Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
New Year’s is one of those few occasions in life when just about everybody is thinking about the same thing – and that is time. It’s a time for joyous revel making. As American poet Phyllis McGinley once chimed, “Stir the eggnog, lift the toddy, Happy New Year, everybody.” It’s a time for good wishes, for your neighbors and friends, as Charles Dickens penned in A Christmas Carol, “Here’s to us all, God bless us every one!” It’s a time for reflection and hope, as the old Irish saying exclaims, “In the New Year, may your right hand always be stretched out in friendship, but never in want.”
New Year’s has also traditionally been a time for looking back to the past, and more importantly, for looking forward to the coming year. It’s a time to reflect on the changes we want or need to make life better for ourselves or others. It is truly a day for new beginnings- if we know how to use this gift of time well. Unfortunately, many of us simply don’t. As William Penn wrote, “Time is what we want most but use worst.”
My friends, as you enter this New Year, it is my wish and my prayer that you may use God’s gift of time wisely so that your life may be productive, fruitful and a blessing to others. So where do you begin?
January 1st is of course, and auspicious day. In scripture, we read that on the 8th day after his birth on December 25, Mary’s son was circumcised. On that day, Jesus was also given his name. Among the Jews, circumcision was an important rite. It affirmed the family covenant with God. As for the name Jesus, it was steeped in meaning. It was the same name as that of Joshua who fought the battle of Jericho and conquered the land of Israel. The name Jesus means literally “The Lord saves.” This was the name that the angel Gabriel told Mary to name her child at Jesus’ conception. This was the name that Joseph was told to name the child by the angel who appeared to him in a dream. This was not a name chosen by his parents. Jesus was a name that came from God. The name points us to who he was, who he is, and who he will come to be. Perhaps that is why the early church thought it was so important to place his name’s day on the first day of the new calendar year, January 1st. All our days, our weeks, and our months, they believed, should unfold fully aware of his name and his place in our lives.
The New Testament reflect the power and potential of Jesus’ name. In Philippians we read that at the name of Jesus every kneel shall band, in in Colossians, St. Paul writes, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Now some may believe that this means incorporating some Christian signs or gestures into your workplace or into your home, like a Bible verse posted on your cubicle or a Christian bumper sticker on your car might be enough. But personally, I think that Paul was challenging the church in a different way. It was about identity. In whatever workplace you find yourself or whatever setting, you must act representing Jesus in that setting. In everything you do or say, it should be evident that Christ is in you. But he was challenging the church to consider that in “Jesus’ name” implies a choice of masters. Every word and deed we say or do should acknowledge Jesus is our master, our boss, and the one to whom we are ultimately accountable.
Unfortunately, many of our own habits and attitudes get in the way of God’s identity showing forth in lives. That’s why change and an intentional use of time for change may be so important for you, especially at the beginning of a new year.
There is popular urban legend in Australia known as The Gucci Kangaroo. It is collected in author Amanda Bishop‘s 1988 folklore compilation of the same name. “In the summer of 1986, the Gucci sponsored Italia participated in the America’s Cup yacht race. During one leg of the race, the boat moored in Fremantle, Perth. After a big night of partying, two members of the Gucci crew left the city to explore the surrounding countryside. Not long into a journey, a kangaroo bounded in front of the pair’s rental car. The driver swerved. It was too late. When the dust settled, the hapless animal lay dead on the road before them.
After the shock wore off, the two decided to have some fun. After all, they had never seen a Kangaroo before. The competitive spirit of the race still in their minds they decided to dress the Kangaroo, which was also the Australian team’s emblem, in a $600 Gucci jacket and some equally expensive glasses. Posing beside the kangaroo the Italians began to take a photograph. Just as they were about to strike the perfect angle the kangaroo stirred.
The animal had not been killed as the two had believed, merely stunned by the impact. A scuffle ensued. Before either of the team could lay hands on the beast it hopped away into the local scrub, taking with it the glasses, jacket, passport, car keys, and $200 cash. Gucci family would later take its revenge, releasing a line of $990 kangaroo-fur-lined loafers in 2016.
Of course, the lesson for the 1st of January is this: Just because you look like a team member on the outside doesn’t mean you are a member of the team. Or just because you know the name of Jesus doesn’t mean that you are a member of the team.
That personal change in your life may be hard. As the saying goes: The only people who really want change are wet babies. There are of course, some who try to make a new year’s resolution of what they would like to do differently in their life. Regretfully, most of us are pretty pleased and content with ourselves, and the work that is necessary for true change is awkwardly intense and personal.
There is no doubt that it is work, and sometimes we may wonder why should do or if it is worth it. A physically challenged girl with leg braces was discouraged with her condition and wished she could quit her physical therapy. One day when her father insisted that she continue, she fell into his arms and asked, “Daddy, don’t you love me just the way I am?” Knowing how she felt, he hugged her and replied, “Yes, honey, I love you just the way you are. But I love you too much to let you stay that way.” My friends, God sees the possibility of growth and blessing in your life, and sometimes, you may need to listen to others to hear what God is saying.
So what can you do to increase the sense of Jesus’ identity in your life? A few years ago, the following poem appeared in the Hawkinsville Dispatch News. It is a good reminder of the choices we make every day that can reflect our Christ-like identity.
Take time to work–it is the price of success.
Take time to think–it is the source of power
Take time to read–it is the fountain of wisdom
Take time to worship–it is the highway to reverence
Take time to be friendly–it is the road to happiness
Take time to laugh–it helps to lift life’s load
Take time for God’s Word–it brings Christ near and
It washes the dust of earth from your eyes.
Take time for God–it is life’s only truly lasting investment.
My friends, a new year lies before us. We do not know what it contains. But we can pray fervently that God will be with us and that our every word and deed will reflect the name and wonder of his only son Jesus so that we can live and enjoy and more productive and fruitful life that is a blessing to others. Happy New Year! Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.