Sunday 31st December 2017

Sermon for New Year’s Eve, First Sunday of Christmas 2017


May I speak in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.


Our readings today, New Years Eve or the 1st Sunday of Christmas, may seem a really odd mix! From the beautiful song in Isaiah, to Paul's rather cross letter to the backsliding Galatians and then to the Christmas story of the shepherds! How are we to make sense of this mix and pull together a message which means something for this special day and evening? 

Well New Year's Eve is special for many reasons. We can look back on our year and reflect on our journey, remembering those things which gave us such joy and also those which caused us anxiety or sorrow. We can see how everything we have faced, good and bad, has helped us grow. And with all these reflections we may feel moved to make our New Year Resolutions. I used to love going back over my year, I would think of people in my life and those who are no longer here, I’d look at myself and evaluate what I had done.  And then would come my resolutions for the New Year. I would lose weight, get fit, be a better mum, nan and wife, I’d write that book, learn the piano again, I would plan such huge improvements and dutifully write them all down. I even had a book! I found the book a couple of years ago and thought I would look back....oh goodness I wished I hadn't. The list over several years was exactly the same!! Nothing had changed at all! I was mortified with myself and thought I would leave my new beginnings to the Lord from then on; I prayed He might succeed where I had failed so miserably! Does it ring bells!?

And that is really what all these readings teach us. They are about new starts, new beginnings, God intervening to give a promise of newness, freshness, transformation. No going backwards.

That beautiful song in Isaiah is a song for today as much as for the people of his time. Isaiah is praising God, and likens the joy to the newness of marriage and new life sprouting up in the gardens after winter. The giving of thanks for God’s faithfulness. And the Lord responds in love. “For Zion’s sake, I will not keep silent.” He is going to vindicate His people and restore them before the nations, just as a man acknowledges his bride before the congregation in marriage and a gardener brings life again to the barren fields and gardens. This is a two way song of love. Something new and beautiful happening between God and His people.

Isaiah’s poem echoes through time as it witnesses to the heart of who God is -- the One who clothes us, not in our own dirty garments but in pure robes, the One who brings forth righteousness even among the unjust nations. In Isaiah’s song, he uses two images in his praise to God. The first is a marriage; which is an image of care, of love, of the tenderness of God toward His creation. Marriage is a reason for celebration, a sign of commitment.

Isaiah’s sings because he sees the tender movement of God towards His people. The words are beautiful insofar as the Living God clothes us, God’s new partners, with salvation and righteousness. The very bits that are unachievable from our point of view become God’s loving gift of grace. Just like my being unable to achieve the transformation I wanted in myself, God can bring about change, newness.

Isaiah also takes the image of the garden. Here there is a sense of awe and wonder at the dirt being cracked open by tender new growth. It is God who brings new life. He allows the seeds to germinate in dark hibernation in the soil and when the time is right, He generates new life. and that is what Paul says too, when the time was right, God sent His Son, to bring new life to all His creation, if they would only believe.

So Paul was amazed that the Galatians had slipped so quickly back, returning to the bondage of the Law and its requirement of circumcision. God had done a new thing in Christ. Why look back, why return to old ways, just as I did year after year with my resolutions! God doesn’t want slaves; His is offering Sonship, and all that means. Becoming an heir to His kingdom and glory; why on earth would we look back from such love? Paul expresses his dismay in his letter.

And for the shepherds, this too was a new beginning for them. Imagine how they must have felt, God had spoken to them, given them this wonderful news. Could their lives ever be the same again? They heard the message, they went straight away to see this long promised Messiah and then they told everyone they met before returning to their flocks. They must have felt chosen to have experienced this angelic visit, they must have felt humbled and yet proud to see the child and then tell others what they had seen and heard. God had spoken to them personally; it must have affected their very being. These were no longer the lowest members of society, mere shepherds, they had been contacted by the King of Glory, angels had come to them and told them to visit His Son; these men were surely so different now, transformed inwardly by their meeting with God.

Like Isaiah's song, Mary too sang her song of praise.  We call it The “Magnificat” and we thank Luke for recording it for us. Mary’s heart was bursting with praise and joy, God had chosen her, she had found favour with the Lord Most High, an Angel came to speak with her; she started a new life from that moment, from when her Holy Son was born. She pondered and reflected on these things in her heart. She was different; she had a new beginning and would never go back. Meeting with God had breathed a new life into her which she would never lose.

On New Year’s Eve, we can reflect on many things which have changed us. Things which mean we will never be the same again. God touches His creation, He has touched each one of us, and the result is a song in our hearts of praise and thanksgiving.  
In Jeremiah, the Lord says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you . . . plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.

To Isaiah He says, “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent” (Isaiah 62:1). God will speak and act until we become what he has planned for us to be from all eternity. The shepherds experienced the wonder of God’s message and saw Jesus, and heard that God offered peace to all men with whom He is pleased. We too hear God’s word, we see Jesus as we move closer to Him and we joyfully tell others what we have seen and heard. Mary was chosen, and the same is true of each one of us. Paul tells us we were chosen even before the foundation of the world!

These are lovely images and beautiful words of praise to end this year. And we too have our songs of praise. We have seen answers to prayer for healing and for change in difficult circumstances; we have seen answers to prayer for growth within our church and the promise of a new full time Priest, we have felt God’s presence in our personal lives and within our church, watching God’s fruits flourish and people taking up their gifts to bless each one of us. We have said goodbye to some we love but hello to others, new members of our church and new members of our families. It has been a year of terror and joy but through every moment, we have learned more and more of our Lord’s involvement in His world and the depth of His love for His creation and His people.

Given all that we know of our Lord, I think we could maybe make our resolution for 2018 to love and trust Him with every aspect of our lives. He never fails us; His promises stand strong throughout time. Truth is written in His book, not the silly nonsense of my book of resolutions and promises. All in all Lord thank you for the wonder of 2017 and for the privilege of seeing another year pass; gratefully we commit 2018 to your Sovereign power and love, anticipating newness in our lives, a transformation which others will see and a new song of praise to sing just like Mary, Isaiah and all those who have also met with you in their lifetime.



Margie Gall at Llanos