Here are a few ideas for 2016 – compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, gratitude and learning. Oh yes, and love. Always love.
Today’s texts – Colossians 3:12-17 and Luke 2:41-52
I am pretty sure that mostly what you would like today is sing some Christmas carols, so I won’t talk long. But I do want to pick up an idea from those two scripture readings that we heard today.
This is the week when lots of folks formulate resolutions for the new year. I’ll exercise more, eat less, write to friends more often, spend more time with the ones I love. Sometime we write them down. Sometimes we even tell others in an effort to hold ourselves a bit more accountable for our promises.
And then by the end of January…
I think our scripture readings today offer us a few ideas to consider for our resolution list. They are less measurable than how many steps we will walk or how many calories we will consume. But they have a lot to do with how we might live our lives in the coming year as followers of Jesus.
I think they are particularly relevant as we head into a year when the political rhetoric – from candidates and from citizens – is likely to be even harsher than what we heard this year.
So here are some resolutions drawn from the letter to the Colossians –
Clothe yourself with compassion. This does not have to do with whether or not you wear a Green Bay Packer sweatshirt today. It has to do with the attitude we bring to people who are struggling.
The origin of the word compassion means to “suffer with.” This year, let’s be attentive to those who need to know that we can feel the pain that they are enduring – the immigrants trying to find a safe place, the disabled feeling left out, the African American family facing exclusion, the Muslim woman enduring hate-filled comments.
There are more clothes to put on if we are going to dress for the new year.
Kindness. That’s a virtue that cuts across many faith traditions. The Greek philosopher Aristotle described it as “helpfulness towards someone in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself, but for that of the person helped.”
Humility. Meekness. Patience. In other words, don’t think everything has to be done the way you want just because you are so important. Recognize the give and take in life.
Forgiveness. Now this gets a little harder, doesn’t it. “Forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Jesus talked a lot about forgiveness. I would argue that one of the meanings not only of his life but of his death on the cross is showing us the importance of forgiveness. So maybe our new year’s resolution is not about what we might call a blanket amnesty. Maybe it is simply looking for at least one occasion in 2016 where we can forgive someone who in someway has wronged us.
There’s a garment that wraps around all these things. “Clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” I won’t try to go on and on about love. But I will note that phrase about “love binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Is there some point in the year ahead that we can each be conscious of how that might work in our lives?
George Yancy, a professor of philosophy at Emory University, wrote in a powerful essay in The New York Times this week:
“We don’t talk much about the urgency of love these days, especially within the public sphere. Much of our discourse these days is about revenge, name calling, hate, and divisiveness. I have yet to hear it from our presidential hopefuls, or our political pundits.”
Yancy’s essay is not about gentle, sweet, romantic love. It is about listening with love to hard truths about race, about being white in a country that still is trying to confront the racist structures built over centuries, and being able to listen with – are these words familiar – compassion and patience and characteristics like that.
Even when it is hard, we are called to clothe ourselves with love.
And gratitude. It’s not just a virtue in November when we gather for Thanksgiving. It’s an attitude toward life, remembering to appreciate those moments, those people, those talents that enrich our lives. Give thanks to God through Jesus, the letter says. Taking time each day in 2016 for a moment of gratitude would be an amazing resolution.
There’s actually a phrase in the letter to the Colossians that I’d connect to the story of the 12-year old Jesus in the temple. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom,” says the letter. And in the Temple, Jesus amazes the teachers with the questions he asks them. He was serious about learning the roots of his religious tradition.
That may offer a resolution for us in 2016 as well. Is there one aspect of Christianity we might each probe a bit more deeply in the year ahead? Maybe its studying scripture, maybe its exploring spirituality, maybe it’s the parts of our history that inform how we might live and act today. Maybe its reading a book or discussing a movie or being part of a small group.
So those are a few ideas for 2016 – compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, gratitude and learning. Oh yes, and love. Always love.
The writer of the letter to the Colossians had one more piece of advice. As we let the word of Christ dwell richly within us, “sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.”
Let’s do that. What Christmas songs would you like to sing this morning?