Saturday, December 31, 2016

HOW TO HAVE A HOPEFUL NEW YEAR

HOW TO HAVE A HOPEFUL NEW YEAR
Wendell Griffen, 2016
December 31, 2016 Watch Eve Homily
New Millennium Church, Little Rock, AR

Joshua 1:1-9
1After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying, 2‘My servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the Israelites. 3Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses.4From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory. 5No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. 6Be strong and courageous; for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them.7Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. 8This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. 9I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’
        In many ways, approaching the end of one year and the start of a new one places us alongside Joshua in this passage from the Hebrew Testament.  The year 2016 is almost over.  A second past midnight it will be, like Moses, a history of memories.  As the year 2017 approaches we, like Joshua, must balance respect for the history and memories of 2016 with the fierce urgency of the New Year, with all its possibilities, uncertainties, and challenges. 

This can be overwhelming.  Whether one is standing on the edge of the Jordan River at the head of a young nation after the death of its liberator and law-giver or sitting in a pew somewhere as the seconds, minutes, and hours mark the end of one year and the approach of a new one, we must confront emotions, questions, anxieties, and other issues. 

One thing is clear.  We can’t stay where we are.  We can’t “park” in 2016.  No matter what we’ve been through, and no matter how or why we are affected by what we’ve been through, we must move onward.  So let me share three suggestions.

God is with us wherever we go!  God had Joshua realize that God didn’t die when Moses died.  God was with Moses to accomplish a purpose – to bring the descendants of Abraham from slavery in Egypt to freedom in Canaan.  God assured Joshua that God would be with him to accomplish that purpose.  As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. (Joshua 1:5).  Look at someone and say, “God is with us.”

This is important to remember, always.  We are never forsaken.  We are never alone.  We are God’s people.  This is true at the end of every second, minute, hour, day, week, month, season, and year.  God is with us now.  God will be with us in 2017. 

Remembering that God is with us also reminds us that God is sovereign over time and the changes that come with time.  God is sovereign over shifting political and other circumstances.  God is sovereign, not time. 

Be strong and courageous!  Whenever we see the words, “Fear not!” in Scripture, we should remember that those words are a divine commandment, not a suggestion. 

Faithful people are courageous people because God is with us.  Faithful people are strong people because God is with us.  We are not strong and courageous in and of ourselves.  God is the strength for our living. 

As we are rooted and nurtured by God’s strength through the Holy Spirit, we are “more than conquerors.”  We will need and must rely on God’s strength in the New Year.  We will need and must rely on God’s strength as we encounter new challenges, fresh opportunities, and emerging realities.  

In a sense, the admonition to “be strong and courageous” is God’s way of telling us that we are part of an adventure with God!  The ancestors understood this, and often referred to life as a pilgrimage.  This mood is also seen in the South African folksong, Siyahamba (We are Marching in the Light of God). 

        Dare to dance!  Because God is with us we are able to obey the divine commandment to be strong and courageous.  Because God is with us, the New Year is not something dreadful to fear, but an adventure to be lived with God.  Of course, there are challenges to meet.  Of course, we will encounter opposing forces and occasional setbacks.  Through all these things, we are God’s people.  God is with us on the adventure. 

Because of this, we dare to dance!  We do not dance as people who are delirious, but as people who know the delightfulness of being with God on a divine adventure.  We dance as people who remember how God encouraged Joshua and so many others across the long and wide course of history.  We dance because God is sovereign, because God loves us, because God has taken part in our humanity through Jesus, and because in Jesus, God has overcome empires, overcome powers, and even overcome death. 

So dance!  Dance because God is with us! 

Dance!  Dance because we are part of God’s adventure! 

Dance, as children dance who know they belong to God!

Dance, with all God’s children!  And to help you dance, I ask that you pick up the African American Heritage Hymnal, and turn to # 164.  Read the lyrics to that South African Folk Song.

Siyahamb’ e – ku – kha – nyen’ kwen – khos’

We are march – ing in the light of God, we are marching in the light of God.

We are march – ing in the light of God, we are marching in the light of God.

We are marching, marching, we are marching, marching
We are marching in the light of God.

We are marching, marching, we are marching, marching
We are marching in the light of God.

We are dancing …
We are singing …
We are praying …
We are working …
We are suffering …
We are overcoming …

Amen. 

Please enjoy YouTube videos of that folksong being performed by the Mwamba Children’s Choir at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N1KZbMprW8U and by the Soul Children of Chicago at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=--BQ0PZSXpY.



Happy New Year!  I hope you’ll dance with God.

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