Coming to Jesus isn't the end of the matter. It is the beginning of a journey in which we will fail. Our old life will call out to us and we will sometimes fall. But then we get back up again and stand firm.
Romans 3:3-4, "What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God's faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true, and every human being a liar. As it is written: "So that you may be proved right when you speak and prevail when you judge."
In 1738, the literary giant Samuel Johnson wrote in his diary: "Oh Lord, enable me to redeem the time which I have spent in sloth." Nineteen years later, he wrote, "Oh mighty God, enable me to shake off sloth and redeem the time misspent in idleness and sin by diligent application of the days yet remaining." He wrote some variation of this prayer every year after that. Finally, in 1775, 38 years after his first resolution, he wrote, "When I look back upon resolution of improvement and amendments which have, year after year, been made and broken, why do I yet try and resolve again? I try because reformation is necessary and despair is criminal."
Johnson is describing human life. We start every year thinking, 'This is the year!' We resolve to turn over a new leaf—and this time we are serious. We promise ourselves we're going to quit bad habits and start good ones. We're going to get in shape, eat better, waste less time, be more content, be more disciplined, and so forth. We're going to be better husbands, wives, fathers, mothers. And then, twelve months later, we've fallen short … again.
The gospel is the good news announcing Jesus' infallible devotion to us in spite of our inconsistent devotion to him. As this new year gets under way, take comfort in knowing that we are weak and he is strong—that even as our love for Jesus falls short, Jesus' love for us never will.
Prayer: Holy Father, we thank you that even if we are faithless you are faithful. We fail and fall short and You are the steady rock that keeps our foot from slipping. We give our new year to You and ask that You will mold it, make something beautiful out of it for Your glory. Thank you for You faithful steadfastness and the love that never fails us. In Jesus name, amen.
Luke 2:20, "The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told."
The shepherds probably talked about that night for months and months to come. They probably relived it and retold it again and again. But there came a time when it was back to life as normal. Though life was back to normal I cannot imagine they were ever "normal" again. One cannot be touched by God in this way and not be changed.
It is like Peter, James and John being led by Jesus up a high mountain. When they get to the top Jesus is transfigured. The physical guise is pulled away to reveal Jesus as he truly is. His face shines like the sun. His garments turn white as light. Surely this description is just that and therefore fails to capture the incredibleness of the actual scene. Then Moses and Elijah appear. Moses embodies the law and Elijah the prophets, the very things that testify concerning Jesus. The disciples are amazed and want to stay in this place of spiritual awakening and mystical experience. Peter says, "Lord it is good for us to be here." Then One more Witness to Jesus comes when God the Father speaks from a cloud, "This is my Son in whom I am well pleased—hear him." The disciples fall to their faces in terror. After a moment they feel the gentle touch of the Master and when they look up all is normal again. They had to go down the mountain for at the bottom there was work to do. They had to go back to life as normal. Though life went back to normal I doubt they were.
The wrapping paper has been tossed. Garbage men across the country try and lift the gargantuan pile of Christmas past. The candles have been blown out. The lights turned off. Christmas is over and we must go back down the mountain. We must return. We return to our jobs, to meetings, to stresses and our modern concerns. The kids have appointments. Bills need paying. Groceries must be bought. Laundry must be washed. On Monday morning the alarm will go off again and we will go back to life as normal. Do we go back the same? How can we.
The shepherds went back rejoicing and praising God. They returned to the same life but brought the joy of Christmas with them. There was resolutions they had made having experienced this event that must be kept. The only place they can be kept is in the mundane normalcy of day-to-day life. A poet wrote: "The test of a man's devotion will come some other day. They love God most who are at their post when the crowds have gone away." As Covett Roberts said, "Character is the ability to stay with a resolution long after the mood of the resolution has left."
The irony is that we draw closest to God in the valley than on the mountain top. Now that the Angels have left and the star has faded from the East, now is the time to draw closer to God. Now is the time to draw into a deeper relationship with Him. We read our Bibles. We devote ourselves to prayer. We fast with the desire of the coming Lord. We gather together on Sunday and praise His name. We return glorifying and praising God. We return to the normal not being altogether normal ourselves. Roll up your sleeves. There is work to be done. Now is when the work of Christmas begins:
"When the song of the Angels is silent;
When the star in the sky is gone;
When the Kings and the princes are home;
When the shepherds are again tending sheep;
When the manger is darkened and still,
The work of Christmas begins." — Howard Thurman
Prayer: Father, now is the time we get back to work, the work You have called us to, knowing and loving You in our day-to-day lives. Now is the time to draw closer to You. Now is the time to read Your word, pray in earnest and fast for change. Now is the time to draw close to Your presence. You have promised that if we seek You with all our hearts we will find You. Be found in us today, we pray, in Jesus, amen.