New Beginnings

A New Year message for 2010

Like other Christian festivals, the celebration of New Years Day in the West started before the church came into existence.

At first, the Romans celebrated the beginning of the new year on March 1, not January 1. Julius Caesar instituted New Year’s Day on January 1 to honor Janus, the two-faced god who looks backwards into the old year and forwards into the new. The custom of “New Years resolutions” began in this earliest period, as the Romans made resolutions with a moral flavor: mostly to be good to others.

When Rome took on Christianity as its official faith, the Christians kept New Years Day. Only, they traded the vaguely moral emphasis for a practice of fasting and prayer aimed at living the New Year in the New Life of Christ. Soon, however, the new year celebration reverted to March 1, and this early emphasis on spiritual things dissolved.

Or rather, it shifted to a new celebration on January 1. Beginning in the middle of the sixth century, parts of the church began to set aside January 1 as the Feast of the Circumcision, commemorating Jesus’ circumcision. As with other Jewish boy babies, Jesus was circumcised eight days after his birth (Luke 2:21, “when eight days were accomplished”).

But the pagans had apparently spoiled January 1 for many Christians: the Roman church did not accept this feast day until the 11th century.

It was finally in 1752, when Britain and its possessions adopted the Gregorian calendar, that January 1 again came to be recognized and celebrated as the first day of the year.

Some Christians, however, still hesitated to celebrate the day. The Puritans, for example, were leery of the associations of January 1 with the pagan god Janus—they preferred not even to say the name of the month, referring to it rather as “First Month.” And of course they stood against the dissipations usually indulged during the celebration.

Instead, the Puritans urged their young people, especially, to skip the revelry and meditate on the year past and the year to come. Always ready to introspect—in famously excruciating detail—they adopted again the old custom of making resolutions. They vowed to take more care against their besetting sins, make better use of their talents and other divine gifts, and treat others with Christian charity.

Today, some Christians may be inclined to follow the Puritans’ lead, at least absenting themselves from the festivities: January 1st has clearly continued to be a day dedicated more to godless indulgence than to meditative fasting. But many have also seen, as the Puritans did, a divine opportunity in the longstanding practice of making resolutions.

In fact, this practice even harmonizes with the Feast Day: circumcision is a symbol of sanctification—that is, the “setting aside” of persons and things for God’s purposes.

With or without such historical understandings, many of us may have taken New Years Eve and New Years Day as God-given opportunities. We have taken at least a few minutes to reflect, pray, and dedicate ourselves anew to our Lord—whether at a “Watch Night Service” or in private.

PS: The historic details given above are adapted from the article of Chris Armstrong , Christianity Today Magazine, Dec 2003

We have chosen to be in the Church, and God has directed me to choose the theme of “New Beginnings” for tonight. There are many new beginnings in the Bible. We will look at a few of them and see the significance of it in our lives, as we go around. I have chosen just seven new beginnings to look at tonight. Seven is a great number in Bible and it represents perfection.

I would like us to take a few minutes to think about any new beginning that we have had in our lives during 2009. Some of us might have many. Please try and choose one. Some of us might find this exercise difficult. Do not worry about the magnitude of it’s significance. If it is a new beginning that you remember, that is enough. Make a note of it if you wish to. Also each of you, please choose a chorus or a Hymn that has touched you and you would like to be sung tonight.

<A Couple of minutes in silence>

We will now go round, first sharing a new beginning from our lives and then reading about one new beginning from the Bible. We will then sing a Hymn or Chorus, chosen by the person who shared. One of us will briefly pray for the person who shared and then look into the significance of that particular new beginning in our lives.

New Beginning 1: The Creation: Genesis 1:26-31

As Pastor Vasu would have said, the Triune God were “having a ball” creating the universe, and all the living creatures, having fun and fellowship with each other, when they decided to create man in “their” image. Vs 27 repeats the fact that Man and Woman were created in His image. Knowing that we are created in God’s image provides our basis for self worth. Human worth is not based on our possessions, achievements, physical attractiveness, or public acclaim. It is based on God’s image. Thus every time we feel low self worth we are actually downgrading our creator. Knowing that you are a person of worth helps us to love God, know him personally, and make a valuable contribution to those around you. We do have the ability to reflect his character in us, through love, patience, forgiveness, kindness and faithfulness.

2. New Beginning 2: The Flood and Noah’s ark. Genesis 8:1 and Genesis 8:15-22

After the Fall, earth became a place far from the perfect paradise that God intended it to be. Humanity forgot God frighteningly fast. But one man remained faithful to God (Gen 6:22) and God decided to redeem mankind through that one man, Noah. This was just one of the countless times that God showed His love and patience to Mankind in order to save him. Even when He knows that man’s heart is evil, He reaches out to us.. all because man is created in His image. Genesis 9:6 repeats this again. After saving mankind through Noah, God makes a covenant with Noah to protect man’s life, a life that has been created in His own image. This knowledge that our lives are protected by the creator’s own covenant should make us feel secure. As the well known Psalm 23 says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

New Beginning 3: Father Abraham: Genesis 12:1-3 and Genesis 17:1-8

Despite God’s swift judgment of sin, most people ignored him and continued to sin. But a handful of people remained faithful to God, and one such person was Abraham. Genesis 15:6 and Hebrews 11:8-12 testify this. We can learn from Abraham’s faith. He had choices. He could have chosen to stay with the security of what he had, but he chose to trust God. The same promise is with us today, the promise that God will guide and bless us. Abraham’s decision had very long term impact. And the impact turned out to be good because he trusted God and obeyed Him. We probably do not know the long term impact of the decisions that we make, but the fact that there could be long term impact should help us to think carefully and seek God’s guidance as we make choices or take action today!

