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Thursday, 31 December 2015

New Year.

The Children of Israel were about to cross the River Jordan, and enter the land that YHWH had promised to them so many years earlier.  But the man who had led them out of Egypt, with its slavery and hardship – Moses, the great prophet – was not to enter that Promised Land with them.  And so, before they crossed, he spoke to them – reminding them of all that YHWH had done for them, and of the laws and statutes that He had given them.  This long discourse of Moses has been handed down to us as the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, and as we approach the end of 2015 I want to leave you with a few words from that address: “You shall never return that way again” (Deut.17:16; RSV). With these words, Almighty God closed a gate on what lay behind His people, and set their faces towards what lay before.  What does it mean to us, this closing of the gate of 2015, and opening of the gate of 2016?  Well, it is possible that, for some, it may bring a measure of relief.

It may be that you are glad that the year is over; that 2015 is past and gone.  You wouldn’t want to live through that year again.  It has been too distressing, too traumatic, a year.  There may have been some experience that has become etched, almost indelibly, on your minds.   The actual circumstances, and situation, will differ from one person to another.  It may have been a bereavement, or an illness, or an injury.  It may have been redundancy, or a forced move to another area, or a major financial loss.  It may have been the way in which we failed the Lord, in one way or another.  

Whatever it was, God’s comfort and peace; His love and forgiveness; His mercy and grace; are available to all, and sufficient for all!  We’ll never walk that way the same way again.  He has closed the gate, and bids us march bravely into the future.

For others, of course, the ending of the year is a matter of regret. It may be that some of us would want to live the past year all over again.  It may be that, for us, it brought much delight.  Like Peter, on the Mount of Transfiguration, we want to stop.  “Lord,” we would cry, “it is good for us to be here” (Mt.17:4 inter al).  We’ve been enjoying this year so much; does it have to come to an end?  We were up on the hill-top, in the clean, fresh air – we don’t want to go down into the valley of human need, of personal responsibility.

However, no matter how, or in what context, we reach the mountain-top, we must always come back to the valley – and often it’s the valley of disappointment, or despair.  That great servant of God, Moses, found this to be so.  He went up on the mountain to speak with YHWH – and came back down to find the Children of Israel worshipping a golden calf that that they had made.  And even Jesus knew the contrast.  Wasn’t it immediately after the tremendous experience of His baptism, and His acknowledgement as the Beloved Son, by the Father, that He underwent the wilderness temptations?!
It’s good that we experience both sunshine and shadow.  The one brings the other into sharper focus.  But the gate must be closed.  “Today’s trouble is enough for today”, said Jesus (Mt.6:34) – and so is today’s grace!  Yesterday’s grace is not sufficient for today, yet so many seek to live on past experience.  I wonder if you are clinging desperately to  the enjoyment that the past year brought; or to  the achievement that the past year held?

The end of the old year, and the beginning of the new, can bring a measure of relief; it may be a matter of regret.  But surely it must also be  a moment of resolve.  New Year is traditionally the time for making resolutions and although, like many traditions, this one appears to be less popular today, I imagine that there will be some who read this post who will have made such resolutions.  I would suggest that we do need to make some resolutions, and that our resolve must be concerned with two specific factors.  The first of these concerns what we must leave in the past.

The past, as we have seen, has dangers.  Both success and failure in the past may hinder progress in the future.  If we have known failure, then we must have an assurance of God’s forgiveness for those who confess their faults, their failures, their sinfulness.  If we have known success, then we must remember that we are still totally dependent upon God.    He does not want us to live in yesterday, and lose today!  Paul knew this.  So we read in his letter to the followers of Jesus in the Roman colonial centre of Philippi: “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.” (3:13-14). He knew that if he was absorbed in what lay behind, then he couldn’t have a real interest in what lay before.  And yet, if any man had reason to live in the past, it was Paul!  But he did not try to keep the gate open.  

Of course, although we ought not to live in the past, we may certainly learn from the past.  So I can remember what I have learned about myself – and about my Saviour; about my stubbornness and stupidity – and about His ways and wisdom.  I had thought that I was pretty wonderful – now I realise that I, left to my own devices, I am weak and helpless.  But my appetite for progress has been whetted.  Whatever God has done, it is nothing to what He can do!  And I’m encouraged as I recognise His workings in my own life.  As is often said - I’m a work in progress!
Not one of us knows what the coming year holds for us.  The signs, both nationally and internationally, do not provide much in the way of encouragement as we anticipate years of trying to repay the ever-increasing debt into which the nation continues to be plunged; as international terrorism continues to disrupt, and maim, and kill.

Some, however, may remember saying, “I don’t know what the future holds; but I know Who holds the future!”  Will you place your hand into His hand; trusting Him to guide you, strengthen you, help you into 2016?  Will you?  May each one of us be granted the grace to do so - to His eternal praise, and our eternal salvation  

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