THE CUSP OF A NEW YEAR
Here we are on the last Sunday of 2021. Just this time last year we wondered where we would be now. By then, we thought we would be past the pandemic, that we would be able to gather and travel and get on with life. We thought that, surely by the end of 2021 that things would be back to normal. How did that work out?
The truth is that none of us would have guessed that we’d be where we are now. But despite Covid, some really good things happened in 2021. Globally, safe and effective vaccines were developed which greatly reduced and spread of Covid, the severity of the illness and the hospitalizations. In terms of families, marriage vows were exchanged, babies were born and baptisms took place. Many of us were able to have form of vacation this year even if we couldn’t leave the country. Cross border families were re-united when the borders re-opened towards the end of the year. Around the church, we kept up with the ever changing restrictions, we rebooted our Bible studies, reached out to the community, had another successful turkey dinner, hired Stephanie as our new Music Director and just received the very generous gift of a new digital grand piano. Those are just examples that scratch the surface of what happened here at Cottam United Church in 2021.
There was certainly lots of joy in 2021 but so was there sadness. Some people are facing new illnesses. Families are still separated. Lots of front line workers had a very stressful and difficult year. Most of us know someone who got Covid. And some of us said “Good-bye” to loved ones including family, friends and pets.
Whatever happened in 2021, we need to support each other in the happy and the sad, the good and the bad, the laughter and the tears. As it says in Romans 12:15 (NIV), “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” That’s what we are called to do as the body of believers that is called the Church.
But here’s today’s reality. That stuff is all past. What happened in 2021 is almost over. And now we get to think about 2022. What is the coming year going to bring? What joys, what tears, what laughter, what sorrow? The truth is that we don’t know. But this time next year, we will know. With that in mind, the key question today is this: “This time next year, are you going to be where you’re supposed to be?”
This thought springs from Luke 2:41-50 (NIV) which begins in verses 41-42:
Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.
This is the Passover festival when all Jewish men, if they can, are expected to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Joseph does this and he takes his family with him which was common enough in those days. And Joseph’s family is undoubtedly travelling with other family and friends from Nazareth where they live.
Note too that it says that Jesus is twelve years old. That’s important because the usual age for Jewish boy to have his bar mitzvah is twelve. What is the bar mitzvah? It is the time when a boy is recognized as a man. So, Jesus is making his first pilgrimage to Jerusalem as a man. In the eyes of his community, he is no longer a boy. As we will see, that may not be how his mother sees it, but that is where we are in Jewish tradition. The story continues in Luke 2:43-45 (NIV):
After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.
Jesus, as man of twelve years of age, decides to stay in Jerusalem. We don’t know how that happens but it does. His parents don’t notice his absence until they have travelled a whole day’s journey. They naturally think he is with some of his friends or cousins and they’ll meet up where they stop for the night. Wrong. Jesus is no where to be found. We carry on with the story in Luke 2:46-50 (NIV):
After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
It took three days but Mary and Joseph finally find their son in the temple courts listening to the teachers and asking them questions. Mary is obviously relieved but also a bit perturbed. “Don’t you know what you have put your father and me through? We’ve been worried sick!” Sure, to the community he might be a man but to Mary, he was still her little Jeshua. And she probably has a point. It would have been nice if Jesus had let his parents know what he was doing.
Nonetheless, his answer is the intriguing part of this story, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” This sentence is significant for two reasons. It is the very first time that Jesus refers to God as Father. Calling God Father seems normal and natural to us but it was a revolutionary notion 2,000 years ago. God was considered to be more distant. God was that powerful being who created, redeemed and sustained everything. When Jesus refers to God as Father, he makes him more familial. He makes him part of the family, someone people can relate to on a personal level.
It’s also the first time that Jesus talks about where he belongs. Mary and Joseph looked for Jesus all over the place. They looked for him among their friends and relatives on the road. They searched the highway down which they had traveled. They scoured Jerusalem with no success. Where did they find him? They find him right where he is supposed to be – in his Father’s house, in the temple. Jesus belongs with the Father. There is a connection there that cannot be downplayed or ignored. In this sentence, the twelve year old Jesus is staking his claim about who he is. He is the Son of God and he belongs in his Father’s house. He is exactly where he is supposed to be.
WHERE ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO BE?
There are three things I want to say about this story as it relates to us today. First, Jesus is exactly where he was supposed to be. Are you? Are you where you think God wants you to be or have you made a detour someplace along the road and you really need to get back on track? I have said this many, many times over the years and I’m going to say it again. None of us is here by accident. God put each and every one of us on this earth for a reason. All of us are here for a purpose. One of the key challenges in life is to find that purpose and fulfill it because, until you do, life will never be as satisfying as it could be and it certainly will never make sense.
So what is your purpose? That’s between you and God. Note however that I did not ask about your job. Too often in our society, we think our purpose is our job. That might be true or it might not be. Maybe your job is your purpose or maybe it’s merely a way to pay the bills. Maybe your purpose is to organize the local soccer or baseball league for the children of the community. Maybe your purpose is to volunteer at the hospital or with the Rotary Club. Maybe you’re supposed to create an online devotional site that will lead people to Christ. Or maybe your purpose is simply to raise your children to be mature responsible Christian adults. Your purpose might be your job or it might be something totally different. So where are you going to be this time next year? Are you still going to be searching or are you going to be where you’re supposed to be?
Here’s the second thing: Sometimes the place where you are supposed to be is the most unlikely place of all. Why did Mary and Joseph have so much trouble finding Jesus? It was because he was in the last place they thought of looking. Who would expect a twelve year old to be sitting in on a conversation with the religious teachers in the temple? And yet that’s exactly where Jesus was and it was where he was supposed to be.
For many years, this church has supported Teen Challenge. Teen Challenge was founded by David Wilkerson. He grew up in a middle class family in Barnesboro, Pennsylvania. He came from a family of preachers and as a young man was ordained and pastored a couple of small churches. In 1958, he was leafing through a copy of Life Magazine where he saw a picture of seven teenagers who were members of a New York City street gang. Wilkerson felt the Holy Spirit calling him to New York to preach the Gospel to the gangs. Note how weird this would have been. There were over seven million people in New York back then. You’d think that God could have found someone to do that job who was already there. Why call some squeaky clean, small town preacher to head into the pits of gang warfare in America’s largest city? No one would have guessed it but that’s what God did. Wilkerson followed the Holy Spirit and began Teen Challenge which has grown into a worldwide organization and rescued thousands upon thousands of addicts and affected millions. And every other year or so, they come here to bless us with their stories.
This all happened because David Wilkerson went where he was supposed to be even though it was just about the most unlikely place in the world. What about you? Are you willing to go where God calls you to go? Are you willing to do what God calls you to do? Here’s the thing to remember: once you have given your life to Christ, he may just call you to the most unexpected places. Here at Cottam United Church we have decided to support a number of local missions: Essex Food Bank, Downtown Mission, Murchadha House and Gleaners. We’ve also said that it would be a good idea for us to not only provide financial support but also to roll up our sleeves and get involved in volunteering at those places.
Is God calling you to volunteer at one of those places in 2022? Is that where you’re supposed to be or is it something else? Maybe it’s something you want to do or maybe it’s outside your comfort zone. Whatever it is, you will never be fulfilled until you start to do it.
Here’s why I want to stress that each of us, if we are able, should consider getting involved in one of these ministries. When you financially contribute you change lives by providing the resources that people need. But when you start to volunteer your time, not only do you effect the lives of other people, you also change your own life. You cannot see the difference that some of these ministries make and not be affected by it. You cannot see someone who was down and out begin to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and face their challenges without realizing just how blessed we all are.
So where are you going to be this time next year? Is it where you are now or is it where you are supposed to be? You make the choice. You make the commitment. You make the difference.
Here’s the third point. What happens if you’re not where you’re supposed to be? When that happens – and it happens to all of us – God has a way of bringing us back on the path that he wants us to travel. Look at the example of Jonah. In the book of Jonah, God called him to go to Nineveh to prophecy to that wicked city. The people of Nineveh had strayed from God’s way and God was going to call them to account.
So, Jonah was supposed to be in Nineveh. But where did Jonah go? Jonah got on a ship and sailed for Tarshish. Was Tarshish anywhere near Nineveh? No! In fact, it was in the opposite direction. Jonah had heard about the Ninevites, that they were not likely to take kindly to his prophecy and so he went as far away from there as he could go.
