I wonder where you will be tomorrow night – the last night of 2007 and the first of 2008? What will you be doing? Will you be with friends, partying, quietly at home, or even at a Church service somewhere? As I was thinking about New Year, I wondered how it all began. Why do we keep New Year on Jan.1st, when the Jewish new year and the Chinese new year come at different times? It seems that the first record we have of New Year celebrations was about 4000 years ago in Babylon in the Middle East. The Babylonians celebrated New Year at harvest time, when they had gathered in the food that would feed them through the coming year.
About 2000 years later, the Roman empire covered the whole known world. This was around the time of Jesus. The Romans kept the 1st January as the beginning of the year. They kept the feast of Saturnalia at their new year, a feast that celebrated the most important Roman god – Saturn. It was a feast of pagan worship, and Christians in the early Church were forbidden to join in. Instead they fasted and celebrated Mass on that day.
Many years later, the New Year symbolized throwing out the old and worn out, and bringing in the new: a time for generating new life, for renewal. If you’ve made any New Year resolutions, then you’re continuing this theme: trying to throw out bad habits and begin a new year with better.
For a long time it was thought that evil spirits were flying around at New Year, trying to gain control of the whole of the year ahead. So to drive them away people made lots of noise, rang bells, banged drums, anything that would make loud noise to drive away the evil spirits. A rather desperate reason for a New Year party!
In England, early on in the Christian era, it was decided that the New Year should be kept on 25th March, the date on which we celebrate the Annunciation of the birth of Jesus to the Blessed Virgin Mary. So the year was reckoned according to the church calendar, not the secular calendar. In the 16thC the rest of Europe changed New Year to 1st of January. But England remained independent, only changing from March 25th to January 1st in the 18thC.
As we approach the gateway into 2008, what has 2007 been like for you? I’m sure we have all had dark times, and times of joy. Times when things don’t seem to go right, and times when life has been easier. We’ve had struggles within ourselves, with others, with situations. We’ve suffered loss, we’ve witnessed injustice to ourselves or others, we can be so aware of our mistakes, our failures, our feelings of inadequacy. Times when we’ve lost heart, lacked courage. Unresolved issues stay in our minds. Hurts seem to hang around us. For many of us the hard things, the painful times crowd in, are more present than the good things. But sometimes, when we look back and see more with God’s eyes, we can see that among the dark there has been some light. Sometimes its through the dark times that we grow, or find extra kindness in others.
I am hoping that we can re-awaken some of the good things that each of us experienced in 2007. In a few moments we are going to have a very short time of quiet. It’s a time when we can ask God to help us to recall a few of those good things. So that we can thank God who has been within us, who has walked with us on our path, even when we weren’t aware of it.
I hope that we shall be able to see the hand of God’s help when we needed it, to acknowledge that we recognize his love for each one of us, his care, protection, his provision. And perhaps he will ask us to accept his encouragement, his "Well done".
These are the golden moments, they are the moments that make up your own personal treasure store. And because we have so little time in our daily lives to remember these treasures, we are going to spend a minute or so thinking of them now, and thanking God for them. So let us pray and be quiet.
Pray –Father, send your Holy Spirit and help us to remember some of those special moments through 2007, so that we can hold them, treasure them, thank you for them.
It is important to remember and treasure these golden moments. They 're-member' us, they put us together, make us whole, and help us to grow in awareness of God. They provide the energy, the propulsion, the anticipation for the future. They help us tell our story, they give us a more balanced image of who we are, they are part of our personal history. They are the stepping stones for whatever comes in the future.
Our first reading was a wonderful few verses from the prophet Isaiah. He is determined to speak out the gracious acts of God, his actions that are worthy of praise. He refers to God’s mercy, the abundance of his steadfast love, how God considers the people of Israel his children. He didn’t send a messenger to help them, but came himself. In his love and his compassion, he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. This great love and mercy of God is for us too, because God doesn’t change. His love enfolds each one of us. What is the best you know of human love, the greatest you have seen, or read about? That is a tiny reflection of God’s love for you. He loves every one of us to the absolute utmost. Each one of us is God’s beloved. The trouble with being in this world is that it’s often so hard to keep these truths about God in our hearts. There is so much to displace, or even replace them.
A few moments ago we spoke out this week’s collect together. This particular collect celebrates the creation of each one of us. It acknowledges that our humanity is stained, that we cannot put it right ourselves. And yet God came to share in this humanity of ours. He set aside his glory to become as we are, to grow up with the difficulties and joys that we experience.
And the collect gives God’s great and wonderful purpose for this: That we may share the life of his divinity. An amazing gift. And maybe one we don’t really believe, or give much thought to. And yet there it is: God gives us a share in the divinity of his Son.
How do we share the life of Christ’s divinity? Because God has placed within each one of us the life of Christ: the life of Jesus who did what he saw the Father doing, the power of the resurrection life that is God’s promise of life for ever with him. God has called us to follow the light of Christ, to be the light of Christ as we walk our individual paths. And yet, in Christ, our paths come together, they merge, and we are the mysterious body of Christ within the world. Our worship, our relationships, our actions, our non-actions, all reflect the light of Jesus to those around us. We are part of bringing heaven into the ordinary of everyday life.
There is one other area of the divinity of Christ that we have been given that I want to think about for a few minutes. And that is our Christian hope. We hope that God’s promises will be fulfilled. We hope that whatever seems to be happening in our world, in the end God will carry out his purposes of love and justice.
Our Christian hope is not just any hope; it is to be understood, to be believed in; it is to be held on to when times are tough, and not forgotten when things are easier. It’s not just a ‘perhaps’ hope, but it is certain hope; its not just ‘possible’ hope, it is absolutely watertight hope. And that is because it is grounded, formed, promised, given to us, assured within us, in Christ our Saviour.
I know personally that as individuals, our hope grows dim at times; our awareness of God becomes dull; we are attracted or distracted by events, temptation. But together, in the mystery of the body of Christ, this body of Christ that is God-ordained, Christ surrounded, Holy Spirit inspired and enabled. This is the body of Christ that shines in dark places – and there will be plenty of those in the coming months. Will 2008 be much different from 2007? There will still be suffering, personal, national, and international. There will continue to be wars and rumours of wars. There will be assassinations, kidnaps, and threats we cannot anticipate. Global warming and our abuse and misuse of the world’s resources create an unknown and insecure future, especially for the poorest peoples of the world.
We are the body of Christ that is called, dedicated, lit up, to be the light of Christ within our real world. Individually it is hard to withstand, to overcome. Together in Christ, with Christ, through Christ, we support, we comfort, we encourage, we enable, we protect. We seek out the good news among the bad. We speak of God’s goodness and love in place of demeaning criticism. We offer the life of Christ, instead of destruction. We are the light of Christ amidst the dark. We hold out the certainty of our hope when there is so much shaking around us. And to action all this we pray, responding to God’s invitation to work with him, to bring the blessings he so desires to give. We set aside our selfishness; we offer it on the altar before the broken body and spilt blood of Jesus.
As we face 2008, may God cause his light to shine more brightly in us and among us; may the hope he gives us enlighten the eyes of our hearts, become strong within us, so that it is our light in the dark and scary places. May this light and this hope lift our eyes from our feet and draw us towards Christ.