A New Beginning

+ A sermon preached for the Second Sunday of Christmas (Year C) at First Lutheran Church, St. Peter, MN on January 3, 2016 +

Texts: Jeremiah 31:7-14, John 1:1-18

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and Jesus Christ our Immanuel – God with us. Amen.

Merry Christmas! And Happy New Year!

How many of you made new years resolutions?

How many people have already broken their new years resolutions?

New Year's ResolutionsWe hear a lot about new years resolutions this time of year: new diets or exercise regimens, wanting to read more, be more thankful. I even have a friend who resolved to post a new photo to Instagram each day for a year (a resolution she kept, by the way!). And it makes sense to me – a new year gives you the sense of a new start, a chance to change things. I know New Years is my husband Ryan’s favorite holiday for that reason: it gives us all a chance for a new beginning – a blank slate. New Years gives us hope for making changes not only in ourselves, but also in the world around us. And while there were many highlights last year, when you consider that 2015 was a year full of mass shootings, extremism, war and refugees, political dysfunction, natural disasters, and more, it’s perfectly understandable that we should hope and work that 2016 will be a new beginning for our world as well.

But one of the things about new years resolutions is that we are notorious for breaking them. Many articles are written about strategies for keeping your resolutions because we often make lofty goals for ourselves and when we fail at them, we sometimes feel like failures ourselves. The goals we set on January 1st that are still going strong on January 3rd may seem way too ambitious come January 8th or February 8th. Similarly, I’m guessing it won’t take long for some news story to shatter our hopes that the world of 2016 will be majorly different than last year.

And yet, our readings this morning are full of the promise of new beginnings. They speak of a God who works through new beginnings. A God who doesn’t give up on God’s people.

After the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem in the 6th century BCE, many people from the Kingdom of Judah were exiled to Babylon for nearly 60 years. Prophets like Jeremiah blamed the exile on Judah’s broken relationship with and trust in God. Many people felt abandoned by God or wondered if God still loved them. But in today’s prophet20jeremiahreading, Jeremiah preaches a word of promise from God to the exiled people. Even in the despair of exile, God comes to the people and says that God will gather them back together in Jerusalem and bring a new beginning for them. Young and old, rich and poor, abled and disabled, all people are part of this promise. And later in this same chapter, God promises a radical new start for the people, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke…I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they…say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

While nothing will change what happened before and during the exile, God promises the people a new beginning – a new covenant – and promises to forgive and forget their previous failures. God offers the people a new beginning full of love, hope, and life.

The first words of John’s gospel also bring the promise of a new start. “In the beginning,” John writes. An unashamed and intentional allusion to the opening of Genesis, John intends to show that the birth of Jesus, the Word of God, is the new Genesis for us – a new beginning for God’s people. John tells how the Creator of the cosmos becomes fully and truly human through the baby Jesus. Rather than a God whom we cannot see, God chooses to come and dwell among us as one of us – to know and to love us. And that’s why we celebrate Christmas – we celebrate God’s radical new beginning and new creation in Jesus – the Word made flesh – the true God coming into the world. We celebrate God’s new beginning for us where we can see the Creator God in a face like ours living a life like ours. A new beginning where we can know grace and truth and become the children of God.

But, while we worship and celebrate a God of new beginnings, we ourselves are creatures who frequently fail to live up to our own hopes and dreams, let alone those of our God. Just as so many of us fail in our new years resolutions, we also fail in our relationship with our God. Our failures can cause us despair and frustration and fear. We may fear that God will abandon us and give up on us – leave us in exile or distant from God.

baptism-in-new-font-at-ctkBut my beloved siblings in Christ, we worship a God of continued new beginnings – new covenants, a new creation in Jesus, and new hope for us. This morning we celebrate and gave thanks for the gift of our baptism – yet another new beginning for us. At our baptism, we were given a new birth and grafted into the family and the body of Christ. Our old selves were washed away and could start again. But our baptism was not just a singular event that happened long ago. As Martin Luther wrote, our baptism is a daily occurrence where we die and rise anew in Christ each morning. In fact, Luther suggested that we should wake up each morning, make the sign of the cross, and proclaim, “I am baptized” as a remembrance of God’s love and new beginning for us each day.

One article I read about keeping your new years resolutions is that we often have such long term goals that it is difficult to achieve them. That making a goal for an entire year can be too hard to maintain. Rather, this commentator suggested, we should make smaller and more achievable
welcome-one-day-at-a-time-bronze-aa-alcoholics-anonymous-aca-al-anon-sober-affirmation-sobriety-birthday-anniversary-recovery-medallion-coin-chip-1-500x500goals. Perhaps a monthly or weekly goal. Or even, he said, a daily goal. “Today, I will go for a run.” “Today, I will show a random act of kindness.” As goes the mantra for those who live in recovery, we live “one day at a time.”

92dd45fe9abe7fedd442e55aa48dc416May we too remember that “Today, I am baptized.” “Today, I am a child of God.” And that each day God comes to us, claims us as God’s own child, and gives us new life through the gift of baptism – a new beginning for the day ahead – new hope and opportunity to live into God’s gift of life and love, grace and truth. And should we fail in our relationship that day, God will still come to us the next day and the day after that and the day after that – bringing new beginnings.

As we begin our new year together and strive to keep the lofty goals we have set for ourselves, I want to share a poem I found this week – something to remember for the year ahead.

The Avowal by Denise Levertov

As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.

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