Sunday30th December 10am Combined Worship
Bible Reading: Luke 2:21-40
Preacher: Phil Swain
Well, it’s the last Sunday of 2018. New Years Eve is tomorrow night … I want to ask … do you make News Year’s Resolutions? Do you think about thinks that you wish to do, not do, change or achieve in the next 12 months?
You know what I mean, next year I will give up drinking or I will tell my wife that I love her every day or in the next 12 months I will …
Yesterday I looked up the results of a survey where people were asked to post their new years resolution. They then grouped the responses and came up with the Top Ten Resolutions of 2017. They are:
- Focus more on their appearance
- Make the most of opportunities
- Spend More Time with Family & Friends
- Get a new job
- Learn a new skill / new hobby
- Read more books – less time on Facebook
- Take better care of themselves, like getting more sleep
- Spend less money
- Exercise more
- Eat better / eat healthier.
So do you make new year resolutions? Or more importantly … do you keep them? Or do you follow the advice of the internet survey which said that the best way to keep a New Year resolution is not to make any in the first place! If you look back over your life, you will see that there has been plenty of times when you have made promises to people, or made a resolution to do something.
Let me give you some examples from my own life. Here is a picture of my 2nd grade class. Can you see me? Is that better! I was having a party and in I asked this bloke Steven in my class if he wanted to come along. That night, my Mum told me I could only invite 5 people. The problem was that I didn’t really know Steven and I had 5 other friends I would have asked before him, but because I had already promised him that he could come, my Mum made me stick to that promise. I felt really ripped off, but I learnt that I need to be careful before I promised something.
- This is a picture of my best friend in primary school Craig. It was the late 70’s when we were dancing in the downstairs room at my place and Craig did the bump against the wall and cracked the fibo. I promised him that I would never tell anyone how he broke it. Oops I just told you.
- This is my year 7 class. After my first maths test in year 7 I was near the bottom of the class, and I made an internal resolution to be make it to the top 5 by the end of the year. I didn’t quite make it, but I did come 7th.
- This is my best friend in Year 11 and 12, Paul. We made a promise or resolution together that we would meet one morning a week in the 15 minutes before school starts and pray for our school, our friends and the ISCF group. That was one of the best promises I ever made, because God blessed that promise and that prayer group grew.
We make promises all our lives. Some of them are one that we want to keep, others are harder to keep. Some promises or resolutions we make are impossible to achieve. Yet, we still have this habit of making promises.
I have also made some life changing promises. Some decisions which are so important to me that I will do almost anything to keep. Some promises which are so special that we make them in front of witness who will keep us accountable. For example:
- This is a picture of the house where laying on my bed one just after God spectacularly answered one of my prayers, I promise to followed him. A few years after, I stood up in church and confirmed my promise to God before everyone.
- Other huge promise I made was to Marion. This is the day where I made some promises before God, family and friends to love and be there for Marion in marriage.
- Another significant promise was one that I made to God and the church to be faithful to the calling that I received to be a pastor in the church. On the day of my ordination, I was make a series of promises in relation to my role as a minister.
- Then three other special days was the days that Rebecca, Matthew and Megan were baptised. On those days, Marion and I, made promises to God to bring up our children in the faith and knowledge of Jesus and to help them come to a point where they will accept Jesus too.
In our bible reading we had two Christmas Characters that we often don’t focus on. They are not part of the nativity image like the wise men or the shepherds but they are two people who certainly understood what a promise is and the power of hope.
The first is Simeon. He had been waiting for the ‘consolation of Israel” (v25). The NIRV writes it like this, “He was a good and godly man. He was waiting for God’s promise to Israel to come true.” What was this promise? Well if you read the Old Testament you will find that in numerous places God promises to send someone who will bring comfort and alleviate the grief and sorrow of Israel. God promises to send someone in the line of David who would help and save all people. Simeon was looking forward in hope for the promised Messiah. And Simeon has a reason to be more hopeful than others that God would keep his promise. You see, the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would see the Messiah before he died. And so we read in the bible reading that on this particular day Simeon gets the nudge from the Holy Spirit to go to the temple and was there when Mary and Joseph arrive. Taking Jesus in his arm he said those amazing words, “with my own eyes I have seen your salvation” (v30). Simeon gives testimony that God indeed keeps his promises.
Anna had a similar but different story. She too was “looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (v38). But whereas Simeon was going along with his daily life and responded to a prompting of the Holy Spirit … Anna, lived at the temple. Verse 38 tells us that she never left the temple but day and night she worshipped and prayed. Anna must have been good at waiting patiently. If you do the maths … she would have been married around 14, widowed at around 21 … and she is now 84. That is 60 years of praying in the temple for the redemption of Jerusalem. And on this day, she saw the fulfilment of God’s promise. The Messiah had come. The one who will bring redemption was here. And coming up to the child she gave thanks to God.
These are two examples of how God keep his promises but the whole of the bible is full of examples of how God is a faithful God and always keeps his promises. Listen to Joshua 23:14-15. Deep in your hearts you know that every promise of the Lord your God has come true. Not a single one has failed!
So … how do we reflect this faithfulness of God when it comes to us making promises or making New Year resolutions?
I guess when we make promises or resolute to do something, the bible tells us that we should be people of integrity and try to the best of our ability to achieve that promise. Sure, sometimes circumstances change which means it is difficult to keep promises, but we should try. I guess we also need to be careful what we promise. Like when I promised Steve he could come to my party, or Craig that I would not dob on him … I should have thought through those more. We need to not that some promises take some time to see the rewards. For example, when I was praying with Paul before school each week. God blessed our faithfulness to that promise, but it took 2 years.
Other promises are really important to remain faithful too. Like our promise to follow Jesus, or our promise in marriage, or our promises at Baptism or Confirmation. As Christians, and as a congregation, we take these promises very seriously. That is why we as a church offer things like bible studies, kids and youth groups, worship services, alpha courses etc … all to help people remain faithful to their promise to follow Jesus and to bring up their children into the faith.
At this point I just need to mention that sometimes in these three critical areas we don’t fulfil our promises. Sometimes marriages break down, sometimes our children walk away from the faith. Sometimes we have even thought about walking away from the faith. If any of these have happened to you, don’t feel guilty. God is a loving and forgiving God. There is no promise that we have broken that God can’t forgive. This is good news.
And the other good news is that God offers us to help us to keep our promises and to reflect God’s faithfulness in the way that we live. Part of the Christmas story is the realisation that the saviour Jesus didn’t just come to save us, but came to live with us – Emmanuel – and to offer support, guidance, wisdom and help every day.
So as you consider your New Year Resolutions, and as we ponder the promises that we have made, or are going to make … lets think about what God’s message to us today is…
- Try not to make promises that we cannot keep.
- Lets try and keep the promises that we have made.
- Be open to the support of this church and other Christians and above all Jesus – to help you keep the promises you have made.