We have hoped our way through Advent, exploring the when and where and how and why of hope. On Christmas we celebrated that God comes through for us, God goes to great lengths to be near us, with us in a real and tangible way as Jesus is born. We are still in the Christmas season, even as radio stations stop playing Christmas songs and people begin putting their decorations away, in the church we pause to celebrate, to keep celebrating what God has done.
We have come into a new year on the calendar, however; and while we keep celebrating all that God has done in Jesus Christ, we can pause now to consider how we can let the reality of Jesus in us influence us in 2021. I put it in my newsletter article, I am going to talk about this today and throughout this month at our gatherings and meetings, council and grace groups: what are your dreams for the coming year, as people of faith in God who comes through, what are the hopes you have for how 2021 can truly be a better year?
I am going to keep asking these questions in different ways and I would truly love it if, as you feel led, you responded- now in real time, or later, in a phone call, email, facebook comment or however else you have a chance. Some people can come up with something in the moment, others, like me, need to take some time to think and pray, and I know that is true- but however, whenever, please do tell me your dreams and hopes. It’s going to be a little bit different kind of sermon, weaving the scriptures in the middle, and with lots of questions. My hope is you sit with a pencil or keyboard in hand and feel free to express whatever comes up for you, whenever you feel like it, but I’ll pause toward the end and read all your comments at once.
Jeremiah writes here of the deep hopes God has for the people who have been conquered, smashed, taken into exile, made disabled in various ways by their conquerors. He includes the crying out of Rachel, the old lament of a mother who loses her children, even as he describes the coming jubilation. He names the disabilities the people bear as a result of how they have been mistreated, includes them in the vision of the return. I don’t want to seem like I am skipping over all we have to mourn from 2020. None of the prophets did that; Jesus in his ministry took the real pain of the people he was serving seriously.
But the message in Jeremiah is- yes with all the ways violence has been done to you, all that’s been taken from you- in the middle of all of that, God brings you a new dream, that you will be able to go back to your land, even the mothers of small children and the pregnant ones, it will be possible for those young families to make the journey, it will be worth it, and I will provide so lavishly for you once you return to your land, your place. Everyone will be included and all will rejoice.
Pause and consider- what is the healing balm your soul cries out for at this point in time? How do you need God to provide for you to start on a path towards wholeness for 2021?
Jeremiah continues later in the same chapter naming the new covenant God desires to have with the people,
so close they don’t need to remind one another anymore who they belong to and what that really means. Because of Christmas, because of Jesus being born among us, we know the lengths God has gone to in order to bring that closeness about. God continually renews the covenant now, has provided forgiveness for us through Christ- but if we wish to renew our commitment to God, what does that look like for us today? Where is God calling you to live out your faith in 2021?
There are other passages named for today that aren’t in many bibles. Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon, which I confess are not books that I have read all the way through. Sirach has a song a little bit like some places in Proverbs when it speaks of Wisdom personified as a woman, but Sirach links that Sophia, embodied wisdom, with the exodus of God’s people from slavery.
Saying Sophia, holy wisdom, was the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire leading the people, Sophia enabled Moses to speak to Pharaoh. In the Gospel of John, he then takes up that ancient idea of Sophia, ancient wisdom and calls it Logos, word or rationale, and says that Jesus is the new embodiment of that ancient wisdom. The word made flesh. And we receive of his fullness, grace for grace.
Jesus is ancient wisdom, and that wisdom liberates. That wisdom made flesh leads, empowers, gives voice. Because we know this grace, this overflowing of God’s goodness, we can dream, we can follow the wisdom and word that has always been. This is all part of the Christmas gift we celebrate!
Where do you feel God’s wisdom leading you, liberating you, helping you to speak the message God has for all people?
Ephesians 1:3-14 speaks in bubbling over terms of all the wonderful things God has made possible, that we are adopted by God, that we have forgiveness, we receive from the riches of his grace, we have the inheritance of the Holy Spirit. All of this through Christ, given to us. As we consider this amazing grace poured out, let it wash over you and fill you, start to wonder how you can grow as a disciple in the year to come, not because of where you are in life right now, but how great God is!
So today, second Sunday in Christmas, we celebrate the gift of God that truly does keep on giving, this presence with us that can turn our mourning into dancing. Can take us, a people battered by the many trials of 2020 and show us how we can dream with God!
I don’t want to call them resolutions- because simply using that word seems to doom many of us to fail. But let us consider carefully, faithfully- what are our highest hopes for this coming year? I would ask you to reflect on what dreams you have for the whole world- for our nation- for our community and our congregation- for your own family, and for yourself.
That is a lot. If you don’t come up with every category that is okay. But I would encourage you to not leave it only for the grand scheme of things like- world peace- or only for yourself as an individual. Because we are all part of these communities in larger and larger circles, we are woven together. What can we envision for ourselves and our families? Our church and our communities? Our country and our world?
And then when you have some dreams you can put into words, remembering all these great gifts of God given to us in Jesus Christ- all the ways God wants to see you be well and whole, and all people, and all creation- consider, even if it seems like a small thing to do, what is something You as a person can do, to work with God for these dreams to be a reality?
But even as right now I am asking you to reflect as individuals- I am hoping that we will see that some of our dreams overlap- that some of the things we choose to do, might impact not just each one but overflow, and yes that as a community of faith we would see some ways that we work together with one another, and with God.
Because making a self-improvement can be good, can lead to other good things- but if we center ourselves together in what we know God does, we will be that much closer to living in God’s reign that Jesus came to show us.
Christmas wasn’t ever meant to be put away, but received deeply, for us to be transformed. God has come to us in Jesus, the word has put on flesh, there is reason to have not just hope but confidence in God’s promises. 2020 has been so hard in so many ways. God knows that, God knows all your pain. But also, we have received the holy Spirit, forgiveness, grace overflowing, and know that we belong to God forever. So let us dream boldly for a 2021 – what do you want to see come about this year, what do you think God wants to see happen this year? What is your part to play in that dream?
When we Celebrate the Lord’s supper today, do so knowing the gift of God in Christ Jesus is given for you, to strengthen you in your faith and empower you in the dreams and growing you want to do today, in the year ahead, and beyond, Amen.