The following article will soon appear in my congregation's December newsletter.
New Year’s Resolutions
Yes, you read that title correctly. No, it’s not yet the beginning of 2008. But it is the beginning of the Christian Year. The Season of Advent marks the beginning of a new Church Year of hearing, receiving, learning, singing, and growing in the grace, knowledge, and life of our Lord Jesus Christ. So, just as we say, “Happy New Year” on January 1 of the secular calendar, we Christians can especially say, “Happy New Year” to ring in Advent.
Another New Year’s custom is making resolutions – you know, those annual promises to lose weight, stop smoking, exercise more, etc. Well, we Christians can also make and keep our own version of “New Year’s resolutions” to fit with the Church Year (…and hopefully keep them better than we do in January each year! ☺).
The chief message and meaning of Advent is certainly the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ (“Advent” is Latin for “coming”). That’s most important, to be sure. However, another part of the message and meaning of Advent is this: how shall we prepare for the Coming of our King and Savior? After all, when guests come to visit, we usually prepare and get things in order prior to the visit (clean the house, vacuum the carpet, wash the dishes, etc.). Let’s consider our Advent “New Year’s Resolutions” in that same way: as preparations for celebrating the Coming of our Savior into the flesh, into our world, even into our midst in the Divine Service, to save us from sin and death.
What kind of Advent “New Year’s Resolutions” can we make? Let’s look to our Epistle readings for the Sundays in Advent.
On the First Sunday in Advent (2 December) we hear these words: “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:13-14).
Let’s resolve not to live as the world around us lives. We Christians do not need to participate in the sensuality of the culture during this month of December. We do not need to succumb to the over indulging of “the season.” We can resolve to restrain ourselves from eating too much, buying too much, or even partying too much. After all, Advent is a season of prayerful preparation as we seek to welcome our Coming King. Let’s use this Advent Season to “put on” our Lord Jesus Christ, instead of putting on the trappings of the commercialized, secular version of “Christmas” (or “the Holidays”).
On the Second Sunday in Advent (9 December) we hear these words: “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:4-6).
Let’s further resolve to ring in this Advent “New Year” not by spending more time at the stores and shopping malls, but rather by spending more time gathering at church to hear and learn the Scriptures that encourage us. Stores and shopping malls show us just how self-centered we human beings are (especially when we see grown adults fighting over the last special toy for their child!). However, when we return to the Scriptures – to hearing them read, meditating upon them when they are proclaimed, and singing them in the liturgy and hymns – our Lord encourages us with His forgiveness and mercy. Not only that, but we learn to live in harmony with one another. Let us resolve to put away the complaining and gossiping that so often spews from our mouths (too often before we think to catch ourselves). Let us resolve to find our true joys in gathering together as God’s people to revel in His salvation and the approaching Glad Tidings of Christmas. Yes, a Savior has been born to us, He is Christ the Lord, and He is the gift that surpasses any gift we can buy in a store or receive in our family gift giving festivities.
On the Third Sunday in Advent (16 December) we hear about the Office of the Holy Ministry: “This is how one should regard us [preachers of the Gospel], as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy” (1 Corinthians 4:1). Yes, our gracious Lord gives His Church “stewards,” men who “manage” the message of His mercies and the Sacraments (“mysteries”) that deliver His salvation. Together, let’s resolve to make Advent the time when we rejoice in our Lord’s Gospel and Sacraments, as well as time when we thank Him for the men who proclaim this message to us.
On the Fourth Sunday in Advent (23 December) we hear about rejoicing: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice…. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4, 7).
Let us resolve to rejoice! On the surface that might seem like one big “Duh!” “Come on, Pastor, this time of year always brings great joy and feelings of happiness!” But I’m not talking about the “joy” that can be induced by getting the right present, or having the right guests over, or wearing those favorite Christmas clothes, or even the “joy” induced by the proper recipe of eggnog (if you know what I mean! ☺). Let us resolve to rejoice no matter what – no matter what gifts we receive, or not, no matter what happens in world events, no matter what family crisis we may face, no matter what… (You fill in the blank.). You see, we could have Christmas very well (perhaps better!) without all of the commercial trappings. Let us rejoice that our God became human like us to rescue us from sin, death, and all evil. Let us rejoice that we are at peace with God because of our Lord Jesus Christ!
These are just some of the things that we can resolve for this Season of Advent, this beginning of the Christian Year. Perhaps you’ll even hear more of such “resolutions” throughout Advent! Happy “New Year”! God bless you in your Advent “resolutions”!