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January 2nd, 2022

What shall we inherit from 2021, and carry with us, as burden or blessing, into 2022? We already know what we are bringing with us: more months of an already interminable pandemic, a new variant that doesn’t know it is a new year and a fresh start. We are carrying the baggage of stress and anxiety brought on by uncertainty, and the weariness of these heavy days. Perhaps the bright night of Christmas has already passed, clouded by more weeks of lockdown, possible school closures, and the threat of self-isolation. This year of 2022 begins with a cloud, and we are left watching for the sun. The idea of inheritance is already fraught to start with. It is a source of tension in families – who gets what, how will the goods be divided, who is loved more? Beyond those material things, we also inherit our family burdens and blessings – the mythology that we have been told about our place in the family, our role, however much we chafe at it. Perhaps you are the eldest upon whom so much responsibility and expectation fell. Perhaps you are the youngest, a bit freer but still expected to shine. Perhaps you are the middle child, balancing all the rest, keeping peace. These are stereotypes, to be sure, although in my experience, they often have truth to them. They are the inheritances, welcomed or often not, that we wrestle with all our lives. And so we enter into 2022, not released from those earthly, oh-so-human inheritances but carrying them forward into the new year. We do not magically shake them off at the stroke of midnight on the 1st, just as the virus is not magically vanished by a lively rendition of “Auld Lang Sang.” Indeed, they travel with us into the new year, and we ignore them at our peril. In fact, the public health guidelines are a good metaphor for how we might deal with all that we carry into 2022. The guidelines are a way of safely and constructively dealing with the virus: we do not pretend it doesn’t exist, but we take intentional steps to protect ourselves from it, to make ourselves as safe and secure as we can. Perhaps, in our own personal lives, wearing a mask might equate to putting that holdover baggage to one side while we practice being more mindful in the moment. Or getting vaccinated can translate to talking to someone – a friend or an expert – about better strategies to inoculate us from being pressed down by that baggage in the future. But what else do we inherit? In the midst of New Year’s resolutions we will feel guilty about not keeping, and the baggage of the past that will creep back in to our lives, what have we forgotten? What else have we inherited? It is our human nature to focus on negatives: staying alert to danger is what keeps us safe and surviving. But what do we miss? Perhaps it is this line, buried in our second lesson this morning from Ephesians: “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of [the One] who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.” We have another inheritance to receive. It is not divided up based on human motivations; it is not laid upon us by our families; it is not even the inheritance we adopt for ourselves. It is given to us – gifted to us – in a perfect, equal, loving way by God, and by Christ. This inheritance is never all spent. It does not weigh us down. It does not box us in. Just when we most feel its absence, it is there, waiting to be received. It is given again and again. This inheritance, as the writer of Ephesians describes it, has two parts. First is the inheritance of hope. Hope changes our perspective. It grabs us by the shoulders and points us in a different direction – toward a brighter horizon. It says to us: this too shall pass, you can do this, you will get through this. And second, it is the inheritance of responsibility. We inherit the gift of living for Christ’s glory. But wait: isn’t responsibility just another chore, another duty, another burden? It is not: for the one quality known to weigh life down is living without purpose. We have inherited purpose: we have a role to play, a task to fulfill. It is our job to think outside ourselves to see who else is heavily burdened and make their load lighter. To see who else needs a kind word and offer it. To see where injustice is happening and right it. Among all our earthy inheritances, these divine ones are what truly matter. Hope and Purpose. They are the key to a life well-lived, and they are our certain gift from Christ. And so, what follows? Let us remember, this day, and in the weeks ahead, the promise of our first lesson, made by God, and fulfilled by the inheritance of Christ: Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. May we hold this promise in our hearts, and go forward, into this New Year, with hope and purpose. Amen

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