Free From The Past
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer."
"Free From The Past"
(Titus 2:11-14; Rev. 21:1-6)
At the beginning of the new year, a school principal decided to post his teachers' new year's resolutions on the bulletin board. As the teachers gathered around the bulletin board, all of a sudden a big commotion started. One of the teachers was complaining. "Why weren't my resolutions posted?" She was throwing such a tantrum that the principal ran to his office to see if he had overlooked her resolutions. Sure enough, they were on his desk. As he read her resolutions he was astounded. This teacher's first resolution was not to let the little things upset her in the new year. (1)
I. JANUARY 2ND:
A. Here it is New Year's day. We'll make our resolutions, eat a bowl of black-eyed peas for luck and everything will be different, right?. I doubt it!
Leonard Sweet says, that with the possible exception of April 15, January 2 is probably everyone's most dreaded day of the new year. From the fourth Thursday in November through the first day of January we stuff ourselves with turkey and dressing, homemade cookies, cakes, and candy, fresh bread and pumpkin pie. We stay up late, party constantly, spend lots of money, act nicer -- and what do we get for it? January 2nd.
Overweight, exhausted, in debt and with the house a mess, we wake up on January 2 and suddenly it's time to go on a diet, get on a budget, go back to work or school and pack up all the ornaments.
Part of the problem with January 2nd is that it is usually still carrying baggage from the last year's January 2nd and all of last year's broken resolutions. January 2 makes us feel guilty. The broken resolutions of all of our past years add to the burden of guilt that we carry from all of our broken promises and broken relationships.
B. We don't like guilt. Believe it or not, guilt can be a valuable asset in life. "It helps us when we hurt others or betray our own standards and values. God uses guilt to influence us to change our minds about what we are doing,. It leads us to repentance. If we never felt guilt, we would not follow difficult rules or standards, obey the law, or have good relationships with loved ones." (2)
However, we aren't meant to run around with this burden of guilt weighing us down and burdening our hearts. That's part of the hope and message of Christmas. Sometimes, though, we don't hear it.
II. CHRIST MAKES A DIFFERENCE:
A. There was little girl who was talking with her mother and said, "I love singing Christmas carols." Mom asked, "Which one is your favorite?" The little girl replied, "O Come let us ignore him."
We laugh, but that's exactly what many of us do. During the Christmas season, we revel in the story of the birth of Jesus and all of the events leading up to that event. But the minute we enter the new year we forget the meaning of the incarnation in our daily lives. (3) We ignore this babe in a manger and forget that he is the savior of the world. We pack him up with the ornaments and the tree and we ignore him.
We come like the wise men and worship. We celebrate and bring our gifts. We peek in over the edge of the manger. And then we leave, thinking that Christmas is over.
B. But the truth is that Christmas isn't over. This is just the beginning. This is the first scene in the unfolding of this new thing God is doing. It is the first act in the drama of redemption and reconciliation known as salvation. For this child brings light in the darkest of places, hope to lives filled with despair, and life where once only the stench of death prevailed.
This child, lying so meekly, so lowly in the manger, brings about change and possibilities. He brings the greatest gift of all. His gift is not like those useless gifts we receive at Christmas. No silver plated eye-droppers. No 4 volume set of the history of dust pans. No Chefs guide to cooking with fungi. The Christ child's gift is not one we dare hide in the closet and ignore. For this gift is a living gift. The Christ child gives us himself.
A. And that means we are free from the past. Through the gift of himself, the Christ child offers us FORGIVENESS and a future unburdened by the guilt of our past. And that is one of the most precious gifts ever given for it is the greatest need we all have.
B. Ernest Hemingway exemplified this in a short story entitled, "The Capital Of The World." It takes place in Spain and it's the story of a very strained relationship between a father and son which comes to a head in a very explosive way. Harsh words are exchanged and the son runs away. After years of searching for his son the father finally takes out an ad in the Madrid newspaper. The ad simply read, "Dear Paco, meet me in front of the Madrid newspaper office tomorrow at noon, all is forgiven. I love you." The next day 800 Pacos showed up, all seeking forgiveness.
Hemingway knew that the one thing that binds us all together is that we all need forgiveness. We're not mass murderers or bank robbers. We're not serial rapists or terrorists. At least I don't think we are. But we are sinners. I know we balk at that word. But none of us can say that we are perfect. We've all broken covenant with God and with one another from time to time. And more times than we'd like to admit.
We haven't loved God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. And we haven't loved our neighbors as ourselves. We need forgiveness. We need to be free from the past.
One of the Christmas cards we received this year shows what our focus should be no matter what resolutions we make:
"If our greatest need was for information, God would have sent an educator."
"If our greatest need was for technology, God would have sent a scientist."
"If our greatest need was for pleasure, God would have sent an entertainer."
"If our greatest need was for money, God would have sent an economist."
But since our greatest need is for FORGIVENESS, God sent a SAVIOR.
We might still dread the clean up that comes with January 2nd, but we no longer have to dread the extra burden of guilt associated with it. Our God is a God of second chances. Our sins have been forgiven. We can be free from the past. We can live free from the burden of sin. No matter what we have done, we can be forgiven. And that means we can look to the future with joy and anticipation.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Dr. John W. Keith, Oak Ridge, TN
2. Brenda Poinsett in Understanding a Woman's Depression
3. Preaching-Vol. 4, #3.