Prayer for a New Day
Isa. 58:8-9; Luke 1:76-79
Our text at the very end of the Christmas season speaks of the hope of a new day dawning, ‘through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high, and give light to those who sit in the darkness… and guide our feet in the way of peace.” What a beautiful and profound spiritual hope.
The New Testament just presumes that we all need to start over, that our lives need to be reclaimed and redeemed. We were born into a world that was broken, families that have problems. And our task is to make the most of what we were given spiritually speaking. We are all in the redemption business with our own lives.
Aristotle said much the same thing, particularly the older that we get. In the first half of our lives, we are all about collecting- money, a home to raise our families, our reputations and our careers, making a mark and making a meaningful contribution to our community.
But every year past the time that your kids are out of the house, he said, we need to also focus on paring down, getting rid of some stuff. He meant that mostly in the physical sense, but it is a good image for our spiritual lives as well. We need to leave some stuff behind that is starting to weigh us down. The new year gets us thinking like this.
A friend sent me a country song by Ashley Monroe on that theme. It is a rather poignant reflection for the new year. It goes,
I was only 13 when daddy died
Mama started drinking and my brother just quit trying
I'm still bouncing back, heaven only knows
How I came out like a rose
Ran off with what's his name when I turned 18
Got me out of North Dakota, but it did not change a thing
I left it in the yard, all covered up with snow
And I came out like a rose
Sitting in this diner with a coffee in my hand
Waiting on a bus to some promise land
I got a one way ticket as far as it goes
And I’ll come out like a rose
That is all that God asks for us to do. Jesus taught us that we are all children of God, accepted and beloved. And our job is to pick up the broken pieces of our lives and the lives of people around us and to put them together as best we can and sew them back together with the thread of redemption, healing what is around us.
I read in the New York Times that there was a service in Manhattan on January 1st where you could bring some stuff from the previous year that you’d just like to burn up and be done with to start the new year on a better footing- just get rid of the negative aftertaste of some sour events in your life from 2015. And they had a little ritual bonfire that you could throw your negative stuff into. Some years are just like that aren’t they?
There are some things from last year from the headlines of the news that we would all like to just get rid of: Like…
-Boko Haram killing 2000 people in Nigeria and abducting girls in wanton disregard.
-Isil warriors destroying the ancient ruins of Nimrud and forcing 800,000 Christians to flee for their lives; and 4 million refugees in crisis and unsafe (as the front page article in the Times this morning illustrates).
-Al Shabab killing 148 people at Graissa University in Kenya
-the deaths of Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and many other young black men that set off protests across our country. It is an unacceptable and an embarrassment for all Americans.
-terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo, Paris, San Bernadino that have created a national mood of fear and unleashed some ugly nationalist rhetoric.
-Mass shootings in Charleston at a Church service, in Chattanooga at an Army base, at a Community College in Oregon. This American plague of gun violence in mass shooting that is exasperating our national leaders. All of us are ready to be done with it.
There is plenty of dysfunction that we need to be rid of in our wider social world from 2015. Some of it you wish you could just burn up and others of it, you just need to let go.
But for most of us it is personal. I bet you had a moment of reflection during the holiday season when you thought of something in your life that you wish you could just let go.
I ran into a friend of mine over the holidays who sounded rather fatigued. She was reminding me of her family history since her parents divorced about twenty years ago, how her family hadn’t worked well when she was young, how it worked even less well after the divorce.
She was lamenting that her family just couldn’t give her what she needed. They just couldn’t celebrate the many things that she had accomplished in her life. They weren’t a source of confidence or inspiration or uplift.
The dutiful daughter for the last generation, she had been putting a lot of energy into propping her family up. Over the last couple years both of her parents died, her Aunts and Uncles too, the generation came to a close. And through the process of closing out the estate, there was disagreement on what needed to be done, who should get what keepsakes, and things were said between the siblings, feelings were hurt.
Family is family. But she said to me, “I’m letting this generation go. It hasn’t been working for me for a while and biological proximity alone is not enough. I’ll still see them occasionally, but I’m turning my focus towards the rising generation. That is where my energy and my passion will be, where I’ll share my life more fully.
