Happy New Years! Welcome to Day 1 of failed New Year’s Resolutions… a little cynicism for you… How many millions resolve to make a change in the new year and then fail in the first week? Most of us see the New Year as a perfect opportunity to start over or to change bad habits. How’s the new diet going? Did you start exercising this morning, or have you already started with “I’ll start on Monday!”? Oh, that’s right – Monday’s a public holiday – I’ll bet you’re starting on Tuesday, right?
I’ve been reading a lot recently about how to make (and keep to) your New Year’s Resolutions:
- 29 New Year’s Resolution Ideas – Make This Your Best Year Ever!
- Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Like a Boss 2017 – The Decision-Driven Secret
- 6 Ways to Create (and keep) New Year’s Resolutions in 2017
I’m sure, as you look at all of your New Year’s Resolutions for 2017, there is a common thread throughout – they are your version of YOU as a better person: exercise, less television or internet or social media, more prayer, giving, serving, practicing gratitude…
This New Years, I want to remind you of the disruptions that happen in life, and those who live with and around us whose lives have been disrupted. Remember Joseph and Mary, living in Bethlehem – probably rebuilding their new life in Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus. I wonder… Where was Joseph working? Had they started to build their own home or were they living in a rental?
And suddenly, in the midst of whatever life and plans and dreams Joseph and Mary had now rebuilt, an angel appears in the middle of the night in a dream and tells Joseph to flee to Egypt and remain there until they are told they can leave, because Herod intends to search for the child and destroy him. And we know what the collateral damage of Herod’s fear was: all children under 2 years old in and around Bethlehem. Now, maybe that was only 20-30 children, if Bethlehem only had a population of 1,000 or so people – but that’s 20-30 too many!
A few weeks ago you may have seen the image of a couple and their baby from Aleppo, the father wearing patched pants and mismatched clothes, carrying a baby in a blanket that was much too large for the child, with the baby in one arm and an IV drip in the other. The look of determination, shock, and yet emptiness in the father’s face. A mid-eastern couple and their child, fleeing from violence – just like Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus whose birth we have just celebrated last week. Displaced by a power struggle that really has nothing to do with them, and yet everything to do with them!
And how many displaced sojourners and aliens do we have in Panama at the moment? People whose plans for their lives were disrupted by the situation in their homeland, who have now traveled to Panama, as Mary & Joseph traveled to Egypt, looking for a safer place to live, away from the imminent threat that their homeland held for them as a family. There are over 90 verses throughout the Bible regarding the “sojourner” or the “alien”, and it’s good to be reminded of them:
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
EXODUS 22:21 ESV
“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
“‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’
ZECHARIAH 7:9-10 ESV
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.”
LEVITICUS 25:35 ESV
“If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you.
Isaiah 16: 3-5 ESV
3“Give counsel; grant justice; make your shade like night at the height of noon;
shelter the outcasts; do not reveal the fugitive; 4 let the outcasts of Moab sojourn among you;
be a shelter to them from the destroyer. When the oppressor is no more, and destruction has ceased,
and he who tramples underfoot has vanished from the land, 5then a throne will be established in steadfast love,
and on it will sit in faithfulness in the tent of David one who judges and seeks justice and is swift to do righteousness.”
And yet, our world has become one in which we have all become like Herod, treating the outcasts and the sojourners and the aliens as if they were a threat to us – wanting them dead and out of our towns and countries: they should just go home, they don’t belong here! They have come to take what is ours! They are a threat to our comfort and power! So we should destroy them before they destroy us.
And yet this is not what we are taught if we closely read everything that God ordered Moses and the people of Israel in the Old Testament, and certainly not in the light of today’s reading in Matthew: Jesus was that outcast, whose parents ran with him to Egypt as an alien and sojourner to escape the anger and threat of Herod.
This New Years, I invite you to remember:
“As one person, I cannot change the world; but I can change the world of one person.”
We are called to be Christ-like – to giving living water to the Samaritan woman, to heal the lepers, to feed the hungry, to dine with the tax-collector, to accept the Centurions’ request and command from afar… Decide this day, what will you choose? And each day in 2017, choose again and again! One act a day to being the presence and love of Christ in this world! Actively choosing each day to be this love.
Let us pray:
Creator God, today we remember that you taught us by your very example humility and simplicity in live. As this New Year begins, focus our hearts on paying more attention to others and less on ourselves; listening first and talking later; offering constructive criticism, without complaining; performing acts of kindness each day. We remember this day that you have granted us the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that we might show the fruit of the Spirit in this world, being the light and salt of the earth. In the name of him who taught us by his very example. Amen.