This Year Will Be Different!

Click this link to see the video we watched in worship that is referenced in this message:

“This Year Will Be Different”
Matthew 2:1-12
Sunday, January 1, 2012 – New Year’s Day/Epiphany

Today is another example of how odd our church calendar can be sometimes…It is New Year’s Day because the calendar tells us it is January 1, 2012…It is also Epiphany Sunday, according to the church calendar, because we are supposed to commemorate Epiphany on the Sunday on or before January 6th when Epiphany really is – the 12th day after Christmas…So, here we are with a bit of a conundrum about which special day to celebrate…Oh, and it’s also the first Sunday of the month, so we have Holy Communion today…Today is a busy day indeed!

The gospel reading for this morning is the one we are all accustomed to hearing on Epiphany…Matthew gives us the story of the wise men who came from the East while following a star and looking for a king…It’s a wonderful story with great familiar images that helps us to kind of wrap up the Christmas season in a neat little package so we can put it away until next year.

You’ve probably heard dozens of sermons preached on this text – I know I have…You may even have studied some of the inconsistencies in this story that startle our childhood imaginations about how it all really happened…You may also have noticed that Matthew is the only gospel writer who includes this particular episode in his birth narrative.

This morning I really didn’t want to do yet another “3 Wise Guys” sermon…We got to sing “We Three Kings” earlier…You don’t need me to re-tell that story.

Since this is New Year’s Day, I want to see if we can’t move out of the Epiphany story into a conversation about how the coming year might be different from the past.

I want us to take a lesson, not just from The Epiphany Story, but also from this morning’s video and resolve not to make meaningless resolutions this year and really decide that this year will be different for us as followers of Jesus Christ.

Let us pray…Ever-patient God, we are a people who live in thick darkness.
Help us be people of the light, shining your light of righteousness, peace, and joy into all the dark places of our lives and world.  Open our hearts and minds to the light of your word read and preached. Amen.

The story of the wise men’s visit tells us two very important things…First, they represent the Gentiles – the fact that Jesus is for everybody. Second, their gifts demonstrate that we are to offer our very best to God.

The idea that Jesus came for all people is significant for us…We must never forget that Jesus is not for anyone’s “exclusive club”…everyone has the opportunity to receive grace and salvation through Jesus Christ. This does not mean that there are no expectations of us, nor does it mean that Jesus is some kind of “get out of jail free card” for eternal life…That’s not the way it works.

Jesus came to bring all people into right relationship with God…The story of the 3 wise guys tells us that everyone is included AND that everyone has to have a personal “come to Jesus” moment…We all have to make a conscious decision to follow the Star…we all need to change direction and take a risk to begin the journey…Our gathering video this morning took us through some of the funny moments of how we tend to process our resolutions each year…It also forced us to look a little more honestly at what we really need to be thinking about.

Every year we can talk about losing weight or visiting Grandma more often or being nicer to your parents or simply being calmer…Meanwhile, our relationship with God is on the rocks.

So, my challenge to us this morning is that we really decide that the coming year will be different…NOT in terms of useless New Year’s Resolutions, but in terms of REAL CHANGE in our attitudes, our behavior, and our relationship with God. Can we see ways in which the Christmas Story and the example of the Wise Men make a difference in our lives? Are we ready and willing to take a risk and offer our very best to God? These are not questions that call for an easy answer of “Sure, I can do that.” I am asking all of us to spend some serious time over the next few days and weeks prayerfully considering how we would answer these questions if Jesus was the one asking, because I believe that he IS.

“This year will be different,” our video promised this morning…Will it? Really? Will we all be willing to set aside our personal agenda to seek what is best for the mission of the church? Will we all make real sacrifices to provide for the financial well-being of the church? Will we all inconvenience ourselves to be present with people who need us? Will we all really seek what God wants for us first instead of what we want?

A few things stuck out for me from the video this morning…Remember the young woman who prayed to learn that she was loved, but not entitled? Maybe this is a lesson we all need to learn. God loves us and offers us many wonderful gifts…This does not entitle us to hoard what we have; rather it empowers us to share generously. We are loved by God so that we will love others; we are blessed to be a blessing.

Remember the guy who prayed: “You want the best for me. Why don’t I want the best for me?” Sometimes I think we are our own worst enemy…We refuse to allow God in…God really does want the best for us and we ignore God or turn away…We are unwilling to realize that what God wants for us is better than what we can possibly conceive for ourselves…We don’t want to see what God wants because it isn’t what we want…We don’t want to realize that, when we give-in to God’s call to sacrifice what we have and inconvenience ourselves a bit, we get back more than we ever imagined and we really don’t notice whatever we thought we were giving up in the first place.

What sticks with me most from the video is this prayer: “I offer my life, God, as something much more than what I can see. So please, God, would you just take this little bit of faith that I have?” That’s all it takes for any of us – to offer who we are and what we have to God…I know it’s not much, but God can work with anyone…We don’t have to have a lot; we only need a little faith…maybe as small as a mustard seed…God can do wonderful things with us – if we will allow it…The Wise Men allowed God to take charge and they were led on a long and difficult journey that brought them into the presence of God in Jesus Christ…They allowed God to take the very best they had to offer.

That is what we need to do – we need to allow God to lead us on that long and challenging journey that ultimately brings us into God’s presence…We need to offer God the very best that we have…We need to resolve that this year will indeed be different…This year we will hold nothing back; this year we will cooperate with God like never before; this year we will be better…This year will be different. Because you see, friends, we really can’t wait another year. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen