A New Beginning

31/12/2017

Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, "Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace" (Luke 2:29)

So here we are again. New Year’s Eve. Tomorrow a whole new year begins. Twelve months have passed since the last new year. The Earth has circled the sun as it has done ever since it began. The seasons have changed from winter to spring to summer to autumn and back to winter again as they always have done - at least since the last ice age. Seeds have been planted  to grow to fruition and harvest as they have done since time immemorial. According to the lectionary I use for the readings, this week is known as “The Presentation Of The Lord”, as it was this time last year and the year before that. Plus ca change, as the French have it. The more things change, the more they stay the same. 

Or do they? Here’s Simeon arriving at the Temple at the call of the Holy Spirit. How old is Simeon? No idea, but the suspicion is that he’s definitely getting on a bit. He has been promised that he won’t die until he has seen the coming of the Messiah. That wouldn’t be much of a promise if  the Messiah turned up when he was twenty-seven. I think we can accept that Simeon has seen many new years, many Hannukahs. He’s seen the days lengthen and shorten again. He’s seen the turning of many years, many seedtimes, many harvests; the same cycle over and over again. Or has he?

Simeon arrives at the Temple to discover that God has done something entirely new - something that will change everything. He arrives at the Temple and encounters Joseph and Mary bringing a baby - their firstborn child - to present him before God in accordance with a tradition that has been carried out for centuries. Somehow Simeon sees that something new and different is happening here. Something is happening that has never happened before in all of human history. God has done something he had never done before - he has come into his own creation in the life of his Son: in the life of Jesus Christ. 

More than that, he has come into his creation as a baby - as that most powerful symbol we have as human beings of new potential, of change and of new growth. As a baby, with a lifetime before him. Who knows, at this point when Simeon encounters the infant Christ, what that child will grow up to do? What will God work in the world through him? No one - not even Simeon exactly.

Here’s the thing. We gather here in the presence of an unchanging and eternal God and we can get to think that the Christian life, our involvement with God, is about the unchanging and the eternal. But we don’t live in an unchanging world or an eternal world. We live in a world that is constant changing and if we believe that this is God’s world then  we have to see God in that change. We live in a world where all things pass and new things come into being as one generation succeeds another and if we believe that this is God’s world then we have to see God in that.

In the Church we can be very conservative. We cling to our traditions, to the hymns we grew up with and we can get to think that what we do in this place is what people have been doing forever - or at least since the Reformation. No. Most of our worship traditions were brought in by the Victorians - the organ, the hymnary, whether we stand or sit to sing and pray, they’ve all been subject to change. And that’s as it should be because change is part of life and it reflects the creativity of God.

If we believe that God is at work in the world then maybe we need to see this whole “new year” thing differently. I said that since last year the Earth has circled the Sun once. That doesn’t mean it’s come back to the same place because the Sun is also moving. The path of the Earth is a helix - the same pattern repeats but we also move forward. The seasons have spun round again but today will not be identical to January 1st last year. And there are infant children alive today who weren’t around last year - a whole new generation of young people filled with the potential to make a difference in the world and to change it.

That’s not just the job of children, though. For each of us tomorrow brings a whole new year and, perhaps, a whole new beginning. That’s why we often make up new year resolutions at this time of year. Usually they’re things like going on a diet, or stopping smoking, or taking more exercise - things that will make a difference to our quality of life. What if we think a bit bigger than that? What if we make it our resolution to look for ways that we can make the quality of life better for those around us? What if we make it our resolution to look for ways that can bring laughter where there is sorrow, peace where there is conflict, justice where there is oppression? 

Tomorrow brings a whole new year and, perhaps, a new beginning. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how weak you think you are or how unimportant you think you are, God is at work in the world, bringing about new growth and always doing new things. Two thousand years God came into his creation in the life of his Son, Jesus Christ and he is still here, still working away in his creation. Now, though, the body of Christ is us. We are his hands to touch those who need to know that they matter. We are his feet to go to those in need. We are his voice to speak for justice and peace in a world that so easily falls for the wiles of greed and hatred.

Tomorrow a new year begins - a year filled with opportunities to do the work of God in the world, or not. In the days to come you may have the opportunity to offer a hand to someone going through hard times. And what will they do with their lives once they are back on track? How many others will benefit from your act of kindness. In the days to come you may have the opportunity to encourage a child to see that they have the potential to make a difference in the world. How will the world be changed through your act of encouragement? In the days to come you may get the opportunity to help someone see that people whose skin is a different colour, or who worship differently are really just like them. How much hatred and hurt might be avoided by your words?

When Simeon met Jesus’s parents in the Temple he recognised that God had done something new and different and that the world was about to change. He recognised the newborn bundle of human life they carried as full of potential for making a difference in the world. That’s not just true of new-born babies. It’s true of all human life because all our lives touch other lives. Tomorrow is a brand new year - a new beginning. Let us seize it and, as the days and weeks and months pass, let us look for the work that God will do in the world through us. Let us rejoice in change for change is the nature of the world God has given us - a world in which he can work, through us, to make a difference. And not until we, with Simeon, say “Lord you are now dismissing your servant” should we do otherwise.

Lord, tomorrow brings a new year and a new beginning. Let us seize it with hope and may we rededicate ourselves to seek to do your work in the world in the days to come


Preached at Gretna Old parish church