Just another Rainbow Christian's Blog

A New Year

I was looking thrru my fules for something that would be goog for the end of the year, whn I came across this sermon from 2006.

Strange how this sermon could have been given just last Sunday…..

By Thomas R. Henry
December 31, 2006
Texts: Isaiah 60: 1-3, 18; 61: 1-4; Luke 3: 15-18
It’s almost New Year’s Eve. A time for parties. And Chicago Bears football. A night of revelry before a day of judgment. New Year’s Resolutions! Carefully and consciously written down, or unconsciously nagging at us from inside our heads and hearts. This is a time for looking back and looking forward. A time of memory. A time of hope.
I can remember a New Year’s Eve when I was not yet 30 years old. Colleen and I were at my parents’ house in Pennsylvania , and my mother offered us hot chocolate for a midnight treat. And I thought to myself then, “How lame is that?”  I pretty much wanted to be anywhere else than where I was. Now, I think a nice cup of hot chocolate and a quiet night is not such a bad idea. But  I know at least one of you out there is thinking, “How lame is that?” Maybe the hot chocolate could have a little something in it.
No matter how young we are, we are getting older.  And the world is getting older, too. Somehow New Year’s reflections make us more aware of that fact. The world is getting older. A former president dies; a former dictator is executed. The world  is changing, and yet in some ways is very much the same as always. The Little Town of Bethlehem does not lie still, no matter what the Christmas carol says, and has not for a very long time, if ever. Very few are able to sleep in heavenly peace in Israel or Palestine , in Iraq or Afghanistan , nor in much of the mideast. Fierce tribal warfare flares in Africa and starvation follows the path of the violence, even as we “hail the heav’n born Prince of Peace;” and the words “peace on earth and mercy mild” continue to echo in our heads.  World money markets are always on the verge of disaster, and corporate mergers continue to confuse and frighten employees.  Where are the “tidings of comfort and joy?” Christmas season sales are down, and the nightly news is filled with reports that daily living is hazardous to your health; that everything you have in your refrigerator can kill you; that enjoying just about anything is not good for you.  I might add, neither is the stress caused by these reports.
It does indeed often seem that our world is living in the bleak midwinter. Why, even the mild weather we are having is foreboding. Oh, yes. I have heard many people say that they are just certain that it will not be long before we will be hit with a horrible winter blizzard. We expect a kind of a cosmic payback for going this long without having to go trudging through the snow in a bundled-up, blustery way.  And so, a year ends and a year begins, with truth and truthiness, with the world as it is and the world as we imagine it to be.  For people of faith, it begins with a promise that, no matter what our fears or foreboding, it can be “the year of the Lord’s favor.”
“The year of the Lord’s favor”  is a phrase that is found in the writings of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah. Isaiah says: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has…sent me to bring good news…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  These words are quoted by Jesus as he begins his public ministry and proclaims his ministry as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words. This fulfillment continues as year proceeds to year.
The hopes and fears with which this year begins will be dealt with by individuals, and organizations, and governments, and all of us in varying degrees and in a variety of ways.  We will search for resolutions to problems that are economic, political, sociological, psychological.  There will be perspectives given by business, education, law and social work experts.  That is well and good, but how can we understand this coming new year from the perspective of our faith, as “the year of the Lord’s favor?”
Well, just as doomsday prophets go back to the scriptures to dig up dire warnings, so people of faith can go back to the scriptures to find ways of dealing with the doomsday prophets.  Isaiah is a very good place to start for Isaiah’s writings give us, both as individuals and as the church, a job description, a way of dealing with doomsday.  Isaiah wrote to people who felt like they were dwelling in a land of deep darkness. He said:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the oppressed; to bind up the broken-hearted; to proclaim liberty to the captives; and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.”
Up to this point, Isaiah speaks personally of his mission, just as Jesus spoke personally in quoting this passage from Isaiah. The Spirit is upon me, says Jesus.  The Lord has anointed me, says Isaiah. But then Isaiah changes from “me” to “they” and says: “They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.”
