New year’s resolutions come in all shapes and sizes. l resolve to stop smoking this year. l resolve to lose weight. l resolve to read the Bible every day. Yet despite their variety, what does nearly every resolution have in common? That’s right! None of them will likely make it past January 7th! Perhaps some of you who are sheepishly grinning have already broken yours. Or maybe that’s why you don’t even bother to make them any more. But just because these resolutions are not always kept faithfully, it doesn’t mean that there is no place for them. They can be very valuable if they are taken seriously. In fact, God is today calling you to make a new year’s resolution. But not just any old resolution, He is calling you to make this new year’s resolution in epiphany style!
In order to understand what “epiphany style” is, we must first understand what Epiphany is all about. Epiphany shows us how Jesus Christ is the true light of the world, the Saviour of the nations, and the Lord of Jews and Gentiles alike. Epiphany reminds us Christians that we too are to shine forth as a reflection of Christ’s light. The season of Epiphany revolves around the joy and majesty and worship of the true light of the world, Jesus the Christ. So then, as a new year begins, God is calling us to worship Him. If Jesus truly is God, as Epiphany shows us time and time again, then He above all else is worthy of worship and praise. God would have us resolve in this new year to really and truly worship Christ.
But how do we do that? Our lesson for this evening gives us three concrete examples in the story of the wise men. They overcame great obstacles in order to Worship, they gave generously, and they lived lovingly. These unknown men from the east had to overcome great obstacles to come and worship the King Of the Jews. They came from a distant culture that didn’t know about the Saviour who would be born. And yet somehow, these wise men must have come to know the Old Testament prophecies regarding the coming Messiah. Next, they traveled for months (possibly even a year or more) just to reach Jerusalem knowing only that they were looking for an infant.
Secondly, when they found the infant Jesus, these wise men gave him gifts of unsurpassed value. The gold and frankincense and myrrh were presents fit for a King. They were worth so much that Joseph and Mary and Jesus could have all lived off of them very nicely the whole time they were in Egypt. And lastly, having been warned in a dream about the evil nature of King Herod, these Wise Men went out of their way to protect the baby Jesus. Instead of taking the shortest way home, back through Jerusalem, they went another way, incurring more time and expense, just to protect the Christ. They continued to worship the Christ even after they left by living a life of love and service.
This is the resolution God is calling you to make in 2011. Worship him the way these Wise Men did. Put all obstacles behind you. Give generously. Live a life of love and service. But then again, If each of us stopped to take a look at our lives, we could very quickly begin to see how we are going to have problems keeping this resolution. Distance may not be such a big obstacle for us, but there are definitely others. It takes time out of our busy schedules to come to church when services are held. Then there is the fact that many of us, especially those with families, have previous commitments that often eat into Sunday mornings. It is almost impossible for anyone to get to church every Sunday anymore. When we do get to church some of what goes on seems foreign to us. Many of the words used or the hymns that are sung might as well be in another language. These are all obstacles that everyone faces when it comes to worship.
What about giving? Let’s be honest. Who of us can afford to give gold every week? There are so many things that demand our time and money. Bills, jobs, food, housing, programs for the kids, education, and on and on and on. It seems like everyone and everything is tying to get a little piece of our time and/or money. There isn’t always much left to give. Some people are on a fixed income. How can they be expected to give in the same way?
And finally, as for living a life of love and service; this may be a great way to worship God, but it isn’t a very safe or prudent way to live our lives. The cold hard truth of this world is that there is a lot of hate and violence and mistrust. The world is full of broken promises. As far as new year’s resolutions go, this one is just plain impossible! Not one of us could worship Jesus the way the wise men did. Not all year long anyway. No matter how good our intentions are, this is another new year’s resolution just waiting to be broken. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. Nor should we let it get us down. You see, Epiphany style resolutions are not just something we promise God. They are also something that God himself promises to us.
In fact, the season of Epiphany is God’s New Year resolution to you. Epiphany is all about God revealing himself to the world in Jesus Christ. God has already resolved to reveal himself more fully to you in the coming year. He will show you just who he really is and what He is doing for you! He will reveal Himself to you in your daily life through the things that will happen and the people you will meet; but most importantly and most fully, He will reveal Himself to you here in the church. Here at Christ Our Hope in 2011 you WILL come to know the Lord your God personally. That’s His promise to you.
And just how will He do this? The same way He has for centuries. In His Holy Word and through His life-giving Sacraments. These are all very real and concrete ways in which Jesus comes personally into each and every one of our lives to reveal the full depths of His love for us. That’s what Sunday mornings are all about! It’s not about singing or fellowship or service to God. These are all important, but they are not the reason for our time together. These are all things that can be had anywhere. There is only one thing that we get on Sunday mornings in church that can’t be had anywhere else: a deeper understanding of our God’s love and forgiveness. Our worship service is where we actually meet God, and physically receive His forgiveness, and love and guidance in His Words to us and His Sacraments for us.
In the coming year God will make Himself personally known to you through His Word and Sacraments and through the lives of your fellow Christians. And in doing so He will help you fulfill that resolution He has asked you to make for Him; to Worship him the way these wise men did. Put all obstacles behind you. Give generously. Live a life of love and service. This is a resolution that He himself has already kept perfectly in Christ. A resolution He has kept for you! Jesus is the one who overcame all the obstacles. He overcame all sin, the temptation of the world, the power of the devil. In the end He even overcame death. He did all of this so that these things need never be obstacles for us anymore. We are no longer slaves to sin. We are not controlled by the devil. Death holds no victory over us. Its sting is gone.
Likewise this Jesus gives generously … more generously than we could ever fully understand. He gave himself. He gave up all of His heavenly rights and privileges, to come to earth and live among us. He gave up all His heavenly glory to be our servant. He gave His own perfect and blameless life as a payment for our sinful ones. He shed His own blood upon the cross with no thought of return or payment, only love and forgiveness. And finally, this Jesus is the God who lives a life of love and service. His entire life and ministry on earth showed this. He healed the lame and the blind, the deaf and the sick, the dying and the dead. He forgave sins, extended a comforting hand, gave a shoulder to cry on. But Jesus also continues to live a life of love and forgiveness. Even now in Heaven, Jesus continues to be a part of our lives, guiding us and forgiving us, supporting us through His Spirit active in His Holy Word and His blessed Sacraments; Holy Worship.
Let this be your new year’s resolution. Worship God more fully than you ever have before. Don’t let there be any more obstacles between you and your God. Give generously of yourself and your time and your gifts. Live a life of love and service to Him. As you do so you will see that He is the God who has first done these things for you in Christ. And He is the God who continues even now to do these things for you in the Church.