Sermon By Rev Joel Crouse
As is tradition for the turn into a new year, social media and newspapers are full of advice and warnings. “New Year’s Resolution: Be More Incompetent,” read one headline, which I quickly demonstrated by not being able to open the story. The Globe and Mail offered this inspiring gem: “Your New Year’s Resolution Should include the Five Pillars of Tax Planning.” Don’t bother, some commented: 80 per cent of people fail at their resolutions anyway. For the determined, Time Magazine helpfully promised: “How NOT to Fail at your New Year’s Resolutions.” The article included the advice to avoid whatever is tempting you in the first place – your chocolate, or that glass of wine – and scored extra points, at least with me, for referencing one of my favourite literary characters. Odysseus, the article noted, did not just try to tune out the Sirens, whose songs drew ships and their crew to certain doom; he stuffed his ears so he didn’t hear them; he made a plan. So should we all – make a plan. But one article in The Washington Post proposed an entirely different idea: don’t make a resolution; find what is called a single nudge- word. The author, Tara Parker-Pope, encouraged the reader to pick a word “that captures the mindset you want to adopt this year.” To find that word, she outlined three steps: write down the things that made you happy in 2022. Think about the parts of your life that could be better. And check in on your body – how you feel, physically and mentally. From there, look for a word that inspires you. It might relate to change or connection, for instance. Gratitude was one example; so was balance. Yes, the idea of making a new year’s resolution about one sentence, or a single word, is, of course simplistic. But the idea behind it is sound. We are all renovation projects for ourselves. There is always something we could do even just a little bit better. But the idea of reflecting on what that is is a good practice. Our faith lives encourage us to do this every day, not just once a year. But we tend to fall out of the habit. We lose our intentionality around the gospel’ and count on it just to seep into our bones. So this morning our gospel returns to the shepherds, and I don’t think that’s an accident. The story is really focused on the naming of Jesus – a significant confirmation of God’s prophecy, but, to be honest, I think we could always count on Mary to make sure that happened. The shepherds were always a wild card – a lot like us. Let’s consider them again. Who would they be today? People doing a job to pay the bills, making friends at work, supporting their families. For most of us that’s not in a field under the stars; it’s in one kind of building under fluorescent lighting. If we are lucky, we get fulfillment from our jobs; like the shepherds who loved the sheep and being outdoors. But then, one night, working late, somebody appears before you, a person of depth and authority – and they say: “My news will change your life. Put down that work; what you thought was important isn’t the most important thing anymore. What I have to say will help you re-evaluate your life; you just have to trust me.” What would we do? What would most people do? They’d doubt the suddenly-appearing person and go back to their work. They’d be afraid of taking the risk and go on with life as it is. How many would do as the shepherds - set what they know aside and head off to Bethlehem? This call story, however, is all through the gospel. Jesus will later urge the disciples to come with him, leave their lives, and be fishers of people. We are told, over and over again, that following the gospel means change and renewal and risk. And also, that it is our choice. After all, we hear only about the people who answer that call; not the ones who refuse it. What do we know about what happened to the shepherds afterwards? Not really that much, but also everything we need to know. They left the manger, glorifying God and spreading word of what they had seen. So we know that they told people about Jesus. But we may also assume that they change their lives – they made different choices, sought new connections, saw the world differently. For how else does one glorify God, but by living out the gospel? In fact, from a Christian perspective, I think The Washington Post was on to something. Aside from the Word of God, the gospels give us a whole collection of good words to guide us. Words like faith. Words, as our children taught us, like joy, peace, charity, love, and hope. And so, what do the shepherds teach us, on this first day of the New Year? They teach us to be mindful of the messages around us, the guides who appear to show us new wisdoms and reveal the presence of God. They show us how change is possible when we take risks, on other people, but also with ourselves. And they return us to the gospel, revealing our call to glorify God, not only with the stories we tell, but also with our values and beliefs. So, choose your word – the gospel has a list of them. Maybe you will pick love – and use that as your reminder of a gospel-led life. Maybe it will be charity, a reminder to see the better side of people, and be generous with your own spirit. Perhaps you will choose hope – to see the world through grace-centred eyes. Maybe it will be faith, a choice to believe each day in what is good and right. Pick any one, and the gospel can be found. Pick any of these words, and you find positive change, and a path to glorifying God. When you choose, thank the shepherds, who set the example, and taught us their important lesson. Happy New Year! Amen.