Which one do you prefer?
This year, with Gus home for Tory’s birthday on a surprise visit, I loved putting up the tree and watching the kids hang their memories and treasures on the tip of the branches. We went to bed late that night but happy. That was the 16th December – still over a week to go – and there was much to do, much to get ready for, much to organise.
And on the day itself, for us as a family, with Tory’s mum down to stay, finding it hard to ‘say no to a crisp’ and commenting amusingly on ‘call the midwife’, we took our time and let things emerge. Of course, now Angus and Hebe are older, the pace has changed and the conversation has deepened.
The weather’s been variable and it’s on days like this that it’s both good and bad to have a dog. They get you out – no matter what the rain is like – and it’s not unusual to find the walks strangely refreshing.
For me, I find praying, listening and sitting still hard at Christmas. At other times too, but especially at Christmas. Too many things to do, conversations to have, miles to travel. In my ideal version of Christmas I find God again and again, I rest in him, I read about his son, I still myself. In reality I find myself distracted by countless things – mostly screens.
Christmas is one thing but as the week passes and we approach New Year a whole new set of issues arise. Already tired from the getting ready for Christmas, I find myself staying up a bit later than I ought and I find it hard to refresh myself. And then, ‘Crash!’, in comes New Year – not just another late night but a whole set of concerns and thoughts and resolutions.
Jesus Christ may not be at the centre of our cultural life but we find it hard to completely shake off the religious and spiritual behaviours that seem hardwired into our DNA. At Christmas time countless thousands find themselves contradicting their normal belief and behaviour, singing ‘Glory’ to the son of David and, ‘Hosanna in the highest heaven’. At New Year the talk is all about resolutions, making a new start, turning the page. Every paper, every radio station, every magazine has something to say on the subject. We are all longing for more, for better, for thinner.
The Christian word for resolution is repentance – thinking again, rethinking everything, turning around – and although that is not such a popular word, that is what we all engage in.
At New Year everyone has a go at reviewing their lives. We can’t help it. We rethink our eating, our bodies, our time management, our goals, our ambitions, our money, our relationships, our work. And of course, all this thinking is hard for any of us whose life is hard, or bleak, or difficult, anyone whose life is unlikely to ‘just improve’. Christmas covers over our concerns but New Year brings back into the light all over again and sometimes this can be as overwhelming as coming out of the cinema one afternoon. It is no wonder that doctors report that depression is highest in January, because January is the month of honesty and review, and when things aren’t all that good depression can be a natural response.
For some, I guess, New Year is a moment of freshness, newness and optimism. This year, they hope, things will get better. This year I live the way I want to. This year I will lose a few pounds, make a few pounds, lift a few pounds. This year I will get the balance right.
How is New Year for you? Have you been caught up in the narrative of reflection and renewal once again? And if so, how has that left you feeling?
As Christians, as beloved children of God, as followers of Jesus, as Spirit filled sons and daughters, as disciples, we live our lives in a good story, a story that gives us much hope, much joy and much peace. And it goes like this.
I am loved
I am chosen
I am forgiven
I am filled
I am equipped
I am safe
God has loved us, chosen us, forgiven us, filled us, equipped us, and saved us. As we approach a new year we must let this story fill our minds and hearts. We must let this worldview direct our thinking and dominate our feelings and emotions.
In response to every worry, every dream, every doubt, every fear, every task, every conflict around the corner, every plan, every complexity, every hope, every turn, God says to our hearts the same things, again and again.
You are loved I love you
You are chosen I choose you
You are forgiven I forgive you
You are filled I will fill you
You are equipped I will equip you
You are safe I will protect you
Why do we find these things so hard to hear?
Why do we find it hard to rest into this story?
The world around us tells us another story. It tells us, again and again, that we will not be loved unless we succeed, be beautiful, achieve, win, or impress. It tells us that only the best are chosen, only the slim, only the good, only the perfect. It tells us that only the good are forgiven, only the deserving. It tells us that there isn’t enough to go around so we’d better take stuff when it comes past, grab it, drink it, eat it, spend it, indulge it. It tells us that we need to work harder, train harder, push more, rest less. It tells us that we are vulnerable, in danger, that a crisis is just around the corner.
Jesus’s existence, his birth, his life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, his spirit sending and his return all tell us that there is another place to live from – a place of acceptance, of calling, of forgiveness, of plenty, of blessing and of security. The New Testament calls living in this place, “living in Christ”. In Christ we have everything we need for living joyful, peaceful, anxiety free, content, loving, beautiful and fruitful lives. Everything. Everything.
If you don’t believe this you will know. You will be searching for the answer somewhere else. Searching for love, for significance, for forgiveness, for satisfaction, for strength and for refuge, somewhere else, someone else, something else. It may be your work, your role, your family, your money, a relationship, a place in church life. It could be anything. For we are desperate until we find these things.
The good news we have to offer, the good news we have the chance of experiencing, is that this life is available to us in Christ.
Repentance isn’t just feeling bad about the old way of doing something, it is about feeling attracted to a completely new way of living. That’s why Jesus always linked repentance and belief. “Repent and believe the good news,” he said. Because to live in Christ means believing that Christ really is the source of all grace and all truth. Living in him means completely trusting him with everything. Seeing him as the source of all good things and the end to which all good things point.
This is what we have on offer to us every day! Life in Christ.
Again and again and again and again.
Every new year Christ comes and offers us this life once again.
His love is endless, his forgiveness complete, his desire is limitless.
Of course trusting Jesus means rethinking everything. Everything.
It means letting him be the way, the truth and the life. It means letting him direct our behaviour, our language, our emotions, our way of thinking, our approach to food, to sex, to money, to power, to relationships. It means really letting him shape us, mould us, hold us, define us. It means letting his will be done on earth, in us, as perfectly as his will is expressed in heaven.
This New Year, Jesus comes and stands in front of us and offers us himself – completely. He offers us his life, his hope, his peace, his love. He offers us his strength, his courage, his determination. He offers us his power in weakness, his contentment in poverty, his joyfulness in the midst of pain. He offers us his life. Right here. Right now. No matter the circumstances, the present reality of your life, Jesus comes and says I can offer you life, my life, right here, right now. You don’t need to go anywhere, say anything, do anything, pretend anything, look good, act good, sound good. You don’t need to do anything other than believe. Rethink your life again this year! Yes, rethink it, resolve to live differently – but not out of fear, but out of grace, out of love – my love for you. Repent and believe the good news which is available for you, and your family, and your heart, right here, right now. Rest. Stop. Trust.
Listen to Paul’s words to his precious family in Ephesus. Written from a prison cell Paul is not confined by the walls that surround him. Instead he is caught up in what it means to be alive in Christ.
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. (chosen) 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen (strength) you with power through his Spirit in your inner being (filling and equipping your heart and mind), 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith (trust). And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ (loved), 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us (filled and equipped),21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
We need to live our lives out of this love, out of this place of acceptance and forgiveness and calling and security and purpose. We need to live our lives out of the life of Christ.
And as we do this individually we will do this collectively, communally, corporately. We will be the body of Christ, the bride of Christ. Together we will be a sign and agent and a foretaste of the kingdom of God that is coming.
Jesus is not dead. He is alive.
And he offers alive-life to us today, right here, right now.
He calls us back out of fear and into a place of love
Out of work into a place of grace
How shall we respond?
Let us believe. Let us trust. Let us relax again into this love. Let us remind our souls that we are indeed loved, chosen, forgiven, filled, equipped, and safe. Let us agree with these truths.
And then let us co-operate with these truths.
We are saved by grace, not by works, through faith – trust. But faith without works is dead. Faith that doesn’t express itself in some kind of action lacks meaning, lacks reality. After we believe, we need to co-operate with the life of Christ in us, with the Spirit of God that lives with us. We need to let him rule over our thoughts, our actions, our words and our beliefs. We need to let him renew our minds. We need to let him determine the shape of our lives.
This means submitting to him, relaxing into him, letting him own us. Becoming his slave, not out of fear, but out of choice, out of love. Letting him govern us. This is repentance. Not resolution, but repentance. This is letting him have everything.
These two things are needed for us to have his life.
Repentance and belief.
Why not let’s give that a go, not just today, but every day this year.