For my New Year’s Eve reflections today, I want to pick up on and carry forward the words of assurances and encouragement that we heard in the scripture passages in Isaiah and the Gospel of Matthew.
And these assurances and encouragements come not as a result of our actions, of what we do or plan to do, but out of what God does and promises to do.
The Bible – our sacred text – is so clear on that.
At this moment in time, at this threshold between two calendar years, as we reflect on the past year 2015 – in our own personal lives and in the world – and as we wonder what 2016 will bring, often we begin by thinking in terms of what we need to be doing, strategies we need to undertake in the upcoming year in order for the year to be a good, or better one than the previous year…
… going to the gym more often…
… taking up running, or jogging, or walking more …
… eating more balanced meals,
… limiting the sugar and the salt,
… having better portions …
Even in the church and our faith life, we like to focus on making up a list of things we need to be doing –
… taking up new mission projects and ministry strategies and plans and so forth ….
But the scriptures remind us again and again, of what God is doing to make things good and right, regardless of what we may, or may not be doing:
God says, through the prophet Isaiah:
“I am about to do a new thing… I will make a way in the wilderness
… I give water in the wilderness… to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself ….”
Now, for sure, making plans and taking initiatives, and being busy with good activities – it’s not a bad thing.
But I think, and the scriptures say this, that it is never wise to put our full hope and stock in our own actions and planning alone, anxiously believing “it’s all up to us.”
But rather, to remember that
… God is also part of the equation,
… that God is a factor to consider,
… a Being to reckon with,
… an active, loving Presence to take seriously…
The observation has been made by church leaders in the U.S., that the really interesting and vital ministries emerging in their local congregations, have come about and flourished not because of any creative foresight and intentional and earnest planning and strategizing on their part, but only because of unexpected factors: the right people, conditions, and opportunities that arose completely unexpectedly out of left field.
Unanticipated opportunities for ministry arising out of needs in the community.
Outside of the “five-year-mission plan.”
So that, as the church leader quipped, “Yes, we can go ahead and make our five year plans, but always with a kind of wink of the eye and smirky comment said under our breath: I wonder what will really happen, what God will really do?”
So for us, in 2016 and beyond, to be open to be surprised, to be open to mystery and adventure.
To have that wild, adventurous relationship with God, who is always full of wonderful surprises!
In the meantime, we cool our jets on that anxious feeling that “it’s all up to us.”
Sometimes, and even more often than not, the best thing we can ever do, is … to not worry… as the Gospel reading admonishes,
… but also to learn how to wait, how to be still, how to listen and wait for God’s nudging to action when it does come.
These winter months can help teach us the art of waiting, being still, resting and listening…
As the snow and ice settle on the ground, freezing any grass and growth beneath it, we often wonder: What actually happens to the grass and seeds and bushes and branches of trees underneath all that snow and ice?
Is it all dead?
Of course we know it isn’t.
All those living organisms in the soil and branches are alive – they’re just dormant, lying still in the ground in the branches.
And while the life beneath the snow and ice lies still and dormant, it is resting, gaining new energy, and in the process of renewal, preparing itself, once again, in the Spring, to blossom and grow and be active once again.
There are times and seasons, to rest and be still, and also to be active and busy.
But we shouldn’t undervalue, or diminish those seasons of quietness, of waiting, of stillness—those times when we wait upon God, ponder God’s activity and presence in the world and in our lives.
As the dawn of a new year looms, as we rush to figure out what we need to be doing to make it a good year, proclaiming resolutions, composing to-do lists, attacking looming projects, charting out strategies and plans,
… let’s listen to winter’s guidance…
… and slow down, and remember God in all of this…
… realizing that we may be running ahead of the unfolding process,
And so we hold the reins on our runaway spirits… and reflect before we stampede into action.
Expert fire builders tell us that the empty space between the logs is necessary for fire to kindle…. To allow the oxygen into the area.
And so with us…
We need to create space in our lives and world, to allow the oxygen of God’s Spirit to flow in between and through our hearts, so that eventually, the spark of the fire of God’s activity and Presence through us, can catch and burn, shining the light of God’s love and goodness for all to know and see.