Isaiah is a single person, but he is also a part of a people of faith.  The way people of faith approach the fears and devastations is always both personal and corporate. There is personal faith and there is the faith of the community.  The church is in you and the church includes you. Jesus Christ took this mission set forth by Isaiah upon himself as an individual. But now we, and millions and millions of others, are the Body of Christ for 2007, so his personal mission is now the corporate mission of the church. Isaiah sets forth Isaiah’s task and Israel ’s mission and the Gospel lays out Jesus’ mission and the church’s task. Isaiah wrote his words for people who were devastated, whose cities lay in ruins following foreign invasions. Jesus stood up in the synagogue and quoted Isaiah at a time when his country was under the dominance of Rome and there was corruption in politics and acquiescence in religion.  This all sounds more than vaguely familiar. Nevertheless, both Isaiah and Jesus recognized the time as ripe for the Lord’s favor. And I’m with them as we head into another new year.
In following Isaiah and Jesus, we sometimes, and perhaps often, will be acting as wounded healers. That’s an old phrase, coined in the 1960s or 70s, but it still has meaning today. Wounded healers are those who have been hurt but not killed, struck down but not destroyed. Wounded healers have experienced adversity, but do not succumb to it. They have known the troubles of the world, but are determined to be winners, not whiners. So wounded healers have an experienced understanding which gives them strength, hope, and credibility in helping others. They have gone through some valley of the shadows and have come out on the other side. Sometimes wondering how they made it. But they did. Whew!
 Folk singer Judy Collins, who is best-known for her rendition of “Amazing Grace,” was quoted as saying: “Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell. Faith is for those who have been there.”  I do not fully agree with her definition of religion because I believe that religion is a structure that is necessary for faith.  Otherwise,  faith can drift into self-centered self-fulfillment; or into hardened self-righteousness; or into a kind of la-la state of being, an unfocused spirituality where you try to believe in everything and therefore really don’t believe in anything. So, I don’t have Judy ColIins’ negative feelings about all religion, but I do agree with what she says about faith.  It is for those who have been through hell.  Not that you can’t have faith before, but it is definitely different once you do. Before life has thrown us into some kind of hell, before some adversity threatens to shatter our lives or to end the life of our world as we know it, our faith tends to be more theoretical; sometimes academic. More of the head than the heart. But once we have descended into hell and God has brought us out again, faith becomes a very definite part of who we are. We are never the same again.
Isaiah, with his people, were about to emerge from the hell of war and exile. Jesus was living through hell on earth in his ministry. Isaiah’s people had been beaten down so badly they thought they would never get up again. Jesus’ people were so intimidated by the powers-that-be that they had pretty much decided that that is how life would always be. Isaiah and Jesus were two people who knew it could be, it would be, different. It would be a new “year of the Lord’s favor.”
It is important to read Isaiah and Luke as if God were speaking these words directly to us, sending us forth into a new year with a job description in bullet-point form:

  •          bring good news to those who are oppressed, beaten down, stomped on and thrown away,

  •          heal those whose hearts have been broken,

  •          proclaim release to those who are captive to fears and addictions, prejudices and bigotry; physical and spiritual poverty; abuse and wrongful imprisonment,

  •         comfort those who mourn the loss of someone they love,

  •          bring the oil of gladness to those who mourn the loss of some part of themselves,

  •         put a mantle of praise around the shoulders of men, women and children to help
    them overcome a faint spirit that leaves them feeling hopeless and alone,

  •          repair ruined cities and  raise up the devastations of many generations

  •         proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, 2007.

    That is a lot to ask. Most of you are not full time prophets or preachers, like Isaiah or Jesus, so it will take some definite concentration to fulfill even some of this job description in 2007. Most efforts will not be perfect, but each attempt to heal, to raise up rather than tear down, tocomfort, proclaim, or repair will be blessed by God. For you will be the voice of God, you will be the hands of God, bringing to reality the Lord’s favor in the new year. So, after you have your hot chocolate tonight, or whatever, let’s get at it! (Blow new year’s noisemaker.)  If not us, who? If not now, when?


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