New Years’ Day Message 2017
I wish I had taken a picture of our church Christmas tree when it was first brought up from downstairs a month ago, to compare it with what it has looked like throughout the Advent season.
It was quite a sight. It was in three or four pieces. That is normal for storage, but most of the branches were sort of crushed up against each other, which of course did not count the three branches that were no longer connected to the tree.
Many of the tree’s problems were corrected. The pieces were put together. The missing branches were wired and/or screwed back onto the tree. All the branches were fluffed. But even with that, the tree was still kind of plain.
The tree remained plain until the tree was decorated with lights and ornaments and ribbon streamers. With the decorations, all the pieces and wired-on parts were hidden by something better. What was broken and plain was transformed into something of beauty.
You know where I am going with this. It is the statement that, on our own, we are often a lot like the tree before the decorating. At best plain, more likely broken or crushed.
On our own, that is the way we would remain. However, we do not have to remain that way. We will not remain that way if we will allow - as we allow - ourselves to be decorated, in a spiritual sense, by the master designer, that being Jesus, the one whose birth we celebrated last Sunday.
Today, on this New Year’s Day Sunday, let’s think about what being broken and crushed looks like. Let’s also think about what we look like when we are, spiritually, put back together, fluffed, and decorated. Of course, this being the start of a new year, when we often think of resolutions we want to make for the next 12 months, let’s be resolved to allow ourselves to be put together, fluffed, and decorated by Jesus in the ways we will discuss.
The Bible passage for this message is in the New Testament Book of Colossians. We will consider some of the verses in chapter 3. We will begin with a list of things that relate to what our tree looked like at first. What life is often like before accepting Jesus. We will begin with verse 5, in which there is a list of bad things. Things we are instructed to get rid of in our lives.
That list begins with fornication and impurity, which refer to physical relationships outside the bonds of marriage between one man and one woman. It goes beyond just physical relationships. It includes the thoughts people have. Fornication and impurity, in that sense, refer to unwholesome thinking.
Next on the list are passion and evil desire. Passion in this passage refers to not taking the time or making the effort to think about what is done, including the costs of actions and the effects actions can have on relationships. It is the demand that I get or take what I want, even if it is harmful to you, which of course leads to desiring or wanting what is evil rather than what is helpful, personally and to others.
Covetousness is on the list. That is the desire to have more and more of something, including a desire to have what belongs to someone else. It refers to an unquenchable desire for more and more.
Covetousness can lead to other problems. If what is coveted is money, it can lead to theft. If prestige is coveted, it can lead to slandering others. If power is the goal, covetousness can lead to tyranny. If the coveting is centered on another person, it can lead to fornication and impurity.
All those things - fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness - are what people look like before being decorated by Jesus.
Of course, not every non-believer necessarily has all those things wrong with him or her, but non-believers are certainly more susceptible to them.
And there is more, listed in verses 8 and 9.
Anger and wrath. Wrath is a quick rage that can lead to saying things without thinking. Things that can be hurtful and never taken back. Anger refers to a long-lasting, slow-burning feeling. A person with anger refuses to be pacified.
Malice. That is wanting the worst to happen to someone else, which is the opposite of love.
Slander, foul talk, and lieing. Those three things refer to insulting for the purpose of hurting the reputation of someone else, to speaking obscenities, to not telling the truth.
What an ugly list. A list of things that are bad. But these, and the items on the list before this one, describe what people are like without the spiritual decorating of Jesus.
Again, not every non-believer has every one of the things on the two lists, but again, a non-believer is more susceptible to all those things. As a non-believer has any of those things, he or she is as broken and crushed as our church tree when it was brought to the sanctuary a month ago.
What ugly things. But things that do not have to continue to describe anyone. A list that can be hidden. More than hidden. Paul, who wrote Colossians, taught that everything on the ugly lists is to be put away or put to death. Each one of those things is to be eliminated.
However, such elimination is not the end. We are then to put on - we are to allow Jesus to decorate us with - some very good, wonderful, wholesome, beautiful things. As beautiful as the lights and decorations and ribbon streamers on our tree. Things that are listed in verses 12 through 15, still in Colossians 3. Things we are, according to Paul, to put on. In the context of today’s message, things with which we are to allow Jesus to decorate us.
