12/31/2000, New Year's Eve
Life for the New Year
"But the father said to the servants... We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost but now he is found." (Luke 15:22-24, NLT)
"What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun." (II Corinthians 5:17)
The core of Christianity is New Life for every human heart! What better time than on the eve of a New Year to take another look inside?
Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah, speaking for God, declared that a new day would soon dawn bringing new ideas and potential new life (42:9; 48:6). The Messianic Hope was fundamentally a longing for a renewed chance for the people who were once thought of as God's Chosen People. The scattered tribes of the Old Covenant prayed earnestly for the return of their lost favored position. Although they did not foresee the Cross of the New Testament, many found salvation through their longing for the coming of the expected Christ. Being poor and subjected to the indignity of a cruel Roman rule and unfair taxation, the people of the lost covenant were ripe to hear the Good News of the birth of their Savior; however, most were disheartened by the surprising realization that the New Kingdom of God would be built within the hearts of individuals, and that all people would be embraced by their expected Messiah.
The Good News of Christmas is the birth of the Savior who has brought new opportunity to all humanity. The new news of the New Testament is that life does not have to remain in the old rut but that all people can find a higher plane through the redemptive work of the Holy Spirit. The hope of Christmas, and the vision implanted in the heart by this new faith, is that dreams and aspirations of the human heart have a way to find fruition: There is hope through new life in Christ for every person, no matter how humble or poor.
This implanted vision for a brighter tomorrow has been the distinctive characteristic and prevailing new spiritual power of the person given new hope through the experience we call conversion to Christ. No matter how privileged, or underprivileged, one's former circumstances might have been, every person needs the spiritual transformation that only Christ can offer.
The inherent flaw found in all of us is that we are not born with a relationship with God. Just as we must get to know our parents, siblings, grandparents and friends, we must go through the process of becoming friends with the Almighty. Is it any wonder that lowly humans find it at first frightening to think in terms of friendship with the awesome God who flung the stars into place? Even more daunting, this friendship-seeking God already knows all about our sinful nature that we may have successfully hidden from everyone else.
Friendship with the Father is made possible by first coming to know His Son. Jesus is much more approachable than the natural notion we have about God as an angry vengeful figure waiting to punish us for our transgressions. We tend to think of God as the secret eye in the sky Highway Patrol helicopter camera that is making pictures of us speeding or illegally running through the toll booth.
In contrast, we are attracted to the simple small town carpenter who seemed to love people and attracted thousands of lonely hearts to his sermons and reached out to heal the hurting and to restore hope in hopeless folks much like us. The stories of Jesus have attracted millions over two millenniums and are still the most powerful agent for change in our present age. The power of preaching, the hope of counseling and the core of teaching is still found in the retelling of these stories that give insight into God, the loving Father who sacrificed His Son so that we might find new life as a result of coming into relationship with Him.
Good News comes as a refreshing new mystical perception, an insight, a deeper wisdom, a dreamlike hope for a shot at becoming a different and better person, freed from the guilt of past sin and failures.
Yet, many in even this "Christian" land of opportunity have not heard the gospel presented in a manner in which they can get it. When Jimmy Carter first presented himself as a candidate for President in the mid '70s, one of the first questions asked dealt with his being "Born Again." I recall how television anchorman, Eric Severeid said that he had been reared as a mid western strict Protestant but had never heard of this "born again concept." Again, just this past year, George W. Bush was cast as something of a religious fanatic because of his " new birth" experience as an adult. Folks found it odd that he felt that he should be forgiven by the public simply because he had been forgiven by God for his earlier transgressions.
Some still seem to assume that a leopard cannot change his spots and that every frat boy stumbling around the party inebriated will relentlessly remain the same for the remainder of his life and that there is no way out of the old way. What a sad world we would be living in if this hopelessness were true.
However, the Good News for the New Year is that there is New Life available in Jesus Christ for everyone!
Sometimes we make the mistake of focusing the need for change on others and neglect our personal need to examine our relationship with God. So let us each take a look inside as we begin the next year of the rest of our lives. Why not begin the New Year as a New You?
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor