Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, which means that a lot of people are going to be spending time today and tomorrow coming up with their New Year’s resolutions. Here are some of the most popular: exercise more, get fit, quit smoking, quit drinking, get organized, save more money, and get out of debt.
We talk about resolutions a lot on New Years. We make a list and we promise ourselves that this year we are going to do better. But the thing about resolutions is that they are more than just a game plan for how things will go; they are signs of what we want for the future. They are symbols of what we want to accomplish. They are our hopes and dreams laid bare. And some years we’re better at fulfilling them than others.
Maybe you’ve made your list already. It may have the typical items that I listed above. And you will, at least for a while, do your best to make those things happen. And those hopes might be there all year, showing up from time to time like those bills in your mail box for the gym membership that you only used three times.
It’s okay. We all do it, to some extent. We have the best intentions, the best laid plans, but we don’t always have the follow through. Every year, though, around this time, we start to think about how we would like to live, and what we would like to happen in our lives. But, often, there’s something that we leave off that resolutions list.
I’ll get back to that. Because first I want to look at the story we read today from Luke’s Gospel. This is one of the few that we have about Jesus from his childhood. In fact, from the time he’s an infant, until the time he’s about 30, the Bible tells us very little about what his life was like.
But in today’s story Jesus is on a sort of trip with his parents. He’s 12 years old, and it’s the Passover, and so he’s gone with them to the Temple in Jerusalem to worship. At the end of the feast, his parents left with a large group. And they got about a day away, and then they realized that they were living every parents’ nightmare: they had left their son back in Jerusalem.
Can you imagine what it was like in that moment? “I thought you had him?” “No, I thought you had him!” They had to go back and check all the rest stops. And then they rushed back to the city and for three days, three whole days, they looked around Jerusalem. The hotel, the restaurant… And then, finally, they went back to the Temple. And there was Jesus, all of 12, sitting in the midst of the rabbis and scholars, asking questions and giving answers.
When Mary sees him Scripture tells us that she asked, and this is a bit paraphrased, “Why did you do this to us? Don’t you know that we were worried sick?” In other words, Mary sounded a lot like the mother of 12 year olds everywhere. But Jesus, calmly, replies, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know I would be here in God’s house?”
My guess is Mary and Joseph must have had their hands full with the teenaged Jesus. I’m pretty sure that when your son is also the son of God, it’s probably not easy to predict what he’s gotten himself into. But what Jesus says to his mother in the passage, even though she doesn’t quite get it, is telling: Why were you looking for me anywhere but here? Why didn’t you expect me to be here in the Temple, learning and praying?
So, keep that story in mind as we go back to what we were talking about first: New Year’s resolutions. Someone asked me once why the church acknowledged January 1st as the start of the New Year. According to Christian tradition, the new church year started back on the last Sunday of November, which was the first Sunday of Advent. According to that tradition, the significance of today is not that it’s New Years, but that it’s the first Sunday after Christmas. So, aside from changing over our calendars, why does this day matter inside the doors of this church?
It was a good question, and one I wasn’t so sure about. The church year having started over a month ago, it seems redundant to talk about a new year again a month later. And so I researched, and found out that really, this tradition of January 1st as New Years is fairly new, in the big scheme of things. The Gregorian calendar wasn’t introduced until the 1500’s, and in England the first of the year, until the 1750’s, was in March. Russia even held out with the old Julian calendar until the 20th century. And one thing is sure. Jesus, as a good Jewish rabbi who followed the Hebrew calendar, was not popping open champagne at midnight on January 1st.
So why does it matter? Why should January 1st have any more meaning for the worship of the church than the start of the fiscal year months from now? Well, it turns out that there is some merit. January 1st is eight days after we celebrate Christmas, the birth of Christ. And in Jewish tradition, eight days after a baby boy is born, the family has a bris. But what makes New Year’s special is not that one activity that we all know about that happens at the bris, but the other, which is the naming of Jesus, and his reception into the covenant of Abraham. Churches worldwide celebrate this day, and some call it the Feast of the Holy Name. And the significance is not so much that Jesus got a name, but that the world found out what it was.
New Years can be like that for you too. This is the year when, like the ones there at Jesus’ bris, you can learn who Jesus is. It can be a start of a whole new phase of your relationship with Christ. It can be the day when you call out that Holy Name, and decide that you are ready for the next part of your life with God. And it can be a day when you make those resolutions for the coming year.
Only this year, you can go a bit deeper. I’m not saying don’t make your typical resolutions, if that makes you feel good. I’m saying make a few extras. Make a few that really have the power to transform your life.
I’ve frequently talked to people who have told me that their spiritual life, and their relationship with God, sometimes feels a little like a “I’ll get around to it” item on their to do list. It’s something they know they want to work on, but there’s so much else to do, and they seem to just forget. In a way, it’s not that different from getting a day out of town and realizing that you forgot to bring Jesus along.
Here we are not even a week after Christmas day, and only on the sixth of the twelve days of Christmas, and chances are good that the attention we gave to Christ on Christmas eve is already taking a back seat to life starting to get back to normal post holidays. Once New Years day passes, we’re back to life as usual.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. This can be the year when you don’t leave Jesus behind, but instead you go looking for him. This can be the year when you make your relationship with God a priority. When you find something, whether it’s prayer or meditation or Scripture reading or a small group, that fills your soul and nourishes you. This can be the year when your relationship with God comes off the “I’ll get around to it” list, and instead defines that list.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, started a tradition still found in some Christian churches today, which was to spend New Year’s Eve together in prayer. The idea is to reflect on the past year, think about the next one, and focus on your relationship with God. Now, John Wesley was really mostly trying to keep his parishioners out of the bars and streets on New Year’s Eve. But there’s something about that idea that makes sense. Not just for New Year’s Eve, but for any day when you want to start again. Begin it in prayer, and reflection, and decide where you want to go next, and call on God’s name to help you.
Tomorrow night, I’m not asking you to come here. I’m not asking you to give up champagne or appetizers, or a midnight kiss. I’m not asking you to spend an evening in solitude talking to God. But I am giving you this challenge: find some time tomorrow to think about the past year, to think about your relationship with God, and to think about what you want for it in the coming year. And then, think of one or two ways that you will commit to making it stronger. I’ll take the same challenge. And my guess is that if everyone in this church does the same, the next year will be pretty incredible, because if all of us are in this together, then we are going to journey to some pretty incredible places together. Places where we will worship. Places where we will learn. Places where we will serve. Places where we will find God’s love together.
May this year be one of great spiritual growth for you. May it be one where you learn the name of Jesus, and never fail to see him for who he is, and what he is doing. May it be one where God does new things in your life, not just on one day, but on all of them. And may it be one where you resolve to live with hope, and with love for God. Christ’s blessing be upon you in 2013, and always. Amen.