A Fresh Start: New Year’s Eve Sermon

Luke 2:22-40

Those carefully placed mountains of colorful cookies have been reduced to plates of crumbs, and those glorious, glistening turkeys are now sliced sandwich meat stowed away in Tupperware containers in our fridges.
Those beautiful, shiny packages that once surrounded the tree are now brand new jackets or sweaters keeping us warm, jewelry adorning our necks and wrists, or in my case VERY LOUD toys occupying the bandwidth of our already cacophonous house. The excitement of Christmas has given way to a return to our routines. Friends and family have traveled home and many of us are back at work.
But this morning I want to bring you back to the joy of Jesus’ birth and return to the story of our Savior.
In the gospel text this morning, Luke tells us of the Holy Family’s journey to the temple for the ritual purification, which according to the Law was required of Jewish women before returning to everyday life after childbirth. In addition, all firstborn sons are required to be presented at the temple and dedicated to God.
We also meet two prophets, Simeon and Anna, described as old in age, who meet Jesus and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit experience the fulfillment of their hopes and prayers and offer blessings and praises. They’ve been waiting and waiting for this fulfillment, the one who would usher in this new future. He would be the light to the Gentiles and the glory for the people of Israel. He would bring forth a new future of peace. And as a result of this, Simeon exclaims “you now dismiss your servant in peace for my eyes have seen your salvation”
It’s almost like a passing of the torch.
God in Christ has relieved these two faithful saints of their faithful vigil and offered them the promise of restoration they had hoped for.
One story ends as one begins.
With the arrival of Jesus in the world, a fresh start is underway.
This seems to be the perfect text as we bring 2017 to a close and look toward a brand new year. For some it was a tough year, with the loss of loved ones or the experience of life transitions. For some it was a year of great joy, with the arrival of new babies, or the start of new jobs or careers. And maybe for some it was a mix both- the joy of retirement from a long career followed by maybe the nervousness of what’s next.
The end of one thing followed by the beginning of another.
I for one love fresh starts. The start of the week or the 1st day of the month and especially the start of a new year gives me such joy. To have that clean slate is exciting to me and is pregnant with such possibility. You can put away whatever mistakes you made or regrets you had and start fresh. You can imagine a new reality and step into it, molding and shaping your decisions and choices to fit whatever goal you have. The past no longer holds you captive. A new journey has begun.
It reminds me of our baptism, when what is old is put to death to give birth to what is new in Christ. God comes to us offering us these fresh starts. Grace has set us free from the past and offers us a new future. We are washed clean and are offered a clean slate. Talking about good news.
My family went to see a movie on Christmas. It’s become sort of a tradition. This year we watched the new musical, “The Greatest Showman” a fictionalized treatment of the life of P.T. Barnum starring Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michele Williams, and Disney star Zendaya.
It was an incredible movie. Beautiful and visually stunning. Incredible music and dance sequences featuring fascinating characters and interesting storylines. Very much like a classic, big-screen Hollywood movie. I’m not sure which parts were historically true, and which parts weren’t, but I know truth most certainly rang true in the film in terms of equality, love, loyalty, and beauty. And that was enough for me. Sounds a little like the bible, doesn’t it?
But at the core of the film is Barnum’s rags to riches story. He’s the poor son of a suit maker but imagines a bigger life, one that would allow him to realize his dreams of adventure, beauty, opportunity, and riches. It would also allow him to win the heart of his childhood sweetheart, the wealthy daughter of one of his father’s clients, who disapproves of his social position.
Barnum is relentless in his pursuit; a true optimist who will stop at nothing to fulfill his destiny. He experiences setback after setback along his quest to fulfill his dreams. He takes big risks and they flop. He tries new things and they don’t get traction with audiences. And with these failures comes financial hardships and public humiliation. He worries about how he will provide for his wife, who was used to a life of privilege and his two young daughters.
But each day, like many of us, he starts fresh and tries again. He starts the day with hope, puts on his clothes, straps on his boots and goes out into the world to try again. Until that day arrives where things finally fall into place, his opportunity arrives, things click and he is thrust into fame and fortune with the start of a show highlighting a host of who many at the time referred to as “freaks” including the bearded lady, the tallest man on earth, and dog boy among many. This show would evolve into the Barnum & Bailey Circus, which would eventually become known as “The Greatest Show on Earth”.
Each day offers us a new start. And we can capture that hope. And never is there a better time than New Year’s Eve. So ignore those haters who try to shame you for making resolutions. Go for it. Whatever you imagine your future to be, take hold of it and start now.
And folks this hope is rooted in our baptism. Our baptism liberates from all those forces holding us back.
Baptism silences the voices that tells us we aren’t good enough, that our hopes and dreams are impossible.
Baptism urges us forward to try those new things, to nurture those gifts, to take those risks.
Baptism washes away those memories of failure that haunt us.
Baptism puts to death that person that was never who you wanted to be.
Christ has arrived in our lives and we have been reborn. We are created new in Christ. So fear, doubt, insecurity- they hold no power over us.
So grab hold of that new reality.
Start that new chapter. God has placed faithful people like Simeon and Anna, who will see you for who you really are and will support you and encourage you. They will see the Holy Spirit at work in your lives and will help you. The torch has been passed and the Holy Spirit is alive and well in you and is waiting for you to act.
So what’s it going to be? What is God calling you to do in 2018?
My guess is many of you already know. Many of you have had that deep desire marinating in your hearts for some time now. But you’ve never acted on them. Maybe you’ve allowed those negative forces to hold you back. If so, hear this message today: Go for it. Do it. Be who you were born to be. And make it a wonderful, incredible, exciting, and joyous 2018.

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