For those of you who make New Year’s resolutions – and if attending worship on a weekly basis is one of them – well then congratulations! So far it seems you’ve been able to keep that resolution.
I don’t know what any of you are hoping for – or perhaps wishing for – in this New Year. Maybe it’s like the guy who went to a wishing well. And on a piece of paper he wrote, “Dear wishing well. My personal wish in 2012 is for a big fat bank account and a slim body. Please don’t mix these two up like you did last year.”
I don’t think I’m far off base when I say that some of us – maybe more than just a few – may be wishing for a better 2012 than the year 2011 was. Every year at this time – I think there are many of us who hope for a better new year than the one just past.
On the other hand – I know that for many of you 2011 was indeed a good year. And it is certainly my hope – as I am sure it is all of yours – that 2012 will be a good year. But I’m not making any guarantees! But we certainly can be hope filled – because one of the hallmarks for those of us who are disciples of Jesus Christ – is that we are people of hope. And hope always looks forward, never back.
A man once had a conversation with a successful friend of his, and he asked his friend about how he achieved his considerable financial success in life. The man’s answer was, “Never look back.” The man was a little surprised. He thought his friend would point to his hard work – his good decisions – his good fortune – or even God’s help. But his friend said, “Never look back.”
When asked to say more, the friend’s answer was in essence, “Don’t let the past, whatever it is, hold you. It is over. It can be good. It can be so-so. It can be awful. But whatever it is – good or bad or so-so – move on in life. Look forward.”
No matter what kind of year you have had in 2011, may I suggest to you that you move on. Don’t look back. Learn from the past, yes. There is great wisdom in learning from the experiences of the past. After all, who wants to repeat the same mistakes over and over again, right? And I know some of us do, because, I know, I do too.
So as disciples of Jesus Christ, as we enter into 2012, one of the things I hope you are doing – is this. Learn from the past. But don’t live in the past. Don’t look back. But as people of hope – let me encourage you to look forward to this new year with hope.
Perhaps one of the things that will help is to know that you are blessed. That’s one of the things God wants you to see. That you are loved and blessed. All of our Scripture readings today remind us of the blessings that are ours in Jesus Christ.
The reading from the Book of Numbers is the well-known blessing that we call the Aaronic blessing – so-called because it is a blessing given by the High Priest Aaron – the brother of Moses. You know it. “May the Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor – and grant you His peace.” You know it. You’ve heard it. It is a both a blessing and a promise.
Our reading from the book of Galatians is also a blessing. It is a blessing because it reminds you that you are part of God’s family. The language used here is that of adoption. We are adopted – each one of us – adopted into God’s family. And thus we are children of God – brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s a blessing if ever I heard one!
The Gospel lesson for today is about blessings. Mary and Joseph take the 8-day old Jesus to the temple for presentation. There we read of a man named Simeon and a woman named Anna. Simeon gives thanks to God, and then he blesses Mary and Joseph and Jesus. Anna gives thanks to God, and points the people around her to Jesus as the one who will bring salvation.
Blessings – whether in the Bible or in our own lives – are powerful events. A blessing in Scripture is the giving of oneself to another. Let me repeat that. A blessing in Scripture is the giving of oneself to another.
May I suggest to you today that we are Simeon. We are Anna. We have come here today to ask for and to receive blessings from God our Father as we begin a new year. Now I don’t know what those blessings are going to look like. But whatever those blessings are – let me remind you that we are blessed in order that we might be a blessing. If you want to be blessed – then be ready to be a blessing to others also. Because whatever our blessings are – it is from those blessings that we bless others.
If you have been blessed with a kindness – then be a Simeon – be an Anna who blesses others with kindness.
If you have been blessed with wealth – then be a Simon – be an Anna – show yourself to be a person of generosity, and share those blessings with those who are in need.
If you have been blessed with loving friends and family – then be a Simeon – be an Anna – and be the best member of your family you can be – be the best friend you can be to someone else who needs a friend.
A blessing is the giving of oneself to another. As we give ourselves to the Lord and to the work of the lord, we are an Anna – we are a Simeon.
And let me tell you that when you live a blessed life that shares the blessings God gives you today, then God is blessed. Jesus is blessed. And this much I can guarantee – you in turn will be blessed again!
May I also suggest to you that your blessings begin when you spend time with God. Ten minutes a day. That’s all it takes. First thing in the morning, or the last thing you do before you go to bed. Or sometime in between. Doesn’t matter. Ten minutes with God. Read a few verses or a whole chapter from God’s Word. Maybe a devotional book can supplement your time spent in God’s Word. We have several to choose from out in the kiosk in the hallway. I’ve also placed some on the table in the gathering area. And then devote the remaining minutes to prayer.
I know. Ten minutes. Sounds like a lot of time. But you may just find that you need 15 or 20 minutes. Whatever it takes. Whatever works for you.
Don’t know what to pray for? Pray for the people on our prayer list. Pray for your unsaved or un-churched friends, family members and neighbors. Pray for me as I pastor the wonderful people in this wonderful church. Pray that the Lord will continue to give me strength and courage, wisdom and vision for the future. And energy. I find as I get older I don’t have the energy I used to have. I don’t know what’s up with that!
And pray for yourself. Pray for wisdom for yourself to do God’s will. Ask God to guide your life. To help you to grow in grace and faith. To teach you what it means to become more and more like Christ.
As you do, I guarantee you your life will be transformed. You might even become the kind of person the other people want to be around. Why? Because you become easier to live with. That’s what Christ-likeness looks like. Why, we might even learn to love more, and criticize less. Wouldn’t that be a blessing? To be a person who encourages others instead of putting them down. Giving of oneself – yourself – to others.
This is what blessings look like. And I guarantee you, that as you recognize and give thanks to God for your blessings – you can’t help being a blessing to others. And you will make a difference in someone else’s life.
Anna and Simeon spent much time in the temple. Spending time with God. Blessings begin there. Ten minutes with God. Every day. That’s all it takes.
Now I can't stand up here and promise you that 2012 will be your best year ever. But as we stand on the threshold of a new year, I can offer you a blessing. God’s blessing. Everyone here today is invited to come forward in a few minutes for a blessing – whether as a family or as an individual – or as a group of friends. Asking the Lord’s blessings as we begin a new year. It’s a wonderful thing to do.
So may the Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favor. And grant you His peace. Amen