Reading: Romans 12: 1 -16
Welcome! And a happy New Year. How should we meet this coming New Year?
I can think of no better motto for 2017 than Paul's 10 words in Romans 12 verse 12:
"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer".
New Year is often a time to stop and look at our lives. My dad (a Scot) would have a love-hate relationship with Hogmanay. He would invariably end up a little worse-for-wear, maudlin, lamenting what was past and anything but hopeful about what was to come.
Very often people make New Year resolutions because they are unhappy or because they lack something. They don't have the flash car, the fat bank-balance or the washboard stomach - or whatever else it is that they desire. They will summon all their strength and all their will-power in order to attain a goal which will be beyond their reach within a fortnight, probably...
And that's the difference between "worldly hope" and real Christian hope. The former is a kind of wishful thinking about the future with no guarantee that it will ever come about. That is a recipe for sadness, anxiety, doubt and hopelessness.
Christian hope is of a different order altogether...
Advent/Christmas reminds us that God chose to come to a waiting, hurting little people who stayed focused on God (who never lies) and on his promises of hope and a future. Hoping against hope those few who waited for the light saw it, and refused to be (would not be) consumed by the darkness. They did not give up.
Even those of us with strong faith will sometimes despair of the world. The old certainties of life (church even) seem to have gone. Politics seems to be turned on its head. The divisions between people seem wider than ever.
Paul wrote to a church in Rome two millennia ago; but they probably struggled just as we do which is why Paul said to them they should not be sucked into the mould of the world (Romans 12:1) but could be transformed by the renewing of their minds, in the next verse. The mind is the territory over which the enemy will battle most aggressively and, if we listen to the voices of hopelessness long enough; if we tell ourselves long-enough that we are without hope or help, we will soon begin to think and live that way.
According to Paul the church at Rome has so much to grateful for. They have cause to rejoice in view of the "mercies of God" in Jesus Christ. Paul outlined in the previous 11 chapters what those mercies were – the ground of their HOPE – Jesus Christ.
"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope..."
You see, this is what we have!
Our hope is in the person of Jesus. Our salvation is down to him – it's a gift. Yet to be fully realised, yes – but we already have hope.
Our future is guaranteed by him. We don't need to worry about the things we don't have! There are enough of those.
Jesus is the reason and the ground (solid) for our hope. We have this hope and nothing or no-one can rob us of this...
"My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly trust in Jesus name..." (Cornerstone, Hillsong)
Have this hope and we can and will meet any of the challenges that 2017 might throw at us.
Year on year God has never failed to bless us and protect us.
There is always room (of course) for spiritual growth and improvement and change – we want to be a church like the one pictured for us in Romans 12 – we want to offer ourselves to God, to serve his will and purposes, to use our gifts; we want to be generous and loving and to seek peace not war. We should make ourselves available to God, but we cannot do any of this by will-power. It must be in God's strength. Not by my power but by his – by his Spirit.
If we flag in zeal or merely flicker rather than burn bright spiritually; if we find ourselves unable to persevere during trials, or if we give up on praying, then the chances are we are trying to do exactly what people who make resolutions are doing – trying to do it with white knuckles, in our own strength, on our own. We can't.
3His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1)
In the original language it actually says, "In hope rejoicing..."
It is through HOPE (because of it) that we rejoice. No matter what our earthly circumstances. A gloomy Christian is a contradiction in terms. Nigel Wright reminded us of this in his sermon from Romans 8 – knowing what we know, knowing what we have - we should be the happiest people of all; we should not appear as if we had been "baptised in lemon juice!"
The person who knows Christ and the power of Christ can never be defeated or never be permanently despairing. (William Barclay)
That person has joy within them because of hope.
Paul has said more about Christian hope than anyone else (51 of the 83 times in the NT), but listen to his contemporary, Peter:
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1)
It has been said that the disciple of Jesus Christ is the world's greatest optimist. We should be.
We meet as men and women of HOPE. We meet as a people of HOPE.
The church was/is founded on the conviction that,
"Jesus of Nazareth, acclaimed by his first followers as the Messiah and Saviour of (God's people) -Israel, died on a Roman cross, rose again, and is now present in the midst of those communities that meet in his name." (Nigel G Wright)
The church gathers as the Community of the RISEN CHRIST. The Christian faith (HOPE) stands or falls with the resurrection of Jesus.
He is alive in his BODY the CHURCH for us to know, marvel at (worship) - and for others to see and meet as well.
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied". (1 Corinthians 15).
We have every reason for hope and rejoicing – death is not to be feared – but can be faced with serenity and equanimity. It is not the abyss but the way to God...
"The writer to the Hebrews encourages us to hold on to the amazing truth of the God who cannot lie – we have a source of strength, and we have a hope that is held out to us, an utterly reliable anchor for our souls, fixed in the very certainty of God himself in Heaven where Jesus has already gone on behalf of his own...
How important it is for us and those who have lost loved-ones in the past year to remember Stuart Townend's words, that:
"There is a hope that stands the test of time,
That lifts my eyes beyond the beckoning grave,
To see the matchless beauty of a day divine
When I behold His face!
When sufferings cease and sorrows die,
And every longing satisfied.
Then joy unspeakable will flood my soul,
For I am truly home.."
Jesus continues to be our EMMANUEL – "God with us".
This is the great gift of Christmas which God sent with the promise that he would never leave nor forsake us – that he would be with us even unto the end of the age – and that's forever!!
SO remember what you have -
And in the meantime - "Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer".
12 Base your happiness on your hope in Christ.
When trials come endure them patiently,
Steadfastly maintain the habit of prayer. (JB Philips)
And all will be well .......