Happy new year!
It feels like 2020 ended very strangely indeed, Christmas and new year have felt very different.
I think it’s fair to say we all want a fresh start.
The concept of ‘new year new you’ is very popular, but I want to challenge that a little. I can hand on heart say I’ve struggled with things this year – and that’s from a privileged position of good physical health and still with a job, and one which isn’t risking that health – things that so many people haven’t been so fortunate to claim.
I wonder if we might think more along the lines of new year, same you – but that same person being renewed, strengthened.
Isaiah 40:31 tells us - Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
We may well feel weary – especially in the darkest days of winter. And that’s OK. That’s not weakness. Strength can be in knowing our weariness but also wearing that with our faith. Or even being carried by faith and hope.
Both of today’s readings remind us that as God’s beloved children, and that through Jesus incarnation in full humanity simultaneously with his divinity, we may know and be in relationship with God.
The God who loves us unconditionally.
The God who Psalm 139 reminds us knitted us together in the womb, knew us before we were made.
The God who by the Spirit strengthens and renews us, and draws us ever closer to Godself.
In John 14 Jesus promises “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
The God who continues to give life to every cell in our body, as we do indeed stay the same but also change and renew, and renew again, and again.
The first reading reminds us of the freedom that belonging to God gives us. Freedom of salvation, in the future, but also in a more present way, freedom in our daily lives. The freedom of knowing that love.
Though Christmas was very restricted and with Tier 4 things looking increasingly bleak, we can still take comfort in the freedom of knowing that we can love God (honour and praise as the verse puts it) in whatever way we do.
Since if our praise and worship comes truly from our heart, which God indeed made, no circumstances can separate us… as Paul writes in Romans 8 - I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,<sup> </sup>neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
As the gospel passage reminds us, God’s loving presence is the one constant: from the beginning of time, and onwards infinitely.
Today of course is also the feast of the Epiphany. The wise men, strangers, foreigners, being some of the first witnesses to God’s love embodied in the child Jesus. Their part of the story telling in no uncertain terms, that God’s love and the renewal that it offers, is for absolutely everyone.
The star they followed, one light shining in the darkness showing to the way to Christ, again in John’s words, the Light of the World, the true light that sines in the darkness which the darkness does not overcome.
As the days just begin to get a fraction longer now, lightening bit by bit, day by day, maybe we too can be reminded of that hope and that the Wise Men followed, to their encounter with Christ.
The light that strengthened them over arduous months of travelling probably across hostile terrain and inclement weather and goodness knows what other problems along the way the details of which never made it into the biblical account.
At the end of today’s service there’s a prayer of covenant where we have the opportunity to place ourselves into God’s care – of trust and commitment to God’s love. It’s a way of responding to God’s promise of love – offering ourselves back to God.
So we say to God, just like Isaiah did – “here I am” – the same me who you created, the same me who you love, the same me who might be a bit broken or battered, but Lord, I trust you that you will give me the strength to deal with whatever comes. Like the Wise Men, I will keep seeking you – through whatever terrain of life.
I’m going to end with some words from St Frances de Sales:
“Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow;
the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day.
Either He will shield you from suffering, or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace, then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings.”