Colossians 3:12-17 Christmas is past and the New Year is at hand. Have you had the nerve to step on the scale? Have you checked your credit card balances? Have you gotten all of your thank you notes written? Am I spoiling your Sunday morning?
I ask these questions because, in day or so, millions of our fellow Americans are going to make their New Year’s resolutions. They will resolve to lose weight and they will resolve to get their finances in order and they will resolve to get better organized. These are all worthy goals and every journey begins with a single step and so I’m in favor of making resolutions.
But for the child of God, for us here today, those resolutions cannot be the only thing )or even the main thing) that we want to accomplish in the year to come.
Our hopes and dreams and plans for the future are not only for this year-- or even for this life-- but for the life to come. And so we hear today from the Holy Spirit who encourages us in what really matters- and endures- and stands the test of time.
While these words from Paul are going to sound like a list of things to do—and they are—what they really are is an invitation to put on Christ—to put on Christ’s love and to put on Christ’s holiness.
We’re going to hear that language throughout the text and whenever you hear those words in the New Testament you are hearing baptismal language: that we are to lay hold of the life of Christ into which we were baptized and put on his righteousness like a garment and wear it each day in the year to come. The Bible says:
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience; bearing with one another…
This is our baptismal identity—this is who we are in Christ: God’s chosen ones, holy in his sight through faith in Jesus and loved by him with an everlasting love.
And so then, when the Holy Spirit calls us to lives of compassion and kindness and humility and meekness and patience—he is simply calling us to live out our baptismal identity as those who have died and been raised with Christ and who are empowered to walk in newness of life.
God is not asking us to memorize this list of spiritual attributes (though that would be time well spent), what he is asking us to do is to strive to live out Christ’s life in our own life: to have a heart that is tender towards others in their brokenness, to think of the needs of others before ourselves, and to patiently endure the irritations that come when sinners live together in marriages and families and schools and workplaces and congregations.
Just imagine what this New Year would be like for us- and for those around us- if more and more of Jesus was made manifest in our lives? Imagine what a blessing we would be to one another!
But of course we know how often our best intentions and sincere resolutions fall short-- and so we must be people of forgiveness in the year to come. The Bible says:
if one has a complaint against another, forgive each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Many, many people are carrying some extra weight into the New Year. Many, many people are carrying some extra debt into the New Year. Many, many people are carrying a list of things to do into the New Year that is a mental and emotional burden. These are all part of life.
That said: brothers and sisters in Christ, I am here to tell you that there is one burden that you do not need to bear and that is the burden of your own sins and the burden of those who have sinned against you.
Lay that burden down and do not even think about carrying it into the New Year for there is no need!
Our Lord Jesus Christ has fully and freely take away your sins. He has paid the sin debt you could not pay. He has borne the sin burden you could not bear. As far as the east is form the west your sins have been removed. They have been cast in to the depths of the sea and God no longer remembers even one of them. Cast your burden on the Lord for he cares for you!
But here’s the thing: he has also done this for those who have wounded you and sinned against and he wants you to not only lay claim of his blood-bought forgiveness for yourselves-- but he wants you to apply that same powerful, cleansing blood to all of the sorrow and pain and hard feelings in your heart because of the sins of others. The Bible says:
Above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.
Each and every one of us here today are loved by God and forgiven by Christ. No matter what this New Year holds for us, there is a peace that passes all understanding that fills our hearts and minds because we know that the one thing that really and truly matters eternally—our life with God—is safe and secure in the nail-scarred hands of Jesus Christ.
But in this New Year, our Lord Jesus Christ would have that love and forgiveness and peace we have received in faith, move from us to others in ever expanding circles of spiritual influence that impacts those around us in powerful, life-changing ways.
That is especially to be true of us in the church. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are members of the same Body of Christ. We have the same loving Father. All of the saving merits that Jesus Christ has bestowed upon us are to be evident in how we treat one another in the church.
In the early church the one characteristic that drew the attention and admiration of the pagan culture around them was the way the Christians treated one another and cared for one another. “See how they love one another” was said of the church.
What a worthwhile goal for us in the year to come, that we grow in our love for our fellow saints in this place, that those in our community would take note of the way that we love and care for one another.
For all these blessings of body and soul, the Holy Spirit says: be thankful. All of us want to make progress in the year to come. Maybe we want to finish our degree or graduate from high school. Maybe we want to save more money or get a raise or promotion at work. Maybe we want to get healthier.
There is not a thing in the world with wanting to make some progress in life unless it blinds us to what we already have and silences our thanksgiving to God for those blessings.
To be more content and joyful and have more peace of heart in the year to come, it is not necessary in the least that we always have more and more. Instead, the path to contentment and peace and joy begins with thanksgiving for what we already have.
That we are sitting here today among God’s people fed and clothed and sheltered, makes each and every one of us among the most blessed people in the world and we need to make a commitment to be more thankful in our hearts to God in the year to come. The Bible says:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
If there is one thing that I wish I could make happen as a pastor by waving a magic wand it would be to get every member here more grounded in the word of God and more committed to the private and public worship of God.
There is simply nothing else that will bless you so profoundly as spending regular time in the Word of God. There is nothing else that will more surely lead to spiritual maturity as reading and studying God’s Word on a daily basis. And