Psalm 121 Matthew 11:2-6
Rev. Tom Herbek
January 1, 2017
Celebrating the New Year is the oldest holiday of all, going back at least 4000 years to the time of the ancient Babylonians. They celebrated the New Year for eleven days. It made our New Year’s Eve celebrations seem like nothing in comparison. The celebration of the New Year occurred in the spring, a logical time of year to do it. They celebrated the planting of new crops, the time of rebirth, the blossoming of the trees and flowers.
The Romans continued to celebrate the New Year in late March, but the exact date was continually being changed by various emperors, and each emperor changed the rest of the calendar also. Finally, in 46 BC, Julius Caesar established January 1st as the date for the year to begin. However, in order to synchronize the New Year with the sun, he ordered that the previous year last for 445 days to get it right (and we get upset about changes in daylight savings time!). Of course, the church was against the whole thing. The early church condemned any New Year’s celebrations as paganism, and this condemnation continued through the Middle Ages.
The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions also started with the ancient Babylonians. Unlike our resolutions, their most popular ones had to do with returning borrowed farm equipment. Farm equipment return is not high on most of our lists of resolutions.
In fact, the top 10 New Year’s resolutions last year, according to a recent survey, were the following:
- Spend more time with family and friends
- Become more physically fit
- Lose weight
- Quit smoking
- Enjoy life more
- Drink less alcohol
- Get out of debt
- Learn something new
- Help others more
- Get organized.
Of course, in the same survey about what people expected to make as their resolutions next year, only 3% said that they could honestly report that they had kept any of their resolutions from last year. In 2017, can we make any resolutions that really matter, any goals that might really make a difference – in our lives or in our world?
One cautionary note about resolutions: some things take much longer than we think. I like what writer Mark Nepo said in his book, The One Life We’re Given:
Seeds incubate in the dark
so they can break ground
and grow toward the light.
For the seed we call Spirit
in the ground we call human,
being held in the dark
can last a long time.
It seems that all we are asked to do is to strive towards the goals that we set, the resolutions we decide on, but we must always remember that whether or not we accomplish our resolution often depends on a lot of factors that are out of our control. And often we must let go of our preconceived ideas of what the result might actually turn out to be. Sometimes what we do can lead to results that are unexpected and that might even be better than what we originally had in our mind. Perhaps what we most need to learn is the process of looking at what we can do in new ways, putting our energies into reframing our reality. We have been conditioned as to how to look at what is most important without even being consciously aware of it.
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann once said: “So much of culture deals with what is urgent right now and not what is important in the grand scheme of things. And there is this sort of time bias or presentation bias that happens. Which is in part because of the way that the Internet is structured. So when you think of anything from a Twitter feed or a Facebook feed to a news Web site, the most recent floats to the top always. And it is always in reverse chronology. And I think that’s conditioning us to believe rather falsely that the most recent is the most important. And that the older matters less or just exists to a point where we really have come to believe that things that are not on Google or on the news now never happened, never existed, and don’t matter.” (in Tippett, Becoming Wise)
By reframing, we are able to see what is most important, not just what is most recent, in the context of all that is vying for our attention. In this way, we can allow seeds to germinate, can begin the process of truly making a difference.
When Jesus began his ministry, he alluded to what he had said as a young man: that God’s spirit was upon him; that he would bring good news to the oppressed, healing to the broken-hearted, liberty to the captives, and comfort to all who mourn. This is what Jesus had promised he would do, quoting the prophet Isaiah.
And when John the Baptist wanted to know if Jesus was the Messiah, or if they should keep waiting for someone else, Jesus did not say, “Well, you know, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about that.” Instead, Jesus replied: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”
It seems that Jesus had made some resolutions as a young man, and as evidence that he was the messiah, he simply pointed to what he did -not just what he said he would do. Jesus kept his resolutions. And the resolutions had to do with: reconciliation, justice, healing, comfort, and hope. These are all resolutions that matter. In 2017, is there anything we can do that will bring reconciliation, justice, healing, comfort, and hope to our world?
Is there something concrete and specific that each of us can do personally that will bring more reconciliation, justice, healing, comfort, and hope to our world this year? Can we do things this year that will give hope to others? Can we bring healing and comfort to those who are hurting? Can we take a stand for reconciliation and justice for those who have been cut off and left out?
Theodore Levitt, a professor at Harvard Business School, once wrote that, “The future belongs to people who see possibilities before they become obvious.” So in 2017, let us open our eyes to possibilities that are not obvious to those around us. Let us become passionate about making a difference.
We may be criticized as hopeless dreamers, perhaps even as troublemakers. Martin Luther King said: “If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, I would have no time for constructive work.” Let us all strive in 2017 not to worry too much about criticism.
And yet, let us balance this with a desire to understand ourselves better, and why we are here. Dostoyevsky said that “one of the greatest tragedies is that so many people live their lives without ever finding themselves in themselves.”
Perhaps this is what a friendship gives us. The real mirror of our life and soul is given to us by our true friend. A friend helps us to glimpse who we really are and what we are doing here. In 2017, may we find true friends who are willing to be mirrors of our life and soul, and give us a glimpse of who we really are and what we are doing here. We all have failed, all have been less than perfect. We have all suffered, because of illness or injury or loss, because of others, and because of ourselves and the choices and decisions we have made. But let us not stop trying.
Perhaps in 2017, we can be kinder to those parts of who we are that are less than what we hoped. Perhaps we can take steps to accept ourselves, with our mistakes and the decisions we have made that might no longer look like good ones. Perhaps we can learn to love our imperfect selves, and learn to love those imperfect fellow travelers on our journey of life. Perhaps in 2017, we can find healing and reconciliation and can take steps toward healing and reconciliation in our families, our community, and our world.
And perhaps in 2017, we can expand our “we”, as activist Jim Wallis has written: “How big is your ‘we’? Can we expand our vision of community beyond our own skin, family, face, tribe, culture, country, and species? Spiritual life is more than what we believe; it also includes how we relate. Who is included in your ’we’ and who is not? That is both a spiritual and a political question. How we answer it will likely determine our future.”
In 2017, let us take steps to expand our “we”, to include more people in our caring and in our awareness. Are there ways that we can reprioritize what is essential in our lives, and then put our energy and our resources into what is most important?
Perhaps in 2017, we will also realize that our questions are often more important than the answers. In Ely Wiesel’s autobiographical novel Night, he tells of how a rabbi taught him how to pray. The rabbi explained to him that in every question there is a power beyond the obvious answer. “Man raises himself toward God,” the rabbi says “by the questions he asks Him. Man questions and God answers. But we do not understand those answers.”
“I pray to the God within me,” says the Rabbi, “that he will give me the strength to ask him theright questions.”
In 2017, let us resolve to ask of God the questions that are most important. We may not yet understand the answers, but simply by raising the questions, we will begin to learn and grow.
And then we must act. In 2017, let us resolve to do everything we can that will bring reconciliation, justice, healing, comfort, and hope to our world- and to ourselves.