New Beginning 4: The Exodus : Exodus 3:7-14

After 400 long years of slavery and suffering, the Hebrews cry out to the Lord and the Lord decides to set them free from slavery. He said “I am concerned about their suffering” and hence chose an unwilling leader to lead them out of the land of slavery to a lad flowing with milk and honey. The same Lord is telling us even today “I am concerned about your suffering” to you and me. This is a comforting thought, but there is an uncomfortable thought in this new beginning too. The Lord is asking us to lead others who are still enslaved by darkness into light. Like Moses, we might have multiple reasons why we are just not the right people to lead any one to Jesus, but just like in the case of Moses, the Lord has answers for everything. God did not change Moses to use him as a leader here. God used Moses as he was, to the intended purposes that He had created Moses. How about us? Are we willing to let go of our excuses and allow Him to mould us so that He can use us for His purposes?

New Beginning 5: King David: 1 Samuel 8:7-9, 1 Samuel 16:1-7

Despite God’s explicit warnings about what a king might do, the Israelites insist on a king and the Lord “gives in” to their wishes. However, God continues to be concerned about His people and soon rejects the first King, in Saul and then anoints David as the future King. When we think of David, we first think of shepherd, poet, giant-killer, king, ancestor of Jesus, one of the greatest men in the old testament. But along side that list stands another list betrayer, liar, adulterer, murderer. The first list gives us qualities that we all like to have and the second list gives the qualities that is probably in each one of us. God calls David a man after my own heart (Acts 13:22), knowing fully his limitations and failures. And that is because David, more than anything else, had the unchangeable belief in the faithful and forgiving nature of God. He sinned many times, but he confessed, and confessed from his heart every time he sinned, and his repentance was genuine. Knowing how much we share the failure of David, there is a lesson in this new beginning for us. God loves us just as we are. All that He is asking us to do to genuinely repent and come back to Him.

New Beginning 6: The Return of the Exiles: Ezra 1:2-4, Haggai 2:6-9 and Zechariah 9:9-11 We have to get into a little bit of history here. It was in 538 BC that the King Cyrus of Persia allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall. This happened exactly after 70 years as prophesied by Isaiah 44:28-45:6. It is believed that Daniel had a role here, and possibly he would have shown Isaiah’s prophesy to King Cyrus. We see Daniel fervently praying for the end of exile in Daniel 9:4-19. After the first group of Jews ( Believed to be around 50000) came back to Jerusalem, they started rebuilding the temple. However in the face of stiff opposition they soon got discouraged and that is when the Prophets Haggai and Zechariah came in with exhortations of encouragement which enabled the to complete the rebuilding of the temple. This new beginning holds a number of important messages for us. King Cyrus and later King Darius (whom Daniel Served), Xerxes (Esther’s husband) and Artaxerxes (whom Nehemiah served), all of them who did not worship the Hebrew God, acknowledged the power of the Hebrew God and supported and provided for the return of the exiles and the reconstruction of the temple to fulfill His promises made through the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. This new beginning was made possible through the works of people like Daniel, Esther, Nehemiah etc, who were placed in appropriate positions by God to bring his purposes to fruition. So wherever we are placed today, God has plans to use us to bring His plans of salvation to completion. Are we prepared to offer ourselves to those plans. The builders of the temple faced opposition even with all this support. But the Word of God which came through Haggai and Zechariah showed them the hope through the messiah and helped them to complete the temple construction. Let us reaffirm our hope in the messiah, even when we are discouraged, even when we face opposition.

New Beginning 7: Jesus Christ: John 10:10, I Peter 1:3, 2 Corinthians 5:17

The previous instances were new beginnings of history, the seventh one is the new beginning that you and me are part of , that you and me are living. This is not history, this is present. We are living the new beginning that Jesus promised, that God gave through the two human impossibilities of the Virgin’s womb and the empty tomb. And this new beginning has a promise attached to it too. As the prophet Isaiah says in Isaiah 43:18-19 “Forget the former things: Do not dwell on the past, See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert; And streams in the wasteland.”

And Jesus Christ confirms that promise. “I am making everything new!” And “I am the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 21:5-6). This is really the new beginning for us. The hope filled beginning of a new year, a new year when we can truly trust and know that we are really the people that God is talking about in Revelation 7:14-17 And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Is this not amazing? Right from the time of creation, our God has been longing to have us experience this joy, this satisfaction of being in a place where there are no tears and no pain, just the way he intended his perfect creation to be. Even though mankind fell, and got separated from God, God in his true love sent his own son to die for our sins so that we can claim the inheritance in his kingdom. As we go through the seven new beginnings we just now discussed, we realise that 1. He has created us in His image and hence we need to feel very worthy of His love and be ready to love him accordingly 2. Even though sin separated us from Him, he has continuously tried to get us back to him, and he has vowed to protect our lives 3. If we have faith is God, he will do great things through us. 4. Even though we have our limitations, He will mould us and use us as His tool to being salvation to His people, if we are willing to let Him deal with us. 5. We all have sinned and God knows that. But he is willing to accept us as we are, once we repent and confess our sins genuinely 6. He will keep His promise of taking us to the promised land, even if it means using people who do not acknowledge Him. He will use us, wherever we are placed to bring people back to Him, if we are willing to be used. 7. Through Jesus Christ He has given all of us another chance to come back to Him and enjoy His fellowship in the Beautiful new Heaven described in Rev 21.

Let us wish each other a hope filled new beginning this January 1st 2010.

Benediction

“May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

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