First on this list is compassion, which can be defined as having pity. Not in the bad sense of that word. Not looking down on someone who is in unfortunate circumstances. But in being so sorry for someone in trouble, we will do what we can to help.
At the time of Paul, there was not much compassion. Animals in pain? Who cared? They were just animals. People maimed or sick? Let them go hungry. It was their problem to deal with. The aged or the simple-minded? Were they really worth anyone caring for? If they were no good to society, why bother with them?
That is the way it was at the time of Paul, but it was not and is not the way it is supposed to be among Christians. When we see someone struggling in any way - physically, emotionally, relationally, financially, spiritually - we are to have the desire to help and we are supposed to help, which we will when we allow ourselves to be decorated by Jesus with compassion.
Kindness. That is doing what we can to make the good of others as important to us as our own good.
Being kind requires being mellow, as not being harsh with others. That is what we are to be so we can accomplish the next thing on the list, which is lowliness, or humility.
Then there is meekness. That word, to our society, seems to mean being pushovers. To being so weak people can walk all over us. But that is not the intent of the word. To be meek is supposed to mean to be gentle and self-controlled, keeping our emotions and our actions gentle and controlled.
We are to be meek enough to have patience, which can be described this way.
If we are met with foolishness or stubbornness - even if either or both those things are what causes someone to be in a difficult time - those things are not to cause us to be short-tempered or cynical. We are supposed to still be decorated with compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience.
If we are met with insults or other kinds of mistreatment, we are not to react with wrath or develop bitterness. We are to still want those who hurt us to have what is good for their well-being. All that is included in having forbearance toward one another, which is also on the list of things that are to decorate us.
Have you noticed that none of the things on the beautiful list are easy to accomplish? Even with the hand of Jesus doing the decorating, these are tough things to do and have. They seem to have become tougher the farther we have gone.
However, Paul added that Jesus is our example of forgiveness. As the Lord has forgiven each of us who has repented of our sins, so are we to forgive others. Which may have to extend to those who do not ask for our forgiveness. Which we will be able to do as a result of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, patience, and forbearance.
And, wrote Paul, “Above all these, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
Then, “Let the peace of Christ…” Let the peace of Christ. That at least implies Jesus has peace available, just as He has available all the other things on the beautiful list. But we have to allow Him to decorate us with each of those things, including peace. “Let His peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” Let Him decorate you with all that is good so your brokenness and your being crushed can be covered over by His beautiful gifts.
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Throughout this season’s Advent services, each of the messages has included both a story and a bird. This message is no different, both of which will be related to today’s featured Bible passage.
First, a story, written by Jennifer, who shared that one Christmas season, when she was a girl, she knew she was not supposed to be quite so excited. She was too old for that. A age 11, the oldest child in the family - her mom and dad’s grown up girl - she knew she was supposed to keep her cool. She was, after all, in middle school.
However, every chance she got, when she was alone, Jennifer checked each present under the tree. There weren’t too many presents, but she read every tag and felt every package, guessing at the contents within. She had examined each gift so often she could tell which present went to which person without looking at the tags.
It had been a tough year for Jennifer’s family. Whenever her mom looked over at the tree and the few presents under it, she would sigh and warn, “There won’t be as much for Christmas this year. Try not to be disappointed.”
However, Christmas had traditionally been a time for Jennifer’s parents to spoil their children. In years past, the presents would pile up and spill out from under the tree, taking over the living room. All those years, Jennifer had heard that giving is better than receiving, but she thought whoever had said that must have been out of his or her mind. Getting presents was the whole point, was it not?
So, despite her mother’s warnings and the few gifts, the prospect of presents was the reason Jennifer could not get to sleep that Christmas Eve night.
Christmas morning, Jennifer and the other children in the family eagerly waited in the hallway until their dad said everything was ready. They then rushed into the living room and, though the number of gifts had not grown, one-by-one, they let the wrapping paper fly.
When it seemed that all the children’s presents were accounted for, Jennifer’s mother said to her, “Here’s another one for you.” Her mom said that as she handed her a package.
