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Friday, January 1, 2010

Sermon for a New Year

I wrote this sermon for the Sunday before the New Year dawned.
The text was Revelation 21: 1-5.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.”

And here is the message. I wrote it as much for me as anyone. I believe in God's ability to make all things new and look forward to what He wants to renew in me in the coming year.

It is likely that most gathered here today are in the possession of something new. Maybe it’s a new book, or a new article of clothing. Perhaps it’s a new game or a new piece of cookware for your kitchen. Whatever it is, I hope you are enjoying the new addition to your life.

It’s great to get new things. It’s nice to wear clothes that still look fresh and crisp, shoes that are shiny and un-scuffed. It’s fun to try your hand at a new game, hoping to master it with enough hours of practice. New things are special. They bring us a different kind of joy and satisfaction than the old and familiar. But the newness doesn’t last forever. And new things don’t erase old things. New things do not magically make the old things disappear and sadly, sometimes we run to new things in order to avoid dealing with the old things.

As is often the case with Christmas, the excitement and anticipation and joy of giving and receiving new things often gives way to old worries and concerns. Even spiritually, the fervor with which we welcomed the new born baby Jesus once again often dims in the light of the reality of our lives. We want hope and peace and love and joy to be reflected in our daily lives and yet…when we stop to consider our the reality of our situations, perhaps we find that discouragement and unrest, hatred and sadness play a larger part in our day to day existence than do the gifts that we so longed for throughout advent.

And while so much of our attention has been wrapped up in our Christmas celebrations, perhaps we are now realizing that we are also on the brink of a new year dawning. For some of you, you are happy to see 2009 fall into the category of history. It’s been a hard year with many unforeseen and difficult roads to walk. You have set your sights on the New Year and yet, perhaps you feel a bit nervous about whether or not your hopes and dreams for the New Year will unfold into reality. Maybe others of you feel a great sense of satisfaction in the year that has gone by and wonder with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety about the year ahead. What will the New Year bring? One thing is for certain…whether you are looking forward to a new year or not, none of us can predict what new things we will each face in the coming year. What will the New Year bring? Isn’t that the question that perhaps lurks in the back of all of all our minds?

It is true…that while the New year is filled with possibility it is also full of uncertainty and that is why we need the assurance of God’s willingness to meet us wherever we are, helping us to face any new thing that comes our way in order to welcome the different realities that 2010 will bring into each of our lives.

That is why I believe that during this time when we are on the brink of yet another new year, it is a good and proper time to affirm that God longs to make all things new. Everything that God is about is intended to usher us into a new way of life. He brought his son Jesus into this world so that we might know the unconditional love of a savior. He sent that same son to the cross that we might experience unmerited yet unending grace. He gives us his Holy Spirit that we might always know that we are never alone. God’s intention for us as his children is to show us a whole new way of life that allows us to face each day with joy and hope in spite of the deep sorrows, painful disappointment, and stark loneliness that eventually invade all of our lives at one time or another. God’s intention for our lives is to wipe away the tears and the disappointments of our old way of life and usher us into a new reality where his love and grace are made manifest in the most obvious ways.

The text from Revelation that we read earlier is such an important text for us. It’s a text that points to renewal and how God longs to be in right relationship with his people and give us hope that we can indeed overcome all of the difficult circumstances that life brings.

The first encouragement that this text reveals to us is that we will be renewed. Have you ever been in a situation where you’d like to have “do over?” I used to play a lot of volleyball and the symbol for replay in volleyball is this: two thumbs up. There were times when it was a welcome gesture by the referee. A chance to do it again. Have you ever been playing a game on a computer and decided that you just didn’t like the way things were unfolding, so you just turned it off? The ultimate replay button is the on/off on a computer game! Doug doesn’t like it much when I do this in the middle of a game we’re playing, but sometimes he’s beating me too badly and I can’t bear to finish! I need a do over. If only we could signal with our thumbs or push the on/off button in life. Fight with your spouse or kids: Replay please. Finances gone bad: Replay please. Untimely death: Replay. Unhappy at work: Replay. Wouldn’t that be great if could control life in that way? Well, of course, the reality is, that we cannot simply press a button and get a do over and yet here in God’s word, we are assured that we will get another chance…God is in the business of renewal…taking the old tired way of life and making it new. Maybe you can’t conjure up an instant replay when life deals you a bad hand, but you can turn to God and know that you will find redemption and restoration. That’s what’s God’s grace is all about…reaching for us when we are at our lowest, and giving us a do over. God deeply desires us to know that in him we can find redemption from mistakes and hurts. We don’t have to simply live with them forever in an unhealed, unredeemed state. No, he wants us to know the renewal that awaits us if we will give our lives over to him, confess our sin and failings and live into the light of his Son Jesus Christ. The first thing that God is seeking to communicate to us through this text is that when we step into a life that has him at the center, we are saying good-bye to our old way of life. That may be very hard to do in many cases, but he promises to renew us…to wash the old away and welcome in the new. Can you trust him enough to do a new work in your life by allowing him to get rid of some of your old habits and ways of life and instead usher in a new reality where you will live at peace with Him?

The second thing that God is promising us through this text is that he longs to be in right relationship with us…that is why he promises renewal in the first place. Verse ­­­ 3: “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.” Throughout Advent we looked at the various places that God longs to meet us and what becomes clear from this text is that God longs to meet us and be with us…no matter where we find ourselves. God wants us to know that our ultimate place of belonging, our perfect sense of being home, is with Him. This is so important for us as we embark upon a new year because none of us know what the year ahead will bring. Our lives will be on the move…some of us will physically move from Stockholm, others will simply move and grow in other ways. No matter where we end up physically, God wants to affirm that our home is with him and he promises to be there to create that sense of belonging. So when loneliness and displacement threaten to define your way of life, turn your heart towards God’s and know that in his hands, you are home.

Finally friends, we end with one of the great encouragements in all of scripture, verse 4: He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” This is a text that proves to us that we can overcome anything that life brings our way. God knows that in this New Year there will be tears and there will death and sorrow and crying and pain, but he is also saying that those things will not have the last word. No, his love has the power to overcome all of those other things. His promise to us is that one day he will do away with all that pain…he is making all things new and that includes us.

The promise to us is this: To those of you who are overworked and underpaid, to those who are raising a family as a single person, to those whose heart is deeply broken and wounded. For those who long for their homeland and wonder when they will ever feel a sense of home again. For you…insert your pain or disappointment here…we have this, God’s love that will prevail over anything life brings. I wish I could promise you that all of us will be exempt from pain in the year ahead, but that is not my promise to make nor is it the one that God makes to us. Instead, God says hang in there…you will overcome. Trust in my ability to see you through because what awaits you on the other side is indeed paradise. God says to us, “Have confidence that you can indeed be vulnerable with me concerning your pain because you know that I share your pain and desire to bear your burdens with you. And you know that I will make good on my promise because I sent you my son…to save you, to raise you up, to give you a future that is filled with hope.”

Friends…I don’t fully understand how we can trust in God’s promise to make all things new when all things old bear down on us. It’s a bit of a mystery to understand that our present pain isn’t our forever pain, that God really will cause a new day to dawn for us all…a day where tears and sadness and disappointment disappear. I know that for those of you whose present realities are mired in such pain, you wonder how long you will have to wait or if you will know God’s peace and prosperity this side of heaven. I wonder that too when I see the broken world that we live in. I wonder why some have to suffer so much when others have so much. I sometimes feel inadequate seeking to encourage those who are struggling with the promise that awaits them perhaps not now, but in the future. But in some ways isn’t that the core of our faith…to trust in that which we cannot see, to put our hope in that which we cannot understand but that which we long for? What I can proclaim with a deep and abiding confidence is that our God is trustworthy. I see the ways in which God has transformed my life…renewing areas that I thought were past changing, grafting my identity more deeply into His, and helping me to overcome the things in life that at times I thought would plow me under.

As I stand before you on the brink of a new year, I do so with this chorus in my heart: Behold, he makes all things new. Can you join me in that chorus, trusting that the old ways that have burdened you can be renewed into that which God wants to use for his glory? Are you willing to allow God to do some new things in your life so that you can live your life more fully aligned to his dreams and desires for you?

Friends…we have a new year spreading out before us. I invite you to look forward to the new things that this New Year will bring to you. Face the challenges knowing that God faces them with you. Rejoice in the joys knowing that God sustains us with the victories. Allow God to change you and mold you into the new person he wants you to be in Jesus Christ. Know that God’s deepest desire for you is that you know the deep joy of seeing your life renewed after a failure, or disappointment or sorrow. Understand that God longs for you to have your deepest sense of belonging not in the physical realities of our world but rather with him who longs for you to know home as being at peace with him. And finally friends, embrace the hope that comes with knowing that all of the things in this life that cause us pain will eventually disappear and we will return to the state of paradise, being at one with the father and one another. May the hope of that new day give you the sustenance that you need to face the new challenges that the New Year will inevitably bring to us all.

Behold, I make all things new and that includes you and that includes me. Amen.