Life for the New Year
ur Gospel text for this second Sunday after Christmas calls us to think theologically about the meaning of the Incarnation. During Advent and Christmas we focused on the stories found in Matthew and Luke’s biographies which approach the birth of the baby Jesus in story form. Mark, the shortest of the Gospels, omits the birth narrative. However, John the Beloved Apostle was inspired by the Holy Spirit to add theological meaning to what has happened in the Christ event.
John’s point is that Jesus Christ came into the world to change the world, one human heart at a time. The other John, usually called John the Baptist, was Jesus’ relative and was born just prior to Jesus and also started preaching before Jesus began his ministry. John the Baptist led many Jews into a more spiritually sensitive situation where they were open to receive their long expected Messiah. You know the story of how John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod because of his direct and successful preaching.
John the Beloved was the best friend of Jesus and was the only Apostle who was not executed. He lived into his old age on the Greek Island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea. However, before he died he wrote his version of the life of Christ: His book is different from the other three gospels, which are so similar that they are called the “synoptic” gospels. John presents a more personal, philosophical and theological biography of his best friend. We can almost hear John verbally sharing his experiences as a Scribe would write down the inspired thoughts of the old Apostle. John had been given many years to think deeply. He had watched the Church grow into an influential movement in the Mediterranean world. Tradition tells us that John was greatly loved by the people of Patmos. Some of these young believers probably heard the Gospel of John being formed. One of the great miracles of literature is that we can still hear John’s words preserved over these 200 Christian Centuries. Let’s hear a few verses again in the KJV:
(v.1) “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (4) In him was life; and the life was the light of men. (10) He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. (12) But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God. (17) For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. (18) No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, hath declared him.”
Many have said that the genius of western civilization can be found in this new idea that human beings can, by the power of God, become sons and daughters of the Almighty; not by the Old Testament Law of Moses, but by the empowering grace and truth by Jesus Christ. Jesus, and later John, had as their mission the ideal of declaring the Good News that life can be made new by the redemptive work of God.
Later, the Apostle Paul reflected on this same subject and was inspired to elucidate in these words:
“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 Cor. 5: 17, NLT)
New Life for the New Year! This is the obvious, and applicable, motif for this first Sunday in 2004. It may be a nudge for each of us to take stock. Is there any sense of newness in our living? Is there an implanted vision? Do we have anything about us that others might see as spiritual power? Do we have a positive hope for the ultimate victory of good over evil? Are we satisfied? Do we have some sense of being OK?
Redemption might be the best word to describe the distinguishing characteristic of what we need from our religion. Is it not the one experience that we all have in common?
A friend recently shared the experience from his childhood of being caught eating summer watermelons out of a neighbor’s patch. Most parents might have hushed the incident as “boys being boys,” but not his mother. She made him go to the neighbor and confess his guilt. He had to say he was sorry and that he would never do it again. Most importantly, he was instructed by his mother to ask forgiveness.
As adults we see the wisdom of the mother who was teaching her son, “Redemption.”
Scott Peck, in his second book, FURTHER ALONG THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED, says that he became a Christian because Christianity has the only real way of dealing with sin. “Christianity says that we cannot not sin, but when we do God has to forgive us.” Later on, the famous psychiatrist intimates how the whole experience of being forgiven, and welcomed back home with a mother’s big hug and tears, is redemptive and life altering. One can never really recover from redemption. How can we go back to stealing watermelons, or cars and cash, once we have been redeemed by our Savior’s loving embrace? Well, maybe some folks can, but I think it would always haunt.
Professor J. R. R. Tolkien was instrumental in leading C. S. Lewis to accept and to experience the New Testament story of redemption and in the process both “Tollers” and “Jack” were able to deal with the deaths of their mothers when they were boys. We learn from them that redemption is not just a one time experience, but is a lifelong journey.
We must also remember that no two journeys are the same. Some folks jump into salvation with a big splash and others slip into the shallow end without a ripple; yet, both are in. So, the gauge is knowing that you are in and that you are satisfied.
This New Year can be a significant intersection in our journey. It can be a time to take stock, to realign and to move forward with a new level of resolution and power.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor