Sermon: New Year, New Day
Scripture: II Corinthians 4:16; II Cor. 5:17
Date: January 3, 2016
Have you ever wondered why it is that a new year apparently brings out something in us that causes us to reflect on the past. Think about it. The most familiar anthem of New Years is Auld Lang Syne which literally means “days gone by”.
Should Old Acquaintances be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For (days gone by).
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne? (For days gone by.)
We spend a lot of time as we begin a new year reflecting on the old year rather than celebrating the new one.
It’s true in the business world. The next big event in the business world will be taking inventory. In the next few days we’ll start to see ads for inventory reduction sales because the less merchandise stores have on the shelves, the less they will have to count to see how they did last year. When I was a boy, my father managed department stores, and I have vivid memories of inventory time. It was several days of high stress for my dad as they counted all of their merchandise on hand and compared that to sales records and shipping invoices and determined how much loss occurred due to theft and other external factors. The company used inventory to assess my father’s performance in the previous year. And then they based promotions and demotions upon the inventory from the previous year. We would always learn if we would be moving or not, based on the inventory.
In a sense, it’s the same in the Methodist Church. In the next couple of weeks we will be completing the Annual reports for the Conference. And we’ll be reporting on Average attendance at worship last year, and the number of new members received, and the number Baptized, all last year. And we’ll report on how we did financially. I suspect that our inventory will show increases in worship attendance and membership and Baptisms, and our service and discipleship numbers, and it will show that we gave about as much in our tithes and offerings this year as we did last year, though we channeled our giving from the General fund to other special offerings which left us with a sizeable deficit in that fund. And in the next few weeks, Paul will be working on the year end giving statements and preparing the tax documents for the staff, all reflecting what we did in 2015.
And then, the government will get into the inventory mode also. This week probably, we will receive our tax forms, which are really an inventory of our last year from a financial standpoint as we count up all our assets from last year and make sure the government got their fair share in the form of our taxes paid.
And we’ll start receiving our credit card bills this week, which are nothing but a reflection of how we did in watching our purchases and living within our means. I shudder to think what our bills are going to say about our Christmas spending.
And many of us spend time taking a personal inventory as we start a new year. For instance, my personal inventory shows that I wake up with a few more aches and pains at the end of 2015, then I did at the beginning of 2015. Some of you can’t begin your day without a cup of coffee, but I am finding that more and more, I can’t begin my day without a dose of ibuprofen. And my inventory shows that I don’t have the stamina I used to have. More and more I find myself needing to close my eyes and take a power nap in the afternoon. As I look in the mirror I see more gray hair each year. I’m looking older. My physical inventory is not as good as it was a year ago. And more and more I am reminded that I am closer and closer to the grave than I am to the cradle. The other day I got a call from a cemetery asking me if I wanted to plan ahead and buy a cemetery plot. I told them they had the wrong number, but when I hung up, I wondered if they really did. As we begin a new year, I am reminded of the old Quaker saying: “By God’s grace I’m going to really live, until I die; and then I’m going to live forever.”
The Apostle Paul put it this way, “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”
Ultimately it’s really that inner nature that we need to be concerned about as we start a new year. When my father was managing stores, it didn’t really matter at inventory time how the store looked. The floors could shine, the merchandise beautifully displayed. Signage in place and attractive and eye catching. Everything could look good, but if the figures didn’t match up, there would be trouble. It’s our inner nature, our spiritual inventory that determines where we are going in this world and the next. And here’s the thing, our spiritual inventory is not dependant on the past. In fact, to learn all we need to know about our Spiritual inventory, we don’t need to know how well we served in 2015, or how well we did with spending time in the word, or in prayer. Or how much we gave of our gifts and ourselves. The only inventory that we need to be concerned with only goes as far back as Christmas. What we do in the new year is only dependent on one question: “What have we done with Christmas 2015?” Because if the Christ was born to us and in us or reborn to us and in us this Christmas, then really everything that came before means little and will certainly have little bearing on a new year. You see, I think in business, and in the church, and in our personal lives, we give too much weight to the past to determine what will happen in the future. The other day I was talking with someone who was celebrating their 60th Birthday, but was having a hard time really getting excited about it. He was struggling a great deal with the idea that, at least on this earth, he had more past than he was going to have future. And he asked me a curious question. He asked me, “What was the best year, I had ever lived?” And I replied, trying to shake him out of his melancholy mood, that this past year was the best because at my age I couldn’t remember much past that. But though I meant it as a joke, I think there was a lot of truth to it. We should live life in the knowledge that our best days, our best years are before us. It is true in our personal lives. And I think that must be true in the church also. Even in politics, I am much more likely to support a candidate who instead of dwelling on the failures of the past, proclaims that our best times as a people are in front of us. God did not send His son to that manger in Bethlehem as the continuation of the past. He sent Jesus to make everything new. “If anyone is in Christ” Paul says, “he is a new creation.” God did not intend the first year of the Christian Era to just be a continuation of the old era, before the birth of Jesus, the Messiah. In Christ, he intended to make everything new. That’s why He came as a baby, not another prophet. He came not as the continuation of the old, but rather as the call to new life.
I don’t know how 2015 was for you. It might have been a difficult one for you. For me it began with the passing of my mother after 90 Christmases on this earth and came to a high point with the wedding of my daughter Anna. Around those there were many highs and lows. It was a year of very mixed blessings. And I would not say that 2015 was a banner year in our nation and world. It seemed like violence and crime and terrorism reached new heights. The world became a more dangerous place. The economy continued to sputter world wide. We saw great extremes in our climate. And from a faith perspective, we saw a continuing erosion of our values as a people. Our inventory of 2015 would be mixed at best. But because God made all things new at Christmas, 2016 does not have to be a repeat of the past. The Christ child calls us always to a day of new beginnings. We are going to close the service in a little while with the song “This Is A Day Of New Beginnings” which begins like this:
This is a day of new beginnings,
time to remember and move on,
time to believe what love is bringing,
Laying to rest the pain that’s gone.
Because of Christmas, we can celebrate this first Sunday of the year as a day of new beginnings in what can be a year of new beginnings. I think this is what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he talked to the Corinthian Church about God “making all things new.” From prison he wrote to the Philippians: “One thing I always do. Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Because the Christ child has been born, our best days are always in front of us and everyday can be a day of new beginnings.
One of the wonderful gifts I received for Christmas was a collage of photos that Willis Draughn took of the covered bridges in Fleming County, Kentucky. One of those is of the Goddard bridge. And if you look through the Goddard Bridge on the other side you see the Goddard United Methodist Church. This picture has become pretty well known. It is even on a State Farm insurance commercial. Every year there is a Covered Bridge Festival around that bridge and church. Stepping through the bridge and into the church courtyard is like a step back into time. People gather and reminisce about days gone by. But here’s the thing. Many Christians adopt some variation of this picture as the portrait for their church. And so they talk a lot more about the past then they do the future. I think a much better portrait of Christ’s church would be one taken from the front porch of the church, looking back through the bridge, to the modern, busy highway that lay on the other side. A glimpse of tomorrow rather than yesterday. A vision of better days that lie ahead.
When we come to this Communion table we talk a lot about remembering. But we sometimes forget that Christ intended for this Sacrament to point the Disciples to the future. This is a new covenant He said. This is a day of new beginnings. So come to the table and celebrate God, who through Christmas has made and continues to make all things new.