Tis the season of New Year Resolutions, promises of “a new year and new me”, thoughts of bettering ourselves and maybe just figuring out how to do things better. For some, it is simply another day. It is another chime of the clock or the change of a calendar so it now reads the correct year. It seems to me this is a good time to at least take a moment and reflect on what went well – if nothing else. Gaining a perspective can help us to move forward into the future with a little more compassion – both for ourselves and for others.
3 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
I find today’s text to be important as we take the leap into 2022. It signifies the gift of seasons, of the passing of times and the beauty with the difficulty of the change of times. All are important – the planting and harvesting, the building and breaking down, the dancing and the mourning, the seeking and keeping and the losing and throwing away. It is all important. There is a purpose for the seasons. We are all gifted with these times – although some times feel more like torture than gifts. We can feel isolated and fearful as times change. My grandmother reminds me often how tough it is to grow older – it isn’t for sissys she tells me. Watching children go from little babies to adult children going out on their own can seem to happen so quickly. There are so many joys in each moment and mixed in, there is often hurt and disappointment. Seasons change and we learn to adjust to our new situations, whether we really want to or not.
I’m not a big fan of winter – so you can imagine how much I have enjoyed the past few days. I do not enjoy when it gets dark before I leave my office and the sun doesn’t make an appearance until I have been up several hours. I don’t really enjoy the trees and plants looking so bare. I’m much more of a fan of spring. I love to watch things bloom and come alive. I enjoy planting in my garden and waiting for the first sprigs to appear from the ground. But I know that winter is a preparation for spring. I understand that during the winter, processes are happening beneath the earth so something amazing happens when the ground thaws. I know that the trees I pass by are not dead, they are simply in restoration, waiting to produce new leaves and beautiful fruits. I get it. The seasons make sense – but it doesn’t mean I always look forward to the changes.
Most of us aren’t a fan of change – that’s probably an understatement if we are honest with ourselves. We don’t want change and even if we think we do, it can shake us to our core. We don’t always know why we do something we do except we have always done it that way. We get accustomed to a routine, to seeing things a certain way. We like it that way and we want it to stay that way. I want my garden to keep producing crops but it doesn’t work that way. I want the sun to come up earlier and stay around a little longer, but I don’t get to decide. But change is necessary, often healing. It can be the key to us moving forward and finding new growth.
When I think of the positive changes I read in the Bible, they are often the hardest, most difficult journeys. Take just a moment and think about it. We start in the Old Testament and we see the story of Joseph. He went through a series of painful changes – thrown in a pit by his own family, sent to prison, lies told about him and seemingly completely forgotten. Yet, he became the one to save his people. I think of his words – what you meant for evil, God meant for good.
Consider the children of Israel – those stubborn, disobedient and often ungrateful folks – reminds me a lot of us today. They were rescued from captivity only to complain and whine at every turn, even wishing they were still in captivity. Yet, they were on their way to the Promised Land – a place where God’s goodness flowed out of abundance. I think of Isaiah and many of the prophets letting the people know to get themselves together, good was to come – but all they saw was bad, and kept doing wrong because of their shortsightedness. I think of Jesus – probably one of the most controversial change agents ever to live. He turned their faith (or lack thereof) upside down and began to shake things at the very core. He questioned everything they did and pushed them to live very differently than they could have ever imagined. By the way – they didn’t like this either – I mean, they did try to throw him off of a cliff and did eventually hang him on a cross. I think of Paul – introducing to the first Christians the idea that these unclean Gentiles were worthy of God’s love too. He was beaten, shipwrecked and starved on more than one occasion.
My point is the most beautiful outcomes in our faith are built out of changes which were often the most painful and challenging. None of them came without great cost. There were times of good but there were also times of hurt, grief and disappointment. Change comes at a cost but the outcome is better than any could have ever imagined.
We don’t really know what changes await us in 2022. We couldn’t have predicted a pandemic that would continue this long – even though this isn’t the first one ever to happen in history. Many of us are shocked at the amount of hate and meanness that can be produced when the fires of change are stoked. But this calls us to be the change for good. This is the time when Christians should be the leaders in positive change. We should be the example. When all the world seems so full of hate, we should be full of love. When everyone seems frightened and out of sorts, we should be the ones confident in the peace of God which should live in us. When all else seems to be falling apart, we are the ones with the understanding that seasons do change but God does not. We hear how weeping may be through the night but joy comes in the morning. We have seen and heard how our God is faithful and shows up at just the right time – though often not as we would want him to. We have experienced the miracles of a loving God. We know God is merciful and slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. We should get it – but often we are stubborn to all God is doing. We fight the change rather than being the change. We want things our way rather than God’s way and end up in a mess we could have avoided if we simply followed Christ. We seek our own fulfillment rather than seeking justice which may be quite costly.
So what’s the good news? The good news is it doesn’t have to be this way. As we approach a new year, it is a new opportunity to love God and love our neighbor. That, my friends, will change things. If we could simply focus on what Jesus taught us was most important – and essentially what he spent his ministry showing us – we would bring the good news. Love is the answer. I’m not talking about the sappy Hallmark movie kind of love. I’m talking about the gritty, love your enemies kind of love. I’m talking about the Jesus love – the type of love which causes us to be uncomfortable and embrace change because we seek justice. There is, indeed, a season for all things. Maybe this is the season for Christians to rise up in a love which changes the world.
May it begin with me.