In response, God sent a fish to shallow Jonah. You know the story. Jonah spent three days in the belly of the fish which gave him loads of time to think things over and when the fish finally spit him out, Jonah had a pretty clear idea of where he needed to be – in Nineveh.
Is God likely to send a fish to swallow you? Probably not but if you are not where God wants you to be, then don’t be surprised if things aren’t working out quite the way you think they should. Like it says in James 4:13-15 (NIV): “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why you don’t even know what will happen tomorrow… Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” What James is saying is this: go where you are supposed to go. Do what you are supposed to do. Be who you are supposed to be. This time next year, are you going to be where you are supposed to be? It’s up to you. You make the choice. You make the commitment. You make the difference.
David Wilkerson was where he was supposed to be and he saved countless lives from the scourges of addiction. Jonah was where he was supposed to be and Nineveh received his prophecy with such humility that God changed his mind and did not bring upon Nineveh the punishment he have planned. Jesus was where he was supposed to be and he saved the world that all those who put their faith in him are forgiven and have eternal life in his name.
What about you? This time next years, are you going to be where you’re supposed to be? It’s up to you.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Holy God, your Spirit moves over the greying landscape. It hovers over the bare fields and shines through the stars of the clear winter’s night. The touch of your hand is on all things: the beauty of a snowflake, the frosted designs on the inside of a window pane, tulips bulbs sleeping the ground waiting for the first warmth of spring. We offer our thanks for your blessings and praise you for the wonders of Creation.
Heavenly Father, thank you for the most precious of all gifts that you have given to us, your Spirit who lives within those who put their faith and their trust in you. Strengthen us and enable us to live our lives in a way that brings joy and glory to you. Enable us to follow the wisdom and leadership of your Spirit in every aspect of life.
We come to the end of another year and we look forward to a new page being turned on the calendar. We give you thanks for the year which is past with all of its ups and downs. And we thank you for the year which is almost upon us and we say, “Yes,” to all that it will bring our way knowing that you are in every moment.
We remember the sick or recovering, especially, Mark, Carol, Rachel, Richard and Angela. Touch them and us with your Healing Spirit that we may feel the power of your Inner Blessing.
Lord of Life, we need to be single minded and focused on what you have called us to do. Keep us wary of distractions that would attempt to delay the accomplishment of your great goals. As you provide us with the strength that we need, we look straight ahead with diligence and determination to the tasks that you have set before us. In all things, we trust in you to direct our paths, enabling us to make the best decisions as we pray and seek you in all areas of endeavour and praise. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
December 26, 2021 / Christmas 1
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26; Psalm 148; Luke 2:41-52; Colossians 3:12-17
CALL TO WORSHIP
Arise and shine for our light has come.
God’s glory has risen in our midst.
The darkness which covered the earth has been driven away.
Come, let us worship the light that brings true life.
God of Love, we come to you to acknowledge your power, grace, and glory. We come with the belief that your promises are certain and your Word is secure. May your praise be on our lips during every moment of life, at night or day, whether awake of asleep. You are in all circumstances, in the successes and the failures, the defeats and the victories. Thank you for your great faithfulness and for loving us unconditionally with a love that knows no bounds or borders. Gracious God, hear our prayers. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Merciful God, despite your faithfulness, we sometimes do not put our best foot forward. Enable us, by your grace, to better comprehend and understand the power of your words. Teach us to be more responsible for the things that come from our mouths. Help us always, through our words and actions, to bring healing out of hurt, life out of death, restoration out of destruction. Forgive our sins, O God of Creations, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
As we meditate on God’s Word, we realize that God’s love is greater than our deepest and darkness sin. Nothing in all Creation can rob us of the salvation that is ours when we place our faith and hope in Jesus Christ. God’s hears our honest confessions and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Our greatest praise is for you, O God, for you provide for our every need in all situation. Keep us watchful that we may notice your blessings when they come our way. For all things great and small, we offer our thanks asking for your wisdom and grace so that all that we have may be used for your holy purpose. Amen.
May God’s praise be always on our lips and Spirit of God always on our hearts. As we leave, may we go with the grace of Christ to love and serve our God and Saviour.