Summary: A New Year's sermon to encourage us that God is in control of the year that is past, and the year that is to come.
In the classic film, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, Jimmy Stewart plays George Bailey, a small town banker who is driven to the brink of suicide by the prospect of financial ruin and disgrace. He is convinced that his life has been a failure, and that it would have been better if he had never lived at all. As he looks back on his past, he sees only broken dreams and thwarted ambitions.
In response to George’s prayer and the prayers of others (it was still possible to depict a main character sincerely praying in a film made in 1946), George’s guardian angel, Clarence, is sent to help him. In order to show George how wrong his assessment of his own life is, Clarence pulls back the curtain and reveals how different things would have been if he had not been born. In doing so, he shows George what a significant positive impact his life has had on others.
As each of us looks back on 2016 and we evaluate our own journey, and as we think about recent events in our nation and in the world, we judge based on our own limited perspective. We interpret these things based on what we know and what we understand. But we can’t see the whole picture; we don’t perceive all the causes and effects. And we don’t understand everything that God is doing in the world, or even in our own life. We can’t see behind the curtain.
This week, we consider some Scriptures which will help us to transcend this limited human perspective. These passages will provide a God’s-eye view of the year that is past and the year that is to come, a view which is surprising, but also hopeful and encouraging.
Good morning! Happy New Year! Some of you look a bit bleary-eyed this morning. If you feel the need to step out for a moment to get yourself a cup of coffee, we’ll understand. I am quite willing to accept a bit of momentary distraction in exchange for your caffeine-enhanced attention. So feel free.
Who actually stayed up until midnight to bring in the New Year? Impressive. And yet, here you are in church this morning. Good for you! And for everyone who is watching the webcast from home this morning because you stayed up too late last night, good for you too. You get half credit. You can feel free to drink some coffee at home. Or some Pepto-Bismol. Your choice.
Who knows who this is? [Slide of Janus] Correct, this is the Roman god Janus. For the ancient Romans, Janus was the god of transitions, the god of endings and beginnings, the god of gates, doorways, and bridges. He is depicted with two faces, simultaneously looking forward and back—forward to the future, and back to the past. Many believe that the month of January is named after him, for obvious reasons.
Of course, as Christians, we know that the true God of beginnings and endings is not Janus, but Jesus Christ, who said of himself, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Rev. 22:13, NIV). We number our years beginning with the year of his birth, and refer to them as A.D., which is Latin for Anno Domini, the Year of Our Lord. And yet, this depiction of the mythological Roman deity Janus does reflect some natural wisdom about how the world works, about how our lives unfold. Because every beginning represents also an ending. Every choice we make involves the foreclosure of other options. And every time a new year commences, another year draws to a close.
This morning, as we cross the threshold from 2016 to 2017, my question to you is this: what does it mean to experience this annual transition as a Christian? How should we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, think about the conclusion of one year and the beginning of another? Does our faith have anything to say about New Year’s Day?
In a narrowly literal sense, the answer is clearly “no”. New Year’s Day is not celebrated as a Christian holiday. There is no event in the New Testament that is associated with the date of January first. Officially, it’s no more significant than any other day. But in a larger sense, the Scriptures have a great deal to say about how we assess the past, and how we anticipate the future. And that is what I would like to talk about this morning.
2016 was a year of surprises. In sports, the Cavs won the NBA championship for the first time ever, and the Cleveland Indians won the American League Pennant, despite several injuries and one unfortunate encounter with a drone. The Chicago Cubs also had a pretty good year. In politics, the UK voted to leave the European Union, and the United States elected a man with no previous government experience to be Leader of the Free World. And Bob Dylan won the Nobel prize for literature.