Summary: Our one great resolution in the New Year should be to seek Christ.
I hope everyone had an enjoyable and blessed Christmas. I hope that, amidst all the travelling, and feasting, and gift-giving, and family reunioning, and football watching, you were able to remember that what we are really celebrating during this season is the birth of Jesus Christ.
As you may know, the Christmas season has three phases: Advent looks forward to the coming of Christ; it begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas, and ends on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day, on December 25th, celebrates Jesus’ birth. And then following Christmas, on January 6th, is Epiphany. Epiphany commemorates the day that the wise men arrived in Bethlehem to worship Christ and bring Him gifts. Of course, there’s also a secular equivalent to these three phases of Christmas. There’s the season of maxing out the credit cards, which begins on the day after Thanksgiving and ends on Christmas Eve; there’s December 25th, when we celebrate the coming of Santa Claus; and then there’s the season of paying off the credit cards, which begins when the postman arrives in January bearing VISA bills, and which lasts for several months. That’s the season we’re in now.
There’s another tradition we observe at this time of year, and that’s the making of New Year’s resolutions. [I didn’t say the "keeping" of New Year’s Resolutions] There’s something about hanging a new calendar on the wall that convinces us we now have the willpower to do all the things we were failing at miserably the day before. It’s the triumph of hope over experience. We’re going to lose weight, exercise more, give up smoking, get along better with our relatives, save more money, learn to speak French (or in George Bush’s case, English). Have you ever been to a health club in January? They’re packed! You can barely get in the door!
Well, this morning, I’m not going to tell you how to become thinner, or smarter, or healthier, or wealthier. [I’m not sure I’d have much credibility giving advice in most of those areas, anyway.] But what I would like to do is suggest one resolution for your spiritual life; one resolution that each of us, as followers of Jesus Christ, ought to make as we enter the new year. If we would make and keep just this one resolution, it would transform our lives and revolutionize this church. Are you ready?
"I resolve that in the coming year I will seek to know Christ more deeply."
That’s it. If I could have any wish for the coming year, as pastor of WestShore Community Church, it wouldn’t be that our attendance would grow dramatically, or that our offerings would increase, or that someone would donate a nice new building for us to meet in, or even that we would get a drummer for the worship team. My wish would be that every member of this church would come to know God more personally and intimately than ever before.
Why? Why is that so important? Alan, are you sure you wouldn’t rather have the drummer? Yeah, I’m sure. Why? Because nothing else matters. Did you hear what I said? Next to knowing God, nothing else matters. That’s a radical statement. But it’s not just my opinion. Listen to Paul:
"But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." -- Philippians 3:7-11 (NIV)
What had Paul lost? What had he given up in order to know Christ? (After all, before his conversion, he was a Jewish preacher, and afterward, he was a Christian preacher, right?) Everything. Paul gave up everything. He says, "for whose sake I have lost all things."
Before his conversion, Paul had been a respected teacher in the Jewish religion. He was also a member of a special group, or sect, within Judaism, known as Pharisees. It’s difficult for us to appreciate the social standing of a someone in Paul’s position, since in our day pastors and priests and rabbis aren’t highly esteemed (to say the least). I could name several prominent theologians and most of you would never have heard of them. We honor entertainers and athletes instead. But in first-century Palestine, the Pharisees were absolutely at the top of the heap. They were the interpreters and teachers of all the religious rules. And in a theocratic society structured around religion, this basically made them the authorities over every aspect of life. People respected them, looked up to them, honored them. Listen to how Jesus describes them: