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Thoughts on the New Year

January 4, 2023

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are

the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.

- John 15:4-5

The New Year is here, and I am off to a new start with the speed of cold molasses. Ushering in the New Year saw all the usual celebrations held around the world and around my subdivision. Every New Year’s Eve and July Fourth, my dog is certain the sky is falling in. Some years ago, New Year’s Eve parties held the esteemed position of being the most widely celebrated “theme party” in the United States with the Super Bowl coming in a close second. New Year’s Eve may still rank as the highest, but if I were to hazard a guess, I think perhaps Halloween is closing the gap as a major “theme party” event.

The older we get, the less inclined we are to engage in all the New Year’s rites – staying up until midnight, shooting fireworks, making resolutions, and such. I can’t speak for everyone else, but the waning of my own interest is, at least in part, due to my current and former dogs’ fear of fireworks, though it’s probably a little unfair to blame either of them for my desire to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Many of us stay home with the explanation that we don’t want to be on the road after midnight with all the inebriated revelers. That particular argument probably has some merit. Frankly, age has a way of turning late night parties and wild-eyed celebrations a lot less appealing. I’m too old to do anything during the night that is going to make me bleary-eyed and nauseous the next morning, meaning I’m not wasting a day on a night I can’t clearly remember.

While I think we can justifiably forego the revelry, I am not as convinced that we should let resolutions slide. I’m not suggesting we continue making pointless resolutions we have absolutely no intention of keeping. Neither you nor I are about to start going to the gym five times each week, a fact unrelated to need. Recently, while watching a rerun from the hilarious sitcom Big Bang Theory, the narcissistic genius, Sheldon, was commenting on someone the characters knew from the past. He first suggested that perhaps the person was different now, then went on to say something to the effect of, “Oh, never mind, that’s not possible. People can’t change.” I have found that to be largely true. People can’t change, at least, not too much. How many of us have made any significant changes in who we are beyond the regular and/or expected changes, like marrying and having children?

How odd is that for Christians? Aren’t we supposed to be changing? Can you honestly say you are more like Christ and less worldly than you were a year ago? I’m not judging you. I’m all over being comfortable. But Christianity isn’t comfortable. Christianity is living in Jesus Christ, and to do that, we have to let Him break down the sin between us – the sin that serves as a barrier between human beings and God. Sure, every person experiences an overwhelming flood of grace when we come to Jesus Christ (when we respond to the grace that draws us to Him). But after that, then what? Are we being changed by cooperating with the Spirit at work in us? That is harder. Sin is just so comfortable, so enjoyable. I think we ought to be honest about that.

To be born of God is to begin life anew as God’s child. Redundant, I know. But clearly, we don’t seem to understand the obvious. We are supposed to be growing up in our salvation, which is not at all the same thing as completing another Bible study or doing one more mission project (both worthwhile endeavors). Unless who we are is being changed, then what we do isn’t working well.

You know who does want to change? The world around us. Isn’t that odd? We are content and comfortable as we are, but the whole world is wishing for change. If New Year’s Eve celebrations tell us nothing else, we should see the deep desire to leave the past behind and start new. Beneath all the revelry and festivities lies the hope that something new is waiting in the coming year, something better, something to make life more worthwhile. It’s almost as if we Christians have the Gospel of salvation, so we are free to float along doing a bit of good here and there, while the world around us wants hope so badly it’s trying every imaginable tack, even to the point of self-destruction.

Note: I did not say that the world around us wants to be Christian. However, I strongly suspect that, if we were more like Christ, a lot more people would want to know Him. Think of the crowds that followed Him wherever He went. The leaders didn’t like Him, but the people did.

The other day, I came across an article that admitted we don’t know how to stop the decline of Christian faith in the Western world. We’ve tried everything we know to no avail. Imagine that. We do not know how to save the world. Shocking, but true… Here’s my thought: let’s try Jesus! Let’s just read through the Gospels and see the sorts of things Jesus did, then ask Him if He will do that among us in this generation. Definitely, we should apologize for trying to grow our religion without His help, guidance, and wisdom. But then, we should pray, step back, and see what He wants to do. That involves a great deal of abiding in Him because it is nerve-wracking to leave the decisions to Him. Still, all in all, He’ll do a better job of saving this generation than we will. That’s why He’s God and we are not.

Jesus told His disciples, “I am the vine, you are the branches… apart from Me you can do nothing.” I’ve thought a lot about this passage for the last several months, prayed about it, too. I commend it to you for thought and prayer, also. How much of your life do try to do without Jesus Christ. The life that flows from the vine to the branch is the sap that nourishes the branch to make fruit. The branch is entirely dependent upon the vine – for everything. Without the vine, the branch dies. It can do nothing but die.

That’s the picture of human pride. When the soul is separated from God, it begins to wither and die. As the soul shrivels, the body – desperate to live – tries anything and everything to survive. But this is futile for the only way for the soul to thrive is to abide in Christ.

There are exceptions that prove the rule, but generally speaking, people can’t change. We can, however, be changed. We can be changed by dwelling in Christ, by abiding in Him, or residing in Him. If we are nestled in the heart of God, then our souls will be fed and nurtured, and our doing will flow from our being.

Do I think we ought to make resolutions? Absolutely! We should resolve to draw closer to Jesus Christ – to seek every day to abide in Him, live in Him. That’s it. If we make that one, single resolution, there’s no telling what God might do, in our lives and in the lives of others around us. And in a world looking for something in which to hope, we will surely become beacons of light illuminating the pathway to the heart of the Lord, the Source of all hope, of all life, of all perfect and good love. Prepare your heart and mind for great things, and our God will do great things in you and through you.

Happy New Year!

In Christ –

Rev. Elizabeth Moreau

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