Another New Year is upon us.
I don’t know about you, but I am deeply appreciative as the calendar turns forward – for a chance to look back at the things I have learned.
And to have a chance to look ahead at how things can be different.
And while I know they often say each day is a new start – this feels different.
I was talking to a friend of mine a couple years ago who had gone through a particularly difficult year – two deaths in her family, some illness and struggle in her own life, and losing her job.
“I can’t wait to see 2012 go,” she said.
And as the New Year rolled around – there was a physical, visceral change in her – as if the residue of the hurt and pain that had happened within the course of the last 12 months was able to loosen its grip on her heart and life simply by the passage of this important marker in time.
What has happened – has happened, but this is a NEW YEAR – and things Can be different.
I think that’s why many of us have a habit of writing New Year’s Resolutions each year. Whether we keep them or not – we are grounded in this idea that things in the past do not have to dictate our future.
Things can change. History does not have to repeat itself – and that our own story as individuals – and as a people is yet to be told.
But it has not always been this way. People have not always marked the passage of time this way, nor believed that the future could look different than the past.
Nearly 6,000 years ago, the region in Mesopotamia, in what is now northern Syria and Iraq, were inhabited by a relatively sophisticated civilization – the Sumerians. They were among the first to develop some innovative means of construction and so They build cities throughout the region which included massive structures, even towers. For business and for Ritual.
The Sumerians – like many other primitive people believed that the nature of life could best be described as a circle.
Everything that was - their city, their fields, their herds, their plows, - had always been.
The sky is the divine opposite of life on earth, home to all that is eternal In contrast to the mortal life on earth.
The Gods lived in the sky. They decided what happened.
Humans were just passive participants, pawns you might say, in a circular drama that would continue to repeat itself.
All of human striving would ultimately lead to death so the one task for humanity was to pursue prosperity and to pass on our seed to the next generation so that the cycle could continue as it always had and always would.
Life for the Sumerians for thousands of years – was a circle.
Where "No event is unique, and nothing is enacted but once"
But then around 4,000 years ago, there was this small tribe of people who began to behave differently. Out of Sumer, the land of predictability, came a man named Abram. Who heard the voice of God and as Scripture says, “Abram went.”
He went wandering in the desert – he wasn’t guided by the stars or moon, he wasn’t seeking wealth – he was following a God who was relating to him – and who was taking him somewhere NEW.
The circle was broken – for this God was doing a NEW THING.
And Abram – is given a promise – an impossible promise – a dream really – that he would be not a pawn, but an active participant with God - the father of a new kind of tribe of people – a people who would not only RELATE to God, but who would also act on God’s behalf – who would also be a blessing to all the world.
A people who would help shape a NEW story.
This God was different. This God didn’t seem to behave in a predictable way –
Life for Abraham wasn’t moving in a circle.
This is a God who is heading somewhere. A God of action. A God who takes us on a journey. Helping us move in a direction that we have never gone before.
It is a God of NEW THINGS.
It’s difficult for us to fully grasp what a departure this idea was –
The whole concept of faith was something that didn’t exist at the time. After all, you don’t need faith if life is circle and everything happens in a predictable fashion that is completely outside of your control.
But if you are to go on a journey, a REAL journey – where the outcome has not yet been decided. Then, you will need to have FAITH.
This new way of seeing the world, of seeing and relating to God – of putting faith in God - that emerged from Abraham and continued into the story of Moses and the prophets – became central to the Jewish identity. They were the people whose story was headed somewhere. God was doing something NEW in their midst. Liberating them from slavery – bringing them to the promised land – and building a new kind of kingdom. This was a God of NEW THINGS,
Today is Epiphany Sunday –
The word Epiphany means “new insight or revelation.” It is an “A-Ha” Moment when things become clear and make sense in a way that they never have before.
All the time – God was revealing new “epiphanies” to them – new insights into how they could see and understand the world.
All the time – God was doing a NEW THING. The story was unfolding.
It wasn’t static and unchanging.
It was evolving.
They were a part of it. Active participants in the unfolding narrative of God at work in the world.
So – fast forward from the time of Abraham to the time when Jesus was born.
The Jewish people are living under an extremely oppressive regime. Herod the Great – has been charged with ruling the region of ancient Palestine and at every turn has exploited the people of every amount of resource and wealth that they had, desecrated their sacred traditions, and crushed any form of resistance that might have sprung up among a people who resented deeply being under occupation.
They were a people desperately longing for relief from such a repressive regime.
The Jews were known to be a people who resisted. Who refused to accept that this was ordained by God – as Herod and Caesar Augustus would often claim.
They held onto the stories, to the Epiphanies of the past – and they were convinced that even in the trials of their present moment – God was still at work – and the story was not yet finished.
And so we begin the story of Jesus – of his birth – and if you look in your bibles – tell me – tell me how the Gospel of Matthew begins.
With a genealogy. That’s right. Are you starting to connect this?
Matthew wants to be crystal clear that the story of Jesus that he is about to tell – is intimately connected with the story of their past. And who does it begin with?
Abraham – the one who stepped out in faith – when God was doing a NEW THING.
And the Genealogy would have been a reminder with each name – even the not so noteworthy ones – that all along – God had been doing a NEW THING. The Story was going somewhere.
And now – in the person of Jesus – the story continued to unfold- behold – an epiphany – God was doing a NEW THING Again!
And the story is told – that in the sky appears – a star – a NEW star.
God is doing a NEW THING. And the Magi – from the East – the advisors to the Persian King – religious advisors, astrological advisors, political advisors, it was all connected – they make a pilgrimage to take note of this new thing – to come and pay homage – obeisance – not to the current ruler – Herod –
But to a tiny child – in a small town – born to poor Jewish parents.
God is doing A NEW THING
And the new thing that God is doing is in direct opposition to
Herod and his chief priests.
Through their repression and violent tactics, God makes a way.
For the Magi to return home – and for jesus and his family to escape his evil massacre.
In the very midst of the utmost evil and oppression, God is doing a NEW THING.
The Story is not over. History will be different. It is not a circle - it is headed somewhere.
The story of Jesus’ birth would have been a great story of hope for the Jewish people, in the midst of an age of despair.
It would have been an epiphany.
That God was still doing a NEW THING.
And they were still a part of it.
For the next couple of months, we are going to sit with this idea of EPIPHANY.
How God is doing something new – right in our midst – giving us new revelation, helping us to see what we could not see before.
We are going to spend most of our weeks exploring some of the epiphanies from the Old Testament. How the mentality of life as a circle was broken apart and a new worldview – that has largely shaped the way we see things today – began to emerge.
So, I hope you will be open to the NEW THING God will be doing with all of us.
I hope you might be examining during this season – some of the places in your life and world where – unknowingly you have started to step back into the mentality – that things are – in fact a circle – that they can’t really change – they just repeat themselves – for the places where you have become cynical, jaded and apathetic that things can be different.
May this Epiphany season be a source of renewal and hope for you – to see, hear and respond to the NEW THING that God is doing in your midst – in this New YEAR
May it be so.