This time last year our church was reeling from the news of the sudden death of Phil, our chair of deacons. It happened on New Year’s Eve 2020 and as a result I found it difficult to say, “Happy New Year” until well into January.
On Christmas Eve 2020 I received an email from a friend in Ukraine which said that due to the mounting border crisis, he had a suitcase packed with his vital documents and three days’ supply of clothes and food.
It reminded me that preachers need to sense and reflect the mood of any preaching occasion.
Think of the question asked by the exiles on the riverside in Babylon:
“How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4)
How does a preacher preach good news in a bad news world?
Look out at the congregation on the first Sunday of January 2022. What do you see?
Many people will be happy to see another year blighted by Covid come to an end. There is joy in knowing that God is our God for ever and ever.
There is joy in knowing that this joy is not ultimately rooted in the ups and downs of human experience or the events of life.
A New Year always reminds me of what could have been. I think of people we have lost, missed opportunities and unrealized dreams. When I was a local church pastor I always found that at church or pastor’s anniversaries, the first thing that came to my mind was what might have been.
After nearly two years of living under the shadow of covid, it is difficult not to be sucked into the vortex of thinking that 2022 is going to bring “more of the same.”
Then there is the sense that a new year leads to a new start. Phil, the deacon, who died on New Year’s Eve 2020, did one last job at church that day. He put up a fresh poster ready for the beginning of 2021. The poster had the upbeat message:
“New Year, New Life in Jesus”
That message is an exciting and tantalising promise. My friend Phil could hardly have imagined how differently he would begin the New Year. That is the way with some messages, they contain so much more than we intend or imagine.
What if we as preachers take that tantalizing promise and begin to live and preach in a way that assumes that it is really true?
Jesus imagines his ministry in terms of being a good shepherd and a gate of entry. He contrasts his ministry with that of the sheep rustler:
“The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)
Is your preaching like that of the thief that narrows, distorts, or steals people’s aspirations, or is it one that opens the gate to the full spectrum of life that Jesus offers?
Happy New Year!