is my last with you and I hope you will be here to celebrate our farewells. I promise it will be worth your time to say goodbye in this way. I have a great deal of love for you and wish you and your families the most beautiful and fulfilling New Year. Amen.