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What a pleasure to describe:
To be more neat, watch what I eat,
Less frequently imbibe;
To be benign and patient,
Ever caring and polite,
With full aplomb serenely calm
And nevermore uptight;
To suffer all fools gladly,
Cast aside pretense and pride,
In all I wear look debonair,
Genteel and dignified.
My New Year's resolutions,
How inspiring to review...
Spectacular!...Too bad they are
Impossible to do!
Uh huh. Do you remember the Calvin & Hobbes cartoons that used to run in the newspaper? In one that appeared at this time of year, Hobbes, Calvin's stuffed tiger, asks, "Did you make any resolutions for the New Year?"
Calvin comes unglued and shouts, "NO! I'm fine just the way I am! Why should I change? In fact, I think it's high time the world started to change to suit ME! I don't see why I should do all the changing around here. If the New Year requires resolutions, I say it's up to everybody else, not me! I don't need to improve! Everyone ELSE does!" Calvin then takes a breath and asks, "How about you? Did you make any resolutions?"
Hobbes has this flabbergasted look on his face and says, "Well, I had resolved to be less offended by human nature, but I think I blew it already."(2)
Wife to husband: "I don't want to brag, but here it is February, and I have kept every one of my New Year's resolutions. I've kept them in a manila folder in the back of my desk!"(3)
Any New Year's resolutions for you this year? Lots of people make them. I'm gonna learn Spanish. Buenos Dias! That's about as far as I've gotten. Actually, Feliz Año Nuevo - that's Happy New Year. I read somewhere that the top five resolutions are to get personal finances in order, lose weight, stop smoking, become more physically fit, and improve personal relationships. Some folks even decide to attend church more faithfully. I think they're going to start next week. Good. But the fact is that after only one week, almost a quarter of us have bailed out on whatever it was that we had resolved to do; after a month, almost half have given up; after two years, only about one in five still hang in.(4) Hmm. There is an old Irish toast that says, "May all your troubles in the coming year be as short as your New Year's Resolutions."(5)
No doubt, the resolution failure rate is what keeps many folks from making any at all which is probably why half of us will not bother. But even those of us who refuse to fool with an annual list understand the appeal. There IS something about us that looks forward to new beginnings, isn't there? The plaintive plea, "Give me another chance, please, just one more chance," resonates through our collective soul.
2003 was an interesting year. Some good, some bad. I think it is unquestionably good that Saddam is no longer a threat to anyone. I think it is bad that it took a war to work it out. What was it the paper said the other day, 14,000 of our young men and women killed or wounded in this? Gracious! In 2004, that has to change. In 2003 the market came back, to a degree. But there are still no jobs. That will have to change. Mad Cow? My goodness! 2003 at First Presbyterian was exceptional in many respects - we began our 9:00 o'clock service that has been wonderfully well received. But we lost some very special people too. What will 2004 have in store for us?
The good news I have for you at the beginning of the new year is that we serve a God of New Beginnings. I talked about this with you three-and-a-half years ago, the first Sunday in July, 2000. That was my first Sunday in this pulpit. God did begin a new thing in this congregation then, and it has been wonderful to behold. Who knows what God has for our future? I am just anxiously awaiting what all is there.
The Bible is full of beginnings, and that is a delight to lock into, whether it's the beginning of a pastorate or the beginning of a new year. God begins the world with creation. God begins humanity with Adam and Eve. Then, when Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden, God gave them clothes, sent them on their way, and began again. Then the world became such a horrible place that God found Noah, had him build an ark, put himself, his family, and every animal imaginable in it, sent him on his way, and began once more. As time went on, God chose Abraham to father a special people - a new relationship with humanity was begun. Soon God's special people were in bondage in Egypt; they cried out for deliverance, so God sent them a rescuer, Moses, through whom they were freed from bondage and brought into the Promised Land, and God began again. Then, as scripture says, in the fullness of time, God sent someone to bring the good news of another "new beginning," one that offered salvation for all and eternal life - our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Finally, as Revelation says, at the end of history, things will not really END at all. As our lesson has it, we find "a new heaven and a new earth." No more tears, no more pain, no more death. "I am making everything new...I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end." Over and over and over again, in the midst of our sinfulness, in the midst of our wandering, in the midst of our fear, in the midst of our failure, this God of new beginnings begins with us again.
Do you understand the implications of that? It means that this God of New Beginnings is more concerned about your future than your past. Hear it again: this God of New Beginnings is more concerned about your future than your past. Yes, your past may well be a record of one failure after another, one broken resolution after another, but that does not matter...not to this God, the one whom we come to know in a very personal way in Jesus Christ.
To let you know that bygones are indeed bygones, you are invited to a New Year's meal, a celebration of new beginnings. No, not Hoppin' John and collard greens in the south or pork and sauerkraut in the north of whatever your tradition eats to celebrate a new year...just the simple fare of bread and wine that has come to mean so much.
A moment ago, we mentioned those distinguished theologians, Calvin & Hobbes, whose insights, sadly, no longer grace our morning papers. In the very last comic strip before their untimely demise, Calvin says, "...a brand new year! A fresh, clean start! A day full of possibilities! It's a magical world, Hobbes, ole buddy..."(6)
Indeed! It IS a magical world. It is YOUR world. The gracious gift of the God of New Beginnings.
1. by John T. Baker, http://tenderbytes.net/rhymeworld/jtb/BInewyrsres.html
2. Quoted in Dynamic Illustrations, Jan/Feb 1996 from Parables, Etc.
3. Robert Orben
4. Dawn DeCwikiel-Kane, "Readers find resolutions easy to make, easy to break," Greensboro News & Record, 1/2/98, D1
5. Joyful Noiseletter, 1-93, p. 2
6. Dynamic Illustrations, Jan/Feb/Mar 98