New Times Two
Matthew 9:14-17, 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2, January 3, 2016
Early in my career I became an expert at preaching on New Year’s. When I was an intern, the teaching pastor would be away the Sunday after Christmas. When I was in seminary a small church gave me a scholarship and with it came the expectation to preach…the Sunday after Christmas when their pastor was away. When I was an associate pastor, the senior pastor would be away the Sunday after Christmas.
I find that I’m usually still processing Christmas when the calendar page turns to a new year. And this year, even though I was on vacation the Sunday after Christmas I return and we’re still in the Season of Christmas. For those of you keeping track, January 3 is the 9th day of Christmas—9 ladies dancing! And I grew up in a family that kept our tree up until Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas.
This year we’re going to spend most of the month of January on Epiphany. Starting next week some wise men, well wise guys at least, will be visiting us and talking about things like frankincense, myrrh and gold…and maybe something else. I understand there are four of them.
I think I’m not alone in needing more time to process Christmas; I hope I’m not. Most of us need more than one day to live with the good news that the one whom we call “Wonderful Counselor” and “Prince of Peace” has been born; that God did a radically new thing in sending Jesus; and God did this radically new thing in a humble, ordinary, profoundly human way.
I had an interesting image come to me that helped me think of Christ’s coming in a new way. I saw the sky broken open [like when Jesus was baptized, we’ll hear more about that in two weeks] and a wedge came down from the sky and stabbed the ground. Right next to it was a tiny plant bravely pushing up from the soil. Both are signs of newness and both are images of what is happening in the world as we celebrate Christ’s birth.
On one hand, what is new is huge and world-shattering. On the other, what is new is precious and fragile. It will need to be protected and cared for if it is to survive and grow.
Jesus reminded the Pharisees and the followers of John the Baptizer that one does not put new wine into old wineskins. New wine is still fermenting and needs something that can stretch a little. Old wine skins are too brittle and dry to stretch. If one puts new wine into old wineskins, the wineskins would break and the wine would spill onto the ground. Both would be destroyed. He was saying, in the case of wine, the new and the old simply can’t coexist. He did not say that old wineskins are bad, merely that they do not work with new wine.
A generation ago family counselor John Bradshaw had a successful series on PBS about families. He used a mobile to illustrate how families operate. If you touch one piece of a mobile, all the other pieces move, and after a while the mobile will return to its original position.
John Bradshaw noticed after years of treating individuals who had been sent to him for counseling, most of them improved, but got worse when they returned home. He came to understand that people live in families and most of the individuals he treated came from families that needed to be treated together. Some families, for example, need a “problem child” to distract them from something more serious that is wrong.
John Bradshaw had observed the very idea that Jesus tried to get the Pharisees and the followers of that other John to understand: returning an individual to the environment that caused him to need treatment was like putting new wine into old wineskins. Unless the family was flexible enough to allow that individual to change—their mobile would simply return to its original position.
John Bradshaw took a different approach to treating people, by treating whole families, and then treatment was only successful when everyone understood what was happening and worked a lot to make things healthy. Everyone had to change. A guy who gets a new lease on life still has to make the monthly payments.
That’s the point that Paul made to the Christians in Corinth in this morning’s reading. When they accepted Christ they became a new creation. They understood that the dawning of the kingdom of God bursts the old order that they had known. And that by accepting Christ they stepped into the process of the New Creation as partners. In Christ, God is at work in the world in a new way, to bring reconciliation. And reconciliation is both personal and universal. It is a new beginning that has to be nurtured and cared for.
I hope you looked at the passage for silent meditation at the beginning of the bulletin this morning. It is the heart of the book of Lamentations. In the middle of the middle chapter you find the passage that reads “God’s mercies are new every morning.” Jeremiah expressed his belief that we literally wake up to a new world each morning. For Christians, every day is a new beginning, a new invitation to break with the past and follow Christ. And to live in the newness of a reality that is always being made new. New life in Christ never gets old.
Our challenge is to live in the newness—not to live in the past where old wounds, slights and sins reside. Live in the newness, embrace the new life Christ offers. Always. Every day God gives you the gift of a new beginning. Not just at a New Year, not just on Christmas, but Every. Single. Day. It’s an invitation that never, never gets old. An invitation from the Living God, the one whose birth among us we celebrate this season. Amen.