I smiled at her and said, ‘you know, I’ve heard this like three of four times now…’ She said, “I’m letting it go. I’m slowly letting it go.” And isn’t that the way it is with the stuff that is really important in your life? You have to talk it out with your good friends over and over and over, especially the more intimate and the more complicated it is. But at some point you set your face in a direction, often in the New Year, after you’ve come off a holiday season with those you are closest with and you’ve had a chance subconsciously to assess how things are going.
And, at some point after that, you actually make an appointment with the divorce attorney (or whoever it is that sets you in a new direction), difficult and sad as it is, and you get the process going officially. You let go of those things that just aren’t working, that are genuinely weighing you down spiritually.
Sorrow, guilt, disappointment- sure—but you need to let it go and move on. You just can’t stay in that negative cycle, even if you have no idea what comes next. But even with fear about the unknown and anxiety about free falling… you have to let some things go. And you know it in the pit of your stomach.
So this New Year, for those of you who had some negative trends that seem to have come to a head in 2015, we lift up a prayer of courage for you in that ambiguity about what to do, we lift up a prayer for focus when there are so many moving parts, you are searching for a context to bring some clarity.
“Through the tender mercy of our God, may a new day dawn from on high, and give light to you in your darkness… and guide your feet in the way of peace.”
And may you embrace the positive in the future, for we do live in a marvelous era that is actually full of promise as the Editors of the British magazine ‘The Economist’ remind us this time of year. The Editors publish a lengthy review of the state of our world, zooming out to give us context. And this is what they reminded us of this year:
-More people have been rising out of poverty over the past decade than at any time in human history and fewer people died of starvation last year as a percentage of the world population than at any time in human history. It is not acceptable that anyone should starve, but zoom out and the standard of living continues to rise dramatically.
-Violence is down by every standard. We actually have fewer wars (almost historically low levels); we actually have fewer civil wars. It just seems like they are increasing because we cover them worldwide now.
-Almost every country in the world is actually safer than a decade ago, the crime rate is steadily falling across the world, more so in countries that have an established rule of law.
-Medical research is proceeding at an unprecedented rate, dramatically increasing our quality of life. Almost all of us here experience this when we visit the doctor and they tell us, whatever you have, wait if you can, because a better surgery, a better treatment regimin will be developed in 5 years.
-Physicists’ this year probably discovered a new sub atomic particle that may help us make a breakthrough in our fundamental understanding of the structure of the universe, perhaps including a beginning understanding of dark matter that composes a large percentage of our universe (and we haven’t had a clue about it yet)
- And there are social trends that are genuinely encouraging. This year, our country recognized Marriage Equality and so did Ireland, arguably the most Catholic country in Europe. It feels like the momentum has just shifted so that gays and lesbians can be accepted for who they are… finally. When I think about the change for gays and lesbians that has happened over my life time, it is moving to realize how much more humane we have become as a society.
-This year, we had one of the biggest archeological finds in history as we discovered an entire new species of hominid, with over a dozen intact sets of bones (not just a single jawbone). We are understanding our history as a species and who we are in relation to the other animals as never before in human history.
-And locally, let me hasten to add, this year, one of our very own at Christ Church won the Nobel Prize in medicine. Wow!
I was at a lecture earlier this year by one of our academia’s leading dour cynics. After he’d given a lengthy critique of the ills of our world, one of the undergraduates asked him a simple question. “If you could be born at any time in human history when would you choose, Rome, Greece… when?”
Without hesitation he said, “Now”. With our problems, we are still blessed with expectation and promise that is unprecedented.
And, as you probably know, despite all the problems in Metropolitan New York, more people the world over would like to move to New York; more people would like to move to the United States than anywhere else by a long shot. We live in an era of expectation and promise such as few have ever known.
There is a better you that is waiting to emerge and your future is bubbling with promise. The Spirit of God draws nigh to bless you with promise and expectation.
I do hope you can let go of the spiritually negative things in your life that have been an impediment. And keep yourself open. For God is not done with you yet.
Through the tender mercies of our God, may the day dawn upon you from on high. May God give light to you who sit in darkness and have to endure the shadow of death around you. May God guide you in the pathway of peace. Amen.