The Sunday Sermon: First Sunday after Christmas (New Year’s Day) – January 1, 2017
Scripture: Revelation 21:1-1-5
Trustworthy and True
Happy New Year, indeed … 2017. What do we do now?! This isn’t a church thing, this calendar New Year. But it’s on a Sunday this year, so it kind of is a “church thing.” What do we do with it?
We anticipate Christmas in the church and in our Christian lives in so many ways year after year, from Advent worship services and all the rituals and traditions in this faith community, to the many and varied traditions in our separate families. We get so busy with preparing, in fact, that often it’s not until the last hour on Christmas Eve that it really sets in on us: Something new that changed the world once is supposed to change it again.
God-with-us, first fully revealed for us in the life of Jesus and celebrated by us on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is not just something that happened long ago and far away, but something that should happen every day since, is happening right now and should happen every day going forward. We talked just last week, the very few of us that gathered here on Christmas Day, how our God is a growing God. God being born as a baby in our faith story means that some growing needs to happen. We then, are the nurturers of God in this world, helping God to grow. And God can only grow up, grow old and grow as strong in this world as we give nurture. That service on Christmas Day was our first feeding, the first nourishment, that God received in our world this year. We know how to do Christmas, even if our follow through has been a bit weak for sixteen hundred years and counting. But …
What are we supposed to do with a New Year on our secular calendars as people of faith? If last night’s revelry was anything like what most of “picture” going on on New Year’s Eve, not much!
So as I thought about this Sunday, New Year’s Day this past week, much of it spent in Bowling Green with Katie’s family, I thought “here’s what New Year’s Day in a church worship service can offer us: “a purpose for our Christmas proclamation of Immanuel, God with us, in the world and in our lives, growing and transforming both – our lives and the world.” We celebrate a New Year in the life of the “world” on this day and we call this new year “good.” We wish everyone we meet a “happy” New Year, and a peaceful and prosperous one. Why? Because we have hope. Because we celebrated Christmas and proclaimed “Immanuel,” God-with-us again. And that proclamation, that promise, that hope if for the world. The world needs what “God-with-us” has to offer it this year.
Pray with me … and listen for the Word of God. Read Revelation 21:1-5 … The Word of the Lord.
Did you hear it? The reason why we celebrate this secular holiday even on a Sunday morning in a church sanctuary? We wish good for the world and “happiness” to every person in it because this is the place where “God” is … in the world, among “mortals,” dwelling with us, with all peoples, wiping away tears and mourning and even death. This year cannot possibly be “happy” without the things that “Immanuel” brings. Call it what you want – fulfillment, enlightenment, wholeness, heaven-on-earth. This world, this year, would be a dismal one, indeed, without it. And, believe it or not, this is exactly what the Book of Revelation tells us in our scripture reading this morning.
The first and most important detail of the opening verses of chapter twenty-one of the Book of Revelation in our bible: Heaven is the place where God is and where humans are fully united with God. And where have we just, through our Advent preparation and our Christmas proclamation declared God “is?” With us … In other words (and not my words, but the words of the Revelation) Heaven is on Earth. That’s why we can celebrate New Year’s in the church, celebrate the world, and wish all happiness and hope. Heaven is on Earth and we have the opportunity to “be happy.”
Now that’s not the “cosmology into which many of have been socialized” – “on earth” is not the way we have been taught to understand “heaven”). We have been taught that “heaven” is eternal and that “on earth” things change. On earth people are born and die, history comes and goes, cultures rise and fall, and species evolve and become extinct. Heaven, in our learning, is spared these changes, with all the joys and the sorrows that come with them. Earth becomes a place to endure and survive until Heaven can be reached. And, of course, to reach Heaven, we have to die on Earth. But … this clear opposition between heaven and earth is not the cosmology – not the ordering of the cosmos – of the book of Revelation!
That’s hard to believe, given our exposure to this beautiful biblical writing. Probably more than any other book, writing, or teaching, the Book of Revelation has been used to emphasize the “separateness” of these two “realms.” But it doesn’t! An “open door” is imaged over and over again throughout John of Patmos’ letter between Heaven and earth. Events in heaven determine the course of human events in this letter, and vice versa. Why? Because “the home of God is among mortals.” Heaven is on earth. And if you’re still suspicious of this writing, or this interpretation of this writing, consider again our refrain for the last five weeks: Immanuel! We just got done proclaiming, praying, hearing, and celebrating Jesus birth. All the while proclaiming exactly what the book of Revelation says: God is with us …
John describes this heaven on earth as a city because a city is a place where people live together in dependence on one another. A city works when everyone in it does something to contribute to its welfare. And he describes this particular holy city, this heaven on earth, by noting what’s not in it. At the end of the very first verse, he writes “(in this new heaven and new earth) the sea is no more.”
A powerful biblical symbol for chaos, the sea represents all that separates humans from each other and from God. If “the sea I no more” and God is here “among us” then those things that separated us from each other last year – anger, suspicion, fear / hunger, hurt, hatred / disease, disasters, war (each one a kind of death) – is no more.
Wishing each other a “Happy New Year,” then, seems to me a profoundly faithful thing to do. May the “chaos” in your life, and the chaos in our world, be … “no more.”
As it was for us last month, with the birth – the beginning – of Jesus life, so it is for us “in the end.” The Alpha and the Omega. God is with us … Immanuel … heaven on Earth. These words, this reality, is trustworthy and true. So …
“Happy New Year,” indeed.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / January 1, 2017