Jennifer looked at it, confused. Having spent so much time examining the presents before Christmas, she recognized this one. It was not Jennifer’s. It was her mom’s present. A new label had been put on it, with Jennifer’s name written in her mother’s handwriting.
“Mom, I can’t,” Jennifer began to say, but she was stopped by her mother’s eager, joyful look. A look Jennifer could not understand. “Let’s see what it is, honey,” Jennifer’s mother said. “Hurry and open it.”
Inside the package was a blow dryer. Though that might seem but a simple gift, to Jennifer it was so much more. Being an 11-year-old girl, she was stunned.
In her world, where receiving outweighed giving by light years, Jennifer’s mom’s act of selflessness was incomprehensible. It was a huge act. Tears filled Jennifer’s eyes as she thought how much her mom loved her. Enough to give up her Christmas so her daughter could have one more present.
Jennifer shares that she has always remembered that Christmas fondly. It had such an impact on her. Now, as an adult with children of her own, she understands what her mother did. How her mother had not given up her Christmas, as Jennifer had thought, but had found an even greater joy in her Christmas because giving truly is better than receiving.
What does that have to do with today’s Bible passage? This. Jesus gave each of us a wonderful present. The present of being with us to teach us and become the sacrifice for our sins.
Unlike Jennifer’s mother with her gift, Jesus suffered when He gave His gift. What a contrast between Heaven, which is where Jesus had been, and the barn and manger where He was born and laid. Later, He had difficult times during His ministry. He died a horrible death by crucifixion. But He did all that - He gave all that - for us. All we have to do is, like Jennifer in the story, accept His gift.
But there is something we can do for Him. Beyond accepting Him, there is something we can give Him. We can allow Him to decorate us, which will be honoring to Him and helpful to others, that help coming from our compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, and love.
As we do that, we will be making His Christmas and our Christmas - and another new year - wonderful, not only now, but always.
And the bird for today?
Earlier this Advent season, we thought about geese. Since geese travel great distances in their twice-a-year migrations, they represent the challenge for us to spread the news of Jesus far and wide.
We thought about French hens, which are just plain, common chickens. They represent the reminder that even when we feel plain and common, we can still be used by God.
We thought about cardinals. They are known for staying in one area year round. They represent the challenge for us to tell those close to us about Jesus.
We thought about owls. Tradition says owls represent wisdom. Are we or will we be wise enough to accept Jesus and serve Him?
We thought about robins. There is a legend that a robin stoked a fire in the barn where Jesus was born. That simple act kept the baby warm. Robins are a challenge for us to serve the Lord, even if such service is humble.
Today, the partridge, which is the first gift given in the song The Twelve Days of Christmas.
In winter months, partridges leave their large flocks and form pairs. As a pair, the two become one.
What is the pairing with which we are to be involved? Spiritually, we are to be paired with Jesus, who is represented by the partridge in the song.
Together - Jesus and us, individually and as a congregation - we can accomplish so much that is good. One more time, goodness represented in our compassion, kindness, and lowliness, our meekness, patience, forbearance, and love, all of which Jesus wants to use to decorate us.
Happy New Year. Let’s make it our resolution all through this year to allow Jesus to repair our brokenness and fluff any crushed branches we do have or will have and get rid of any bad stuff in us. Let’s allow Jesus to decorate us in ways that are honoring to Him and helpful to us and others. By doing that, He will be happy. By making Him happy, so, too, will we be happy.
Today’s closing carol is Joy to the World. Let’s sing it with the joy of knowing we can be one with Jesus.
Joy to the world! the Lord is come:
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven and nature sing.
Joy to the world! the Savior reigns:
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and flocks, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding ,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders of His love.
We who are Christians were broken and crushed, at least spiritually, before we came to know and accept Jesus, but as we have let ourselves be decorated with all the good things He offers us, we have been made beautiful spiritually.
For any who have not accepted Jesus, you, too, can be made spiritually beautiful. That will happen as you accept Him. Please do that, even now.
Then, throughout 2017, let’s continue to be decorated by Jesus. What a privilege that will be for Him and for us and for others. Happy New Year. Amen.