by Jennifer DiFrancesco
“A new year is unfolding—like a blossom with petals curled tightly concealing the beauty within.
Lord, let this year be filled with the things that are truly good—with the comfort of warmth in our relationships, with the strength to help those who need our help and the humility and openness to accept help from others. As we make our resolutions for the year ahead, let us go forward with great hope that all things can be possible—with Your help and guidance.” Amen.
Here and now, God invites us to a new day.
Through Christ we are invited to a new beginning.
The Holy Spirit breaks into our lives to inspire us
and beckon us forward.
So let us now take a few moments
and make room for our new-born King.
First Testament Lesson: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
Watch and listen to these scriptures here.
Second Testament: Hebrews 11:1-16
Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see. The elders in the past were approved because they showed faith.
By faith we understand that the universe has been created by a word from God so that the visible came into existence from the invisible.
By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice to God than Cain, which showed that he was righteous, since God gave approval to him for his gift. Though he died, he’s still speaking through faith.
By faith Enoch was taken up so that he didn’t see death, and he wasn’t found because God took him up. He was given approval for having pleased God before he was taken up. It’s impossible to please God without faith because the one who draws near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards people who try to find him.
By faith Noah responded with godly fear when he was warned about events he hadn’t seen yet. He built an ark to deliver his household. With his faith, he criticized the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes from faith.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out without knowing where he was going.
By faith he lived in the land he had been promised as a stranger. He lived in tents along with Isaac and Jacob, who were coheirs of the same promise. He was looking forward to a city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
By faith even Sarah received the ability to have a child, though she herself was barren and past the age for having children, because she believed that the one who promised was faithful. So descendants were born from one man (and he was as good as dead). They were as many as the number of the stars in the sky and as countless as the grains of sand on the seashore. All of these people died in faith without receiving the promises, but they saw the promises from a distance and welcomed them. They confessed that they were strangers and immigrants on earth. People who say this kind of thing make it clear that they are looking for a homeland. If they had been thinking about the country that they had left, they would have had the opportunity to return to it. But at this point in time, they are longing for a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God isn’t ashamed to be called their God—he has prepared a city for them.
During the season of Advent, many sermons and liturgies focused on Christian hope. Christian hope involves more than wishful thinking. Christian hope challenges us to do more than make that list of gifts we hope Santa will bring to us. Christian hope is more than praying that you will find a parking space near the entrance of the grocery story. Christian hope is more than the desire that it will not snow as much as it did two years ago or that your favorite football team will make it to the playoffs.
Christian hope lives in a deeper part of your soul. We see Christian hope all through the Christmas story and the lead up to the birth of Christ.
Mary felt Christian hope as she went into the final months of her pregnancy. There were months full of pain ahead, before her journey to Bethlehem. Even as she took care of her day-to-day, Mary looked to the future, to that baby yet to be born. Mary placed her trust in a God who invited her into a new and unknown world — with a child who would change the world.
Christian hope also motivated the Magi who saddled their camels and followed a star — even though their journey was uncertain and other forces threatened. The hearts of the Magi fixed on the future, the discovery of the unknown baby, the fulfillment of their deepest desire – as God kindled it.
Christian hope is what led John the Baptist to look beyond himself to anticipate the arrival of someone (Jesus), even though the date of arrival was uncertain. Even while in prison, he looked to God, who called him and sustained him. Even as John experienced isolation and struggle, he endured because he placed his trust in God and the hope in the coming Christ.
Christian hope points all of us to the future, to endure all the uncertainty of the future, yet with the one important certainty: that we move into our future with accompaniment from God.
Our Christian hope looks out to the far horizon for its fulfillment. We are only a couple days away from New Year’s, a day when we look with hope and anticipation to the year and years ahead. What guides us into the coming year? What lessons from last year lead us into the future? Where is God’s exhortation and challenge for us individually and collectively? What are your hopes for this coming year — personally, spiritually, for our community, and for our world?
Spiritual Practice: Hope Jar
Find an empty mason jar (or eat those last few pickles or olives so you will have an empty jar). Make sure the jar is washed/dry and if you want, has a lid. The last question you answered above, about your hopes for the coming year, are there objects in your home, words in a magazine, or perhaps you want to draw images that represent your hopes for the upcoming year? Places those in your jar (or if you want decorate your jar with them). This jar will be a reminder of your hopes for the coming year, so place the jar in a place where you will see it often.
As we awaken to each new day, God the Creator invites us forward into the future. Go, being assured of the companionship of Christ and the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit.