What will 2016 be remembered for?
For many it will be one of the worst years of terrorist attacks. It’s estimated around 1500 have been killed and 3500 injured in terrorist attacks around the world.
Or perhaps it will be remembered for the celebrity deaths such as Carrie Fischer and her mother Debbie Reynolds, singers David Bowie, Prince and George Michael in recent times.
But on a more positive note 2016 has, for many, been known as the year of the “underdog”:
For sporting fans this year saw the Cronulla Sharks break a 49 year streak without winning a grand finale. It was rugby league’s longest title drought.
In the AFL the Western Bulldogs broke the longest Grand Final drought of 62 years.
In America the Chicago Cubs baseball club broke the “curse of the billy goat” when they broke the 71 year curse by winning the World Series.
In premier league soccer Leicester City won the English Premier League even though they were 5000 to 1 with the bookmakers.
The world of politics didn’t escape the underdog making good either:
In a vote that shocked the world the United Kingdom voted in favour of leaving the European Union known as Brexit.
But the one that trumps the underdog victory, if you’ll pardon the pun, was Donald Trump taking victory to become the next President of the United States leaving all the polls scratching their heads wondering how.
What will you remember 2016 for? Will it be a year where you have grieved? Will it be a year where you have rejoiced? Will it be a year you’d rather not remember? Will it be a year that, like Peter on the mount of Transfiguration, you wished you could build a shelter for yourself and stay there?
Going into a New Year can be quite daunting. Will the economy hold up or will it cause my employment to come under threat? Will my reduced pension affect my standard of living? Will this be the year that interest rates rise and will I be able to make the repayments on my mortgage.
It can be quite frightening except for the promise that we heard last week as we celebrated Christmas: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Matthew 2:23)
Whatever the year ahead has for us we go with the promise of God that we do not go alone – God is with us. Sometimes it can feel as if we are all alone in our walk; that God is not with us. But that is where faith comes in for us. Believing in God’s promises and holding firm to his presence with us. We need to believe that despite the circumstances that are presented that God is and always will be with us.
In our baptism God reaffirmed that promised when Jesus said: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,… and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The same “Emmanuel” promise– I am with you always. When Jesus received his name today, it too was an act of faith and a reminder of God’s special presence with us. Luke tells us: “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb”. We are reminded that God has our life in his hands. Jesus was named before he was conceived in the womb. Psalm 139 says similar things about us: For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. (v13). When Jeremiah felt daunted about what lay ahead for him God reminded him: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart;”
Whatever life has in store for us in 2017 we know that God, as our Good Shepherd, has led the way. We don’t always know what that path is; Sometimes we don’t make the right decisions; but even when we stray from God we can be confident that God’s promise remains true – I am with you always.
Sometimes we’re not sure what God wants us to do. Sometimes we angst wondering whether we’ve done the right thing according to God’s will. I believe that if we live by faith then we can live without the fear of wondering whether it’s God’s will or not.
St Paul when writing to the Ephesians says: For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10). Not only has God has prepared the way for us – God has prepared the good works for us to do in advance. And if we aren’t sure and we make a mistake we have the grace of God to forgive us and set us on the right path or maybe even a new path. And that’s why the name of Jesus’ is all important as the angel informed Joseph when told “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21).
As human beings we want to be in control of our future. We work hard, we build up our careers – we build up our superannuation – we invest in shares and property that will give us a good return and comfort for the future. But our future is written by God. And we are called to have the same mindset as Jesus Christ who humbled himself even though he was God. And because of his humility and trust in his Father’s will he was given the name that is above all names.
We are called to exhibit that same humility and trust – Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5) That doesn’t mean we can’t prepare for the future but it’s the fear of the future that Satan uses to break our relationship with God. He did it with Adam and Eve who could eat from any tree in the Garden of Eden except one. He did it to Peter who while walking on the water took his eyes off Jesus and onto the wind and waves.
As we say farewell to 2016 and welcome in 2017 it is an opportunity to look at ways of increasing our faith in God. Usually people make New Year’s resolutions. As Christians we can also use a New Year to spend more time with God. In the bible there are 1189 chapters. If we read 3 chapters a day – one in the morning, one at lunch, one before we go to bed, we would read the entire bible in a year. Imagine if we spent just 3 minutes each day praying for the members of our congregation. 3 minutes doesn’t sound like a long time but if we stopped now for 3 minutes it would seem like an eternity. Imagine how many people you could pray for and what a difference it could make. And 3 minutes is one ad break on TV.
Let us remember that as Christians, as baptised Children of God we now bear Jesus’ name as in the Robin Mann and John Kleinig song – because we bear your name. It’s an important name that we bear. It’s a powerful name that we bear as St Paul says: God highly exalted Jesus and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
We have the power of Jesus’ name to forgive and restore in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We have the power to bless and be blessed by the name of God:
The Lord, bless you and keep you;
The Lord, make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
The Lord, lift-up his countenance upon you, and give, you peace.
Knowing this amazing power and gift that we have 2017 and beyond should never be daunting but a blessing to have the opportunity to be the presence of God in the world. To bear the name of Jesus and Emmanuel – God with us and each other; so may you go into this New Year confident that whatever the year presents that Jesus, our Emmanuel is with us.