I have to admit that my New Year’s resolutions are not all that new. This will sound familiar to my friends and my family:
I am going to get organized.
I am going to be on time.
I am going to eat healthfully.
I am going to exercise regularly.
I am going to be more responsible about money.
I am going to stop wearing goofy clothes.
Now, why do I think this year will be different?
Because something is different this year.
Hickory Bend UMC is different. We have always had a reputation of being a welcoming congregation with a giving spirit. This year, we have been called into new territory. We have come through a difficult year, and we have come through it richly blessed. We usually form committees and study our ministry. We usually sign up for projects and plan our events. We usually put things on the calendar. We continue to do this, but, this year is different. We can continue to plan, schedule, volunteer, and study. But for about a year, we haven’t been able to some of those regular things. God has taken over our calendar.
On one hand, our congregation has been struck with many illnesses, surgeries, and hospitalizations that no one could have seen coming. We are watching dear friends and long time members lose their health and even their memories. Some of our members have been hit with unemployment and underemployment. We couldn’t have anticipated that. Many of the pillars of the church, the people who have led the church through its toughest times are now, themselves, in need of the love and care of the church. The people who have cared for us for so long, now need our care. That is different.
On the other hand, God has brought us many new friends. We are constantly receiving new visitors with amazing gifts, and other with heavy burdens. Some of those are the same people. God is bringing us wonderful people to enrich and enlarge our congregation. That is ongoing, but the needs and the gifts are new and different.
Brother Gary’s illness and the side effects of his therapy have hit him hard. His whole family has been turned upside down, first by the flood, and then right on the heels of that, a difficult diagnosis. After years of not taking any time off, our SPPR strongly insisted he take some time to heal. He reluctantly agreed. That was different.
And the conference has certainly stepped up to help. We are connectional ministry, and thanks to that, the district has sent us guest speakers, and now, Bob Lewis, who has already been a great blessing to us. And he brought a whole pew full of people!
We are different. We have grown. We are learning how to take even better care of each other. We are learning how to step up to leadership in new and unexpected ways.
We could never have planned this. We could never have formed a committee to learn these things and prepare this things in case we ever needed these skills. We had to be thrown into the middle of the deep water to find out we could swim.
But we have found that we can swim. We are cleaning the church, and sending cards, and taking food, and calling friends, and praying for one another, and reaching out to new people. Hickory Bend is going to be fine. We have been well trained by Brother Gary and others before him.
This year is going to be different. We can learn from Mary to take the Good News for what it is. We can learn from her cheerful obedience. We can learn from Joseph to open our hearts to surprising and unexpected responsibilities. We can learn from the angels to proclaim the good news that Christ is here! We can learn from the shepherds to respond with open hearts and go to visit the Christ child. We can learn from the Magi to bring our gifts.
So this year is going to be different. We can’t imagine today what challenges or opportunities may come. I want to say as clearly as possible, I believe in us as a church family. We will make a way through this year’s challenges, no matter what may happen, so that we can open our hearts to the opportunities this year may bring. We have no way of knowing now what we may need to do, but with God’s help, we can do anything we need to do together. Thanks be to God. That is not different. God’s love is constant and His strength endures. What I see is a new willingness in us to follow the shepherds to the stable and see what the Christ child wants us to do. So as we all must leave Advent and Christmas, and return to our work, and school, and responsibilities, let us all greet this New Year with the joy of the shepherds as they returned to the fields.
Luke 2:20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard.
For me, that would be different.