3 January 2016
Jeremiah 31:7-14, John 1:1-18
Heavenly Father, may the words of my lips open to us something of your written word and so lead us ever closer to your living word, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Although it may be a couple of days late, please let me wish you a Happy New Year!
Has anyone made any New Year’s resolutions this year? Have any of them lasted for 3 days yet? I have to admit that I generally don’t bother with the regular round of new years resolutions anymore. I have probably tried most of them over the years: I will get fitter by running, riding or swimming more, I will learn a foreign language, I will cut down on my caffeine intake and so on. And what is the outcome of all these resolutions over the years? My waistline shows no sign of shrinking, my collection of half used language learning courses rattles around in the back of my car and I have recently acquired a espresso maker that can whip up a double shot latte quicker than Costa Coffee. So after years of aspiring to be a lean mean, multilingual, running machine existing on nothing but macrobiotics and spring water I am still an unfit monoglot with a bad coffee habit. Now there’s an epitaph for the headstone. Which I will probably need sooner rather than later because of all of the above.
Despite being in the shiny New Year of 2016 and despite the shops already having Easter eggs on the shelves we should not forget that now and for the next few days at least we are still celebrating the season of Christmas, Epiphany is not until Wednesday which means that the wise men have not even reached the nativity scene yet.
Although the cycle of the Christian year is often about watching and waiting for the season that is coming it is also important to really celebrate and dwell in the season once it arrives, without rushing onto the next thing. Living in the moment. Being at the feast rather than either looking forward to the feast or thinking about the next one. In the secular world it seems that Christmas starts on 1 December and ends with the Boxing Day sales but here Christmas proper starts with midnight mass and goes on for 12 days until the Epiphany, and some say that the liturgical season of Christmas includes the season of Epiphany which goes on until Candlemas at the beginning of February. And so, at the risk of being really counter-cultural I wouldn’t just like to wish you a Happy New Year but I would also like to wish you a continuing Happy Christmas!
This morning we had the prophet Jeremiah read for us, and it has to be said that Jeremiah is not renowned for being a cheery sort of prophet. In fact even the very word Jeremiah has become synonymous with being the harbinger of doom and gloom. But today the tone even of Jeremiah has shifted, literally from mourning into joy. The days of exile and punishment and slavery will not last forever and Jeremiah is conveying God’s promise to the people that no matter how bad things get, no matter how scattered they become, no matter how hopeless things appear, that they are still members of his flock, that they will be gathered together again and will return home to the promised land.
And the imagery he uses is full of joy after joy:
“They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord.”
I love the thought of people being radiant over the goodness of God – it puts me in mind of Moses whose face shone when he came down from the presence of the Lord and, of course, of the radiance of Jesus and the Angels at the transfiguration. To be exposed to the presence and the goodness of God is to make a people radiant and I can’t help thinking that if more Christians today truly radiated the goodness of God then we wouldn’t need any other form of evangelism.
“their life shall become like a watered garden and they shall never languish again.”
Isn’t that wonderful – God’s plan for his people is not that they should suffer and be unhappy and live a life of constant turmoil. God actually wants his children to live life as if in a watered garden. And we know that that is not just a random line taken out of context – we know that God has always wanted his children to live in a watered garden because that is exactly the story we are told about the garden of Eden. The word ‘paradise’ comes from the Persian word for walled garden and God actually wants us to live in paradise, not in the afterlife but in the midst of creation. I shall come back to that in a moment.
“Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry.”
So many people portray the world of faith as a world of gloominess, and the best people at doing that are often people of faith themselves. But God’s greatest desire is to draw us home and our proper response to that should not be gloominess but dancing and merriness. This is not just a feast, coming home to God should be a party! Again if God’s chosen people really lived their lives as radiant party people then everyone would want to join in.
And, for some reason, this verse really spoke to me:
“I will give their priests their fill of fatness…”
There is so much I could say but I’ll just let you make up your own jokes.
“…and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty.”
There are two things to say about that. The first is that God’s bounty is all that we need to be a radiant, partying, thanksgiving people and that we ought to be satisfied with it. But if we think back again to the story of Adam and Eve in paradise, to so many other stories in the bible when things went wrong for people, and probably even to the story of our own lives, how often do we spoil the promise of paradise by not being satisfied with God’s bounty and running after other things?
There are so many forces in the world with a vested interest in making us dissatisfied with God’s bounty, and I know that this is sheer hypocrisy coming from a man with a new coffee machine but God can even speak through hypocrites, I have a strong suspicion that if we rediscovered God’s bounty in our own lives and learnt to dwell there that we would be starting on the road back to paradise.
But we also know that Jeremiah 31 was not the end of God’s story with his people and that ultimately the Good Shepherd had to step into the darkness of a broken and sinful world in order to gather his people together and show them the way back to paradise. The prologue to the gospel of St John, which I preached on on Christmas Eve, shows us the marvellous and mystical vision of the Word of God, who created the heavens and earth at the beginning of all time, taking on human flesh and becoming a human, vulnerable baby, so that he could become a human, vulnerable, man and through his words and his actions to demonstrate God’s love for a people who had walked far from him. And not just to demonstrate them but to incarnate God’s love for his people and to bring us the promise that all who believe in his name, will be joined into his flock and will become the children of light.
And the children of light are, of course, a radiant people. These things are joined up you know, God does know what he is doing.
We do like to complicate faith and theology sometimes but really it is very simple. We were created out of love in the image of God to live in paradise but we spoil the image of God and shut ourselves out of paradise by running after the things that are not of God. But God has not stopped loving us and his constant call on his creation is to return to him with rejoicing and finally he sent his only Son into the world to call us home and to show us the way.
This year let’s all just try to keep one New Year’s resolution – to accept Jesus the Son of God as our Lord and Saviour and to allow that to make us the radiant, joyful, partying people of God in this place.