Happy New Year to you! This is indeed a day of new beginnings! I have made some resolutions for the new year, as I am sure many of you have too: Would anyone like to share?
A few years ago, the British paper The Mirror printed the New Year’s resolutions of some of it’s writers and one caught my eye. Writer TONY PARSONS, explained: “My resolution… is to enjoy every sandwich. This short, sweet life is over so quickly. Even if you live to a ripe old age, it goes by in the blink of an eye.
Every year goes faster than the one before – it really does go faster, because every new 12 months makes up a smaller percentage of your life. So enjoy the now. Live in the present. Cherish every second.
I will try not to think about the things I don’t have – an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, … six-pack (abs) like (soccer player) Peter Andre, books sales like Dan Brown – and try to appreciate and be grateful for all the blessings I do have. I want to enjoy every second of .. (this new year)… And every sandwich.” (1)
For a number of years I have participated in the annual ritual: the setting of New Year’s Resolutions. The idea is to come up with a list of goals for the New Year. In the next year I will lose weight, exercise more, be more organized, learn a new language, go to church more often, etc. But I’ve since questioned this practice because it seems the practice is fruitless: I hardly EVER achieved the goals I set on Dec. 31st, but it also turned into an exercise in self-loathing. I would resolve to lose weight or exercise, not because it was healthy and would make me feel better, but because I hated the way I looked. I’d resolve to be more organized because I hated the chaos in my life and myself for creating a messy workspace or a dirty house. So each year I began with a list of things I didn’t like about myself, my life, my choices. As writer Tony Parsons said, “thinking about what I don’t have instead of what I do have…” And I don’t think I am alone in this practice – when we set goals we are essentially saying, “This is something I don’t like about my life and I want to change it.”
For 2018, instead of making a list of resolutions based on the negative, I was inspired by the gospel of John to make a list of resolutions based on what we already have, the blessings God has already given us.
But before we get to the list, let’s talk about the gospel of John. John is very different from the other gospels. Current scholarship dates the gospels like this: Mark was written first, after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the second temple in 70CE, then Matthew and Luke between 80-90CE, then John around 100 CE. Mark, Matthew and Luke are similar in form and structure; they share similar stories and imagery. These three are called the synoptic gospels because they share similar contents, arrangement, and even in words and the forms of sentences and paragraphs, and they share a common view point. John is different, basically because John’s audience was different.
John’s audience was Greek with Greek cultural and philosophical ideas, so he found himself at the forefront of presenting Christianity (with it’s distinctly Jewish ideas) to a Greek world. So John clothed the idea of the Jewish Messiah in the words and ideas of Greek philosophy in order that the Greek and Hellenistic audience may understand and accept the ideas more readily.
For example, the Greek idea of the WORD (logos) or “Universal Reason” began in 560BCE with an Ephesian philosopher named Heraclitus. His primarily idea was that everything was in flux. He wrote “It is impossible to step in the same river twice” – once you’ve stepped into the river it has changed. Everything – life, matter, humanity – everything is changing. But if this is so, why is the universe not in complete chaos? Because, Heraclitus says, everything is controlled and ordered by the Logos of God. The Logos was the principle of order under which the Universe continues to exist.
Heraclitus wrote, “All things happen according to the Logos… the Logos is the judge of truth.”
The Greek philosophical movement called Stoicism maintained such a belief: “What keeps the stars in their courses? What makes the tides ebb and flow? What makes day and night come in unalterable order? What brings the seasons round at their appointed times? All things are controlled by the Logos of God. The Logos is the power which puts sense into the world, the power which makes the world an order instead of a chaos, the power which sets the world going and keeps it going in its perfect order.” (2)
So this idea, the LOGOS, the WORD, was around for 600 years before John. It was in the air, in the culture, in the hearts and minds of the people. So when John wrote these words, it was familiar, acceptable and attractive:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.
This leads to our first resolution:
1. Focus on what’s important. John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word.” The central core principle of all his gospel is the WORD for John. It is where he begins and where he ends. Jesus is the LOGOS, the foundation from which all things grow. If we are to focus on what’s important this year, what would be the “beginning” for us? I would guess that each of us may have a different answer and not all of them religious or spiritual. For some of you, you may say “In the beginning was the FAMILY.” And in this statement – you would resolve to focus on your family this year. Others may say ‘In the beginning was the HEART.” And vow to focus on your relationships. Each of us has a “beginning” a foundation from which our lives grow. What is MOST important to us, and how can we nourish and nurture those foundational, grounding, core principles in our lives?
Continuing with our scripture, John writes, “What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Which is the second resolution:
2. Be a light in the darkness. So much of the world is a dark, scary, lonely place. How could we change the world if each of us was a small light in that darkness? In small ways and in big ways we have the ability to be a light of hope, a light of love, a light of joy to others. This could take form in various ways: perhaps you could be a light as a volunteer helping those less fortunate, perhaps you could be a light to someone in our church family. Maybe there is a way for you to connect with others in a way that makes them feel better – about themselves, about their own light.
And from verse sixteen our final resolution:
3. Witness to our blessings.
16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
Grace upon grace. Like a pile of blessings stacked up to the ceiling, grace upon grace upon grace. Each of us has been given so much – family and friends, talents and abilities, keen minds, able bodies, big hearts. Often our resolutions focus on what we do not have. But we each have received so many blessings: grace upon grace.
This year, may we recognize and witness to our blessings, by using them to our best ability. May we be a light as Jesus is a light for us. May we focus on what is fundamental in our lives.
And May God bless our 2018.
2. William Barclay, The Gospel of John, Volume 1, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975, 35.
~ Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens, 2018