2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
The traditions surrounding Christmas and the birth of Jesus are complicated, ancient, and differ from culture to culture. Though they may vary from our personal traditions they are no less meaningful to those who follow them. All our traditions point us to the newness that Christ brings.
Howard Washington Thurman, an African-American author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader wrote a beautiful poem entitled “The Work of Christmas”.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.
Have we embraced the newness that Christ offers and are we ready to take on the work of Christmas? We have taken a tiny step into a new year. For many of us, this new year could not come soon enough. Yet, are we are ready for the changes and opportunities that will present themselves?
We are taught in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The secret to our success in every area of our lives is disguised within our daily routine. Tweak what we do daily, and over a short period of time we get very different results. Change how we think about someone or something, and we change what Life displays back to us. When we stop conforming to the patterns of the world – the short sightedness, prejudices, self-centeredness, indifference, and division - we open ourselves, our lives, attitudes, and perspectives to transformation.
Next week is burning bowl Sunday, one of my favorite Sundays of the year. It is a spiritual celebration and ritual in which we release the things that we don't want or need any longer. With the rebirth of the Christ spirit within us, we take a fresh new look at our lives. We begin again. Of course, we have choices: we can continue along the path we have been pursuing, or we can change direction.
Between now and next week, it would be good to make a 2022 review of our life. Do we have baggage, whether emotional, physical, or mental, that we would like to discard? Do we have skills that we'd like to develop, talents we'd like to bolster? Do we have counterproductive behaviors that we'd like to give up, and replace with more constructive behaviors? What are our strengths? What are we good at? What have we done this year that has given us pleasure? How have we been in service to our family, friends, our church, our community, or other people? What new things have we learned, and are they worthy of our attention and application?
Let us review our 2022 as objectively as possible. The goal is to look at our life non-judgmentally, as much from a God-perspective as possible. Let us see our self as a divine, spiritual being, and know that we are in the process of becoming a better human being. We can consider what endings to bring to completion so that we can start our new beginnings.
Philosopher and spiritual teacher, Ken Wilbur, suggests that the evolution of all phenomena occurs through “transcending and including”: things don’t totally change and become something new; the old is not wiped out. Rather, transformation occurs through including ‘what was’ into a more complex matrix. Over thousands of years of human evolution, rational thought has not eliminated emotion, but has included it into a deeper level of consciousness. At our best, as a species we are intelligent and compassionate, thinking and feeling organisms capable of dynamic, creative, and complex interaction and problem solving.
New beginnings are born out of former endings and previous attempts. We try to teach our children this lesson: put things away before you pull out new toys to play with. We don’t throw away a toy before we play with another, no. We include it in our assortment of possible toys; it is a valuable component within our growing compilation of joy. We must do the same in our own lives: put away the old before embracing the new, while allowing it to be a part of who we are.
Our challenge is to release what is broken and cannot be repaired or is no longer necessary. Sometimes we can't see what is unnecessary in our own lives but see it clearly in other people's lives. Often, we know exactly what needs to be released, but we cling to it anyway, securing it to our lives through our habits and familiarity.
Although we use December 25th as the birthday of Jesus and use Christmas as the time to fill our hearts with giving, love, hope, peace and life, we can celebrate Christmas on a daily basis. We can always be loving and giving and filled with peace and joy. Christ can be reborn within us every day.
The same is true with beginnings, because Christ is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. Although we take the ending of a calendar year to symbolically represent the time to begin again - out with the old, in with the new - we also know that daily we have the capability to begin again. Daily, we can release our old unproductive ways and initiate the new. We can transcend what we were while including all the good, beneficial, and honorable of us and letting go of the ineffective, hurtful, and useless.
Psychologists have a term The Fresh Start Effect. It is the idea that we utilize ‘temporal landmarks’ - calendar years, months, weeks, even days, birthdays, anniversaries, as opportunities to open mentally to newness. These landmark times in our lives have a way of fueling motivation. Naturally. That’s just how God made us. It’s as if the slate has been wiped clean of past failures and shortcomings and we can have a fresh start. These fresh starts inspire us to see ourselves and our lives from a different perspective. We are more motivated to set new and different goals.
Highlighting meaningful ‘temporal landmarks’creates a blank page in our mind and encourages us to make better decisions. We tend to see our current and past selves as separate and are ready to leave our vices behind and proceed unencumbered. This feeling opens the path to more productive and healthier behaviors.
With a fresh start we can think, “All of my past failures are from last year. Those are not me. That’s old me. That’s not ‘new me’. ‘New me’, version 2023, doesn’t make those mistakes.”
That is what Christ brings to us… a fresh start, an opportunity to move forward with fresh ears and fresh eyes. Christ offers us a new path and new choices. Our old habits and thought patterns, other people’s opinions and expectations, have no power over us except that which we allow. We alone determine our actions, beliefs, and thoughts. We can change; we can make another choice.
“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
We use the calendar to initiate a fresh start, but the power that Christ brings is that of making a new beginning every day. Therapist Jean-Paul Sartre said, “There is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk.” Meister Eckhart wrote, “Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.”
It is my prayer that we will take a good long look at ourselves this week: examining our life as we celebrate the New Year, the new day, the new moment, the new ‘now’. I pray that we will choose to begin again, releasing what is no longer working to best advantage and trying something new.
There is no shame in wanting to be a better person and making the active attempt. We are all in the process together, sharing experiences, growing together. I pray that as a church family, as a physical family, as a community of God’s children, we will support each other in our attempts to change, evolve, and transcend, seeing with perfect vision the plans that God has for us. Let us recognize and appreciate Christ in ourselves and each other. I wish you a joyous, abundant, health-filled, peaceful, loving and
Happy New Year.