We ushered in a new year just a few days ago, so let me pause here and wish you a happy new year!
You know, each new year I can't help but stop and wonder about what the next year will bring to me and to this world. Maybe you do that as well. For some, in looking ahead, that can be troubling. There can be some anxious and pessimistic concerns. For some people, they can't help but notice there are so many things wrong in this world. For instance in our own United States we’re experiencing rough waters in our government and politics. People are worried about health care costs. Of course the warnings are coming more often now about climate change issues, and that's unsettling as we think about the future for our children. There seems to be a deep polarization in society today over so many issues. And there’s gun violence being on the rise and mass shootings in our schools and nothing but negative news on TV. And we can't help but notice an erosion of morals and values as well as a questioning of absolutes and truth all around us. And civility seems to be lost. Of course there is this thing called change; the world is changing faster and faster it seems. We typically don't like change - it means making uncomfortable adjustments, and that can be hard on us. I don’t know about you but I'm finding it harder and harder to keep up with technology. And then there are the daily insecurities of life as we wonder ahead. ‘Will my health hold up?’ ‘I’m not getting any younger!’ Or finances: “will have enough for the future?” So when someone wishes us a happy new year some of you may be thinking “Happy new year?! Fat chance! I don’t know how that’s ever going to happen for me!”
Well, I believe that you will find the John's statements in his gospel, which we read earlier, more than helpful to hold onto as you step into 2020. They contain some very good news for you and me.
First of all the statements make a wonderful announcement: God has come in the flesh! “The Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word became flesh.” The birth of Jesus. He dwelt among us, meaning literally He pitched his tent, He took up residence with us. He was God's gift of love to the world. God has come, but listen: He's never left. And He never will! In fact, Christ will be making another appearance again in the future to restore God's world once and for all, according to His plans. Everything is under control. Relax! You are in good hands, strong hands that will never let you go. This is not an abandoned planet. I may not know what my future holds, but I know the One who holds my future. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and is dwelled among us full of grace and truth.” Trusting in Him my future is sealed, no matter what the circumstances that come my way. And if you wonder if anyone knows how you feel as you face life, He does. As one of us He experienced all the hurts that life can throw at an individual: pain, and disappointment, and hunger, and thirst, and rejection, and hostility, and frustration, and discouragement, and human limitations. So when you turn to Him in prayer and approach His throne of grace, know this for sure: you do not have an unsympathetic high priest (as the book of Hebrews refers to Jesus) listening to you. He could very well be nodding His head in agreement, as if to say “I know how you feel. I've been there Myself. I know life's hurts.”
John goes on to testify “we have seen His glory, as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Christ has made God known to us. We've seen his glory, John says, which means God's manifestation, His person. “God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” No one has ever seen God, but the Son has made Him known to us. In other words, when you look at Jesus Christ you're looking into the face of God. You are seeing the heart of God. And what do we see in that heart as we look at the actions and words of Jesus in the Gospels? We see grace and truth, John says. We see gracious compassion for the hurting, the forgotten, the ignored. We see loving kindness for all kinds of people. We see power to change things and change people's lives. We see forgiveness for the condemned. And above all we see amazing love. Love that washes the feet of His disciples like a servant. Love that goes to a cross, laying down His life for His own. And He is truth. And He knows what makes our lives work. After all, He created it in the first place. So consider this: you and I enter 2020 with the God who is not only with us never leaves us, but He loves us more deeply than we can ever fathom. He has compassion for us and will never ever desert us. And He is truth. We can count on Him. He has integrity. He is faithful. As we follow Him in His word, He promises to show us how life works best.
So, are you feeling any better about the future yet? Okay then, try this next truth on for size!
The exclamation point of this beautiful writing from John is the testimony that in Christ God's grace is ours to experience day after day after day. Listen to these words: “and from Christ's fullness we have received grace upon grace” John says. Grace upon grace! That's a lot of grace! Just piled up grace. That grace in Jesus Christ never will run out, in other words. It would be like us trying to drain the ocean with a teaspoon. That's impossible! We can't do it. What is his grace that John talks about here? Well grace means, literally, ‘the unmerited favor of God toward you and me’. First there is God's saving grace. Someone once explained grace by using it is an acronym. Grace means this:
It’s God's riches given to us at Christ's expense. We were lost in our sin and could not make things right in our relationship with God. We rebelled against Him. We became separated from Him. God is holy and just. Our sinfulness had to be paid for, covered in some way. So God in Christ came into this world to take our place and pay for our sinfulness through His innocent suffering and death at the cross. This Baby was whose birth we just celebrated at Christmas became a man and paid for our sins at a cross years later. And we are saved from sin, death, and the power the devil by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. You see, as we place our trust in Christ and what He has done for us, we receive the gift of these eternal salvation with God. We belong to Him forever. This Jesus who paid for our sins and rose again has broken the chains of sin and death for us and He has gone ahead and prepared a place in Heaven for his followers. Saving grace!
There is also God's all-sufficient grace to experience in Christ. That's grace that’s given to strengthen us along the way, with the power and presence of God Himself. When we’re feeling weak and overwhelmed, He fills us up. And no matter what 2020 may throw at you, know this: God is there for you with His all-sufficient grace.
So we have grace upon grace upon grace upon grace upon grace as ours when we belong to Jesus Christ. That's the good news today in this passage. And that leads to a deep-seeded happiness; a joy and a peace that no circumstance can take away from you. I want to share with you a wonderful little story I came across many years ago from Norman Vincent Peal. He writes:
I had a friend, a newspaper man, who used to be as irreligious a man as you could find. He was a lovable old pagan, in fact he claimed to be atheist. I never took much stock in that because he was so decent, kindly. Then all of a sudden he found Jesus Christ, and you should see him now! One of his former associates said to him “you must find life very dull now.” “Dull?!” replied my friend. Then he paid Jesus one of the greatest compliments I've ever heard in my life. “Why, I've been laughing ever since I met Him.”
“That's it!” Peale goes on to say. When a person has truly discovered Jesus he says ‘Merry Christmas’ because it means that he has been set free! He has an uplifted feeling. He feels a sense of conquest. He is happy!
So if you are someone who is anxious about the upcoming year, my New Year's appeal to you is this: take seriously what John has shared with us today. Turn your eyes upon Jesus and experience a year full of His grace upon grace and His truth. Walk through this new year with Jesus at the center of your life. If you haven't done this, you simply ask Him in to take over your life, to be a Leader, your Savior, your teacher in every area of living. And then walk with Him daily and experience the grace He wants to place in your life. There really is no special trick to having a close walk with Jesus. This comes about by taking on some ordinary habits that you work with each day. Like this: take 15 minutes a day and open your Bible, and let Jesus speak into your life. Use the year to slowly read through the Gospels of Matthew and Mark and Luke and John. Just a few verses each day. Then do some reflecting about what you learned about Jesus and God and living life with Him in His kingdom. Next, and I can't emphasize this enough, participate in the community of faith. Make weekly worship a priority if you can get out. Connect with other Christians in acts of serving inside and outside the church community. You’ll be walking close to Jesus in that. Finally, pray. Never miss a day to spend time with your Heavenly Father. You’ll be glad you did.
So my friend, here's wishing you a happy new year with Jesus, your Lord and your Savior.
Pastor Steve Kramer