By the time you read this “musing”, it will be a new year, 2020. I know most people like to pause on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s day and reflect back on the year gone by. And I think looking back and reflecting on the past is a good thing, as we remember and celebrate, again, all we accomplished, and we even take note of those things that didn’t go so well, and can learn to avoid repeating past mistakes. But reflecting on the past and dwelling in it are to very different things. Reflecting is a process that helps us move forward and accept the changes that have occurred, so we are prepared for the changes that a new year will bring. And unless you are living in a complete state of denial and doing all you can to dwell in the past, you know in your heart that change will come – it’s part of life, and change can be very instrumental in our growth as individuals, and as a community of faith.
I guess that’s why I believe it’s unproductive to dwell in the past. So, while I do like to reflect on the past year, I want to get moving forward into the new year and start focusing on all it will bring – even the changes!
And that’s why at the beginning of every new year, after doing some reflecting, I do some reading. And what I read every New Years day is a passage from the prophet Isaiah, written while the people of Israel were living through some tough times, times of change, their time in exile:
Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people (Isaiah 43:18-20)
This passage helps me to stay focused on looking forward, not back. It reminds me that I really need to keep my eyes and ears open for the “NEW THINGS” God will be doing, because I know in my heart that God is always doing “new things”. But I also know that we can miss those “new things” if we’re dwelling in the past, holding on to the former things, and aren’t alert (a word from an Advent sermon) and paying attention to the people and things around us.
This is not just true in our personal lives, it’s also true in our communal life as a church family.
Let me give you an example. Every year in January, our church pauses and reflects on the lives and actions of the people in our church family who passed on and gone to be with God. It is good to remember and celebrate those individuals, because they are people we loved, people who touched our lives and made us spiritually richer because of what they gave to us – grace, acceptance, companionship, hope, support, laughter and love. In 2019, we lost 6 members of our church family. So, we are not the same church today without them living and serving and loving among us. There have been changes, drastic changes in our family. And sometimes we might feel that life will never be the same. We might even wish we could go back to the way things were.
It’s true that life will never be the same as it was yesterday, or last week, or last month, or last year. My dad and best friend is no longer here where I could talk over my questions and struggles with him. I can no longer talk hockey with my son who died in 2017. And his children have moved away and are out of our lives. Life is not the same and will never be the same without those who have died, those who have moved away, those who have broken away. But we must not let the grief and the loss stop us from looking forward and moving forward. God is always doing a new thing. When we lose loved ones to death, when we lose people who move away, when changes come upon us, we need to celebrate with joy the gifts they gave us, and of course, keep their love in our hearts, and never forget all they gave us and what they taught us about being a faithful servant and disciple.
But then we need to look out and up, in faith and trust. That’s what our life as a community of faith, our life as a follower of Jesus is all about. When Jesus was crucified, at first his disciples hid out in a locked room, dwelling in the past, focused on all that Jesus had done, wishing things were still the same. But God was doing a new thing, a REALLY new thing. And as Jesus walked into the room, they all quickly learned that things would NEVER be the same again. And that was GOOD NEWS!!
That’s the promise of our faith. When we DWELL in the past, we don’t get much “Kingdom Work” done. But if we reflect on the past and keep our eyes and ears open, God will always bring NEW LIFE, NEW THINGS that God is doing into our lives. And the Good News is, life will never be the same.
Did you know that this past year we welcomed 9 new members into our church family? People who are touching our lives and are making us spiritually richer because of what they give to us – grace, acceptance, companionship, support, hope, laughter and love.
Did you know that our church school now has 44 children in it? That’s 16 more than a year ago. So, no we are not the same church family we were a year ago – we are different. And that’s Good News.
Life can be hard. Loss and change are hard. And I am sure that in the year ahead, both as individuals and as a church family, we will experience some struggle and loss and change. But if we keep our eyes focused on God, and trust, God will lead us through to something new, we will be okay.
There’s a contemporary Christian song I like - Maybe It’s Okay, by We Are Messengers. The words to the chorus are: Maybe it's ok, if I'm not ok, 'Cause the One who holds the world is holding onto me. Maybe it's all right if I'm not all right, 'Cause the One who holds the stars is holding my whole life.
And I’ll add, the One who holds your whole life and my whole life, is always doing something “NEW” that will make them better than okay! May we always have eyes to see and ears to hear!
Blessings for the New Year!
For surely, I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me… —Jeremiah 29:11-13a