A new year always brings a sense of hope, doesn’t it? The previous year with all its tragedies, problems, disappointments, failures, and sadness is now behind us, and a clean slate lies ahead.
The old has passed away; the new has come. With whistles and horns and parties, and probably more to eat and drink than they should, most people usher in the new year. Yet, beneath the gaiety and laughter, there’s a gnawing feeling with many – it’s all still the same; nothing’s really changed. If anything, passing from the season of lights and glitter and carols to the season of hard realities, only makes the emptiness worse, the depression deeper.
For sure there has been plenty in the news to make anyone depressed. As one commentator wrote in a local newspaper: “Reality seems to crush [hope] at every turn: the Ebola epidemic, the ruthless terror of the Islamic State, crushing economic disparities, the pernicious scourge of racism, homelessness in our own ‘backyard’ and also the plague of illicit drugs, rampant gun violence, etc., etc.
Also, many of us are feeling personal pains or anxieties this new year. Some of us are wrestling with important decisions regarding a primary relationship or a task to be done; some know first-hand the powerful effects of disabling disease or worry about health issues in the upcoming months; some have had to deal recently with a major loss; some wonder if we can make it in the coming year without the presence of one who meant so much; some of us are feeling very lonely, in spite of people all around us; some of us fear growing older, or fear what the future may hold; some wonder if dreams will ever be realized, or whether the new year will be even more frustrating and filled with feelings of futility than the last. Many of us are feeling pain or anxiety this new year. What is this pain or anxiety like for you?
When we feel this way, the temptation is to stay with the familiar and the comfortable, to crawl back into bed and pull up the covers, or to sneak into the manger with Jesus, where it’s warm, safe, and secure. The temptation is to stay where we are – in the dark crevices of depression or defeat, of fear or foreboding, in the deep ruts of sameness, boredom, or lethargy.
But there is always a light in the hearts of the true believers, shining in the darkness, reminding us that life continues on, that revelation and growth and new beginnings loom on the horizon, that new roads appear up ahead, new roads that will take us, if we choose to let them, into new adventures, new challenges, new opportunities to be the persons God wants us to be. The light in our hearts remind us that life continues on, even as one year ends and another begins, one season following another.
As we embark on this new year, embodied so well in the reality of life moving on, a fair question for us to ask is, “how can we move on?” The answer may be found in the refrain from an old church camp song many of you remember: “Rise and Shine.” Isaiah tells the people of Israel to “Arise, shine; for your light has come…” They no longer have to live in darkness – nor do we. Rise and shine, get up, begin again – there is more to come! There are new roads to travel upon in this new year. But there are also powerful forces working against this directive. Apathy, lack of confidence, our physical or mental state, extreme caution or timidity – all these tend to hold us back. Worse than any of these is fear –disabling, crippling, immobilizing fear.
Fear, by whatever name we call it, can prevent us from doing so much. Cautiously, timidly, tremblingly, we venture forth upon God’s promises, as though the lightness of our step might make the promises more secure, yet at the same time, we doubt that they are true. God has promised to be with us – believe this promise!
God has promised to uphold us no matter what – believe this promise! God has promised to grant us victory over all our spiritual enemies – believe this promise! God has promised to grant us full and free forgiveness of our sins through and because of Jesus Christ, our Savior – believe this promise! Don’t creep upon these promises as though they were too fragile to hold you up. Stand upon them, confident that God is as good as God’s word, and that our living, loving Lord will deliver them as promised. Maybe you’ve heard the expression: “even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there!” It’s true! So, in this new year, let’s get up and get going. Let us rise and shine, knowing that it is God’s light that empowers the light within us.
This sounds like a great New Year’s resolution, doesn’t it? But it won’t be complete until we finish the old camp song’s refrain, and “give God the glory.” We do this by living thankful lives, thanking God for the blessings we’ve received, and by sharing the Good News with others. We do this individually and together as the church. The mission of the church, as Paul implies to the Ephesians, is to reflect the light of Christ, to point to Christ’s work in the world, to declare Christ’s redemption, to reveal the mystery, to make known God’s wisdom, but perhaps most important, to mirror and imitate Christ’s love and deeds of mercy. And this is our individual mission as well.
Rose Crawford was blind the first fifty years of her life, until one day she found out that there was an operation that could restore her sight. And so she had the operation. You can imagine her awe and joy at seeing light and colours, images of people, and the beauties of nature, none of which she had ever seen before. Sadly, Rose could have had the surgery twenty years earlier. She was unnecessarily blind for twenty years, because she didn’t know about the operation and assumed she was doomed to live in darkness. Nobody told her about the sight-restoring surgery. Nobody told her she no longer had to continue living in darkness. Millions of people today live in spiritual darkness because nobody has told them they no longer have to live there anymore. Part of giving God the glory is sharing the light of Christ’s glory with others.
Each of us has a new road ahead of us in the new year. It’s another road, a different road than any we’ve traveled on before. As we step off down that road, not knowing what we may find, not knowing exactly where we’re going, we can be comforted in knowing that for sure, the light goes with us, leading us, guiding us, showing us the way. God will be with us on our journeys down that new road ahead. Even now God is calling to each of us, whoever we are, whatever our circumstance, calling us to get up, to stop creeping, and rise and shine, and continue on the journey, giving God our praise, and sharing the Good News with others along the way.
A New Year’s Eve poem concludes with these words: “With courage we face the future, with warm memory we sing the old year out. With hope in our hearts and voices we face the sunrise of God’s new dawn.” So, let’s sing the new year in by singing together the refrain of that old song: “Rise, and shine, and give God the glory, glory, Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory, Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory, Children of the Lord.” May hope dwell in our hearts and voices, and may that sunrise, the light of Christ, shine brightly on each of us as we journey on the new road we’ll be traveling upon in this new year. Amen.
(Based on a sermon by: http://www.firstchurchofharwich.org/sermon-new-road-new-year/ )