The January Epistle: Happy New Year

Did you celebrate the new year?  Did you sip some bubbly or blow a noisemaker or whoop it up in some other way along with millions across the nation and around the world?  If so, why?

We watched thousands in Times Square on New Year’s Eve standing together in the rain with friends and family watching carefully the count-down clock and anticipating with great excitement the drop of the 12,000 lb crystal ball signaling the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019.  Why? Why did they make that trip and stand there expectantly in the rain? For that matter, why did we watch?

We celebrate with people everywhere the coming of a new year.  Is it because we have high hopes for the good things that may happen in the future?  Is it because there are events that have happened in the past year that we’d like to forget?   I’m sure that, to some extent, both are true.

And in this time of looking back and looking ahead, in the in-between, comes Epiphany, the revelation, the revealing of God in the flesh, for you and for me.  Our first Gospel reading in the new year is the visit of the wise men from the east. We heard of the shepherds who were stunned by the opening of the heavens and the angel speaking to them in the night sky surrounded by a multitude of the heavenly host.  His words reveal just who this little baby born in Bethlehem is. Mary and Joseph and who knows how many others heard their amazing tale after they worshiped the baby. And now, a little while later, as Mary is pondering all of these things in heart, there’s a knock at the door of the house, and outside is some sort of entourage of wealthy, learned men, rich gifts in their hands, asking about the King of the Jews.  And as they share their story and worship the young child, again his identity is revealed, that the kingdom of this child king will extend even to the Gentiles, to you and to me.

As we move into the new year, we might picture ourselves with our backs to the past, bravely facing the future, chin up and full of hope.  The Jewish way of looking at it is a little different. For them, we move into the future by backing into it, facing the known past. I like that a lot.  It means that the glimpses that we have of our future lie behind us. We see there a baby in a manger – angels, shepherds, a Christmas star, and wise men seeking the “One born King of the Jews.”  We see the Lamb of God, climbing the hill to Calvary, carrying his cross and the sins of the world. We peer back 2000 years and see an empty tomb, and a scene of disciples gazing into the sky, and two angels again, assuring them that Jesus will return again from heaven.

There might be more than a few things that occurred in this past year that we’d like to forget, maybe things we’ve said or done that we’d like to escape.  But as we swap out a new calendar for the old one, remember that these are not the things that define us. Rather, what defines us, what lifts us up on eagles’ wings (Isaiah 40:31) is His eternal love for us.  The apostle John writes, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” As we look back on our own shortcomings we can rejoice that each one is taken care of, each sin is forgiven.  His loving purpose is revealed in the baby in the manger, the sinless lamb “born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.” His love brought Gentiles to worship the Christ child then, and His love has brought you to worship Him today.

Because of His love, you are a child of God.  That’s something to remember each day as we back into this new year.  Keep your eyes on the manger, on the cross, on the empty tomb, and even on the skies.  Perhaps 2019 will be the year of His glorious return!

Happy New Year!

- Pastor