Not Just a New Year
Here we are at New Year’s again. We have just celebrated Christmas with all of its parties and celebrations. And most of us have overindulged in food and spending, not to mention other areas. This is the time of the year we go on a guilt trip. We haven’t been too good lately, so it is time to make amends. It is time for that New Year’s resolution. After we have one more fling at the New Year’s parties, we will straighten ourselves out. All too often, tomorrow never comes or we cave into our indulgences after a short stay. That diet works to remove five of the ten pounds that we gained at Christmas, So, it’s time to celebrate. Let’s get a pizza!
Soon, for Christians, the season of Lent comes upon us. It’s time to give up something for forty days to remember the Lord’s fast of forty days in the wilderness. Hmm—what do I give up? I know! I’ll give up tuna and peanut butter like I do every year. These are vows I certainly can keep, seeing that I don’t like either. To prepare for Lent there is the Shrove Tuesday pancake supper sponsored by the choir as a fundraiser. I know I’m diabetic, but just one indulgence won’t hurt. After all, I have all of Lent to straighten things out.
The television ads all stroke us with the illusion of free will. We are in control of our lives. We can freely choose. But why is it so much easier to choose to indulge rather than abstain? Is it really a choice, or are we slaves to our passions? I don’t know what you tell others you believe, but deep down in your heart, do you have to admit that you really don’t have it all together? Is there a great gulf fixed between your public persona and your assessment of yourself when no one is around. Does your Facebook profile show you as an enthusiastic go getter who has it all together when your private life is best summed up in Paul’s words in Romans 7 “O wretched person that I am”?
But don’t worry. The television has an answer for you. Alongside the Nutri-System and Jenny Craig ads are the ads of the psychologists. Then there is always Dr. Phil and Oprah. Surely they can steady the wreck we have made of our lives. But after we have tried out the latest fads, we still feel empty and broken. Is there any hope for us wretches?
I have good news to bring. There is help. There is someone who can fix the plague of our heart. It isn’t the advice of someone who sells his plan to get your life together, someone who doesn’t have it together himself. Just look at the lives of Hollywood idols. Do they have it together? The most of them are just as if not more desperate than the rest of us. How could they have any answers? They have wealth, influence, power, and the ability to indulge their every fantasy. They are hunted down by their own fans and followers. They seem to alternate between Hollywood and rehab. No, if you are looking for help from the world, you are looking for healing in all the wrong places.
The problem with us has been well described by a French mathematician named Blaise Pasqual. He noted that every person has a God-sized hole in his (her) heart. St. Augustin puts it in a similar what when he say that the heart is restless until it finds its rest in God. Nothing else can fill this void.
But how do we get there. Which way should we look to find God? Is God “up there”? In a spherical earth, which way is up anyway? God seems so wholly other to us. He is so remote. We know we have a whole in our heart that no surgeon can fix.
The good news is that we don’t have to find God. God has reached out to find us. Adam and Eve went out and hid themselves in the garden. They did not even want to find God, for they feared His judgment for their disobedience. They weren’t sure what “death” was, but it did not sound pleasant. They discovered they had a bad heart. But God came searching for them. He did not leave them there in desperate fear and brokenness. Yes there would be severe chastisement. They would be thrown out of the garden. The earth would be cursed and their children cursed with death and decay. But this was not the end of the story.
Paul tells us at the right time, God sent His Son, born of a woman, a birth we have just finished celebrating. His Son was not a broken human being like we are. He had it all together. He did not have a God sized hole in His heart. He was in perfect communion with the Father in heaven and perfectly did the will of He who sent Him to earth. Despite His perfection, he was allowed to feel our forsakenness. His perfect body was disfigured by scourging and crucifixion. He who deserved all acceptance was rejected by the world. Jesus did not come into the world to warm our heart at Christmastime. He came to change us.
It is in Jesus Christ that has become the peace of heart to those who believe on Him. He fills the God sized hole in our hearts that nothing else can fill. He can give you a new heart and a new life. He calls all to repentance, to consider that He alone is the way, the truth, and the life. All the idols of our heart only make the tear worse. But Jesus brings healing and true hope.
This morning’s text says “Behold, I make all things new” from Revelation 21:5. This comes at the end of the bible just as the fall of man comes at the beginning. The end of the Bible tells us that all creation shall find healing and wholeness. Those who believe will partake in this new creation. When we sing the songs of the faith, we realize that many of them come from the Book of Revelation and its promise of restoration. The symbols of the book paint a glorious picture. It is sometimes hard to put these pictures perfectly together, for as Paul reminds us in Corinthians that we only see in part. We see heaven by the eyes of faith, knowing that our faith shall not be disappointed. What has been revealed to us is glorious, and we can be sure that what we now understand is a glorious understatement of reality. Heaven will be greater than what we perceive in streets of gold and gates of pearl. We can think of a lovely river of crystal pure water with luscious fruit trees. We can think of the most perfect wedding. Heaven will be better than that, even if I cannot put it into words for you.
But I also must warn you, that not everyone will be there. The book of Revelation mentions that there will be many excluded from that city. They shall be permanently excluded because they refused to believe the good news. They may hear the sounds of mirth and joy from outside the walls just like the rich man could observe the joys of Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom. Besides the physical torment of the rich man would be added the mental torment that he could have been on the other side. So when the Savior comes near, call upon his name. The bible says He will abundantly pardon. You need not be afraid to come as He has promised that He would not reject anyone who will come to him in faith.
Faith isn’t something you work up in yourself. It is God’s gift of grace. It comes by hearing the Word of God. This is why God has sent preachers to tell you what God has done in your behalf. You could never do anything to earn this gift, so accept what God has done for you in Jesus Christ. If you feel weak and need faith, ask God for it. Dare to act upon the Word of God who says that He did not send Jesus into the world to condemn you but to save you.
For the Christian, we all too often fail to act on the faith we have received. We get as frustrated, if not more frustrated, in our shortcomings as the unbeliever. If the unbeliever senses emptiness, we sense utter wretchedness. But Paul had these feelings too, and he shared them with us in Romans 7. But as soon as Paul makes the lament of his wretchedness and laments over who could save him from this body of death, the answer comes back: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”
We continue to look forward to the time of our full renewal. We must believe that day is coming. John tells us that while it is true that we don’t see with our human eyes and reason what we will be like, we have the promise that when He appears, we will be like Him because we will see Him for who He is. This is the hope that causes us to purify and renew ourselves in expectation of this day.
So what we need is not some new self-help strategy or plan. We are beyond the help the world offers. And we do not offer the world practical advice for healing their brokenness, but the only remedy to cure the disease. So let us be thankful that God has promised to make all things new and stand upon the promise He has given. We may feebly struggle here while others in glory shine and are enjoying the promised rest. It will be all right.
What we are promised is not just a new year, but a new life. We know that He who has started a good work in us will indeed finish it. Like children, we yearn for full adulthood. That day will come. God has promised. In this, we must stand.