A New Year Sermon
For Watch-Night (31 Dec 2015)
There have been a few statistics knocking about in the media this week, about the number of people who manage to keep to their new year’s resolutions. According to some reports I’ve read, as few as 1 in 10 people manage to keep up with them in any kind of sustained way.
There are lots of reasons given for this – some people make too many resolutions all at once, and then when one falls, so do the others. Some people only make resolutions under pressure from their families…I know what that one’s like. “You will give up chocolate this year, won’t you dear?”
But most people, I think, if they are honest with themselves and with their interviewer, would have to admit that the main reason why they fail is because that’s what human beings do. We fail. Over and over again. Which of us can say, with hand on heart, that we’ve always managed to keep up with our own promises, either to others or even to God?
My brothers and sisters, that is precisely why it was necessary for God to send Jesus. Prior to him, all that human beings had was the Law, given through Moses or handed down by kings and emperors. Law is an attempt to govern the behaviour of human beings – who are incapable of moderating their own passions by themselves. Law is a code, a set of rules, with punishments attached for failing to live up to them. But Law is never enough. It might, for a while, force people to behave in certain ways, out of fear or community habit – but it can never truly change the human heart. It can never enforce the kind of new year’s resolutions which we know are good for us, but which we so often fail to live up to.
In our reading from John’s Gospel, just now, we heard this line: (vs 17) “The Law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” In other words, Laws were not enough to change the human heart. What we needed was a light to shine in the darkness. We needed the light of God - (vs 9) “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world”.
Jesus is our light in the darkness. In this very night, as we hear the bells of the new year ringing out among us, we are invited to embrace the light. You and I are offered grace from God…grace being a gift that we have not deserved. We are offered the truth, through Jesus Christ – the truth that we are incapable of obeying the laws of God on our own….incapable of even living up to our new year’s resolutions on our own.
Instead, we are offered a light to follow, and a divine life to embrace. We are offered the wisdom and teaching of Jesus Christ, and the strength of the Holy Spirit to live as Christ calls us to live. We are offered the chance to live generous, holy, sacrificial lives – poured out for God, as his was before us. We offered his light in the darkness, as we enter this new year.
The only question, for each of us, is whether we will embrace the light, or continue to walk in the dark.
To quote, finally, the poet Minnie Haskins,
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way”
So I went worth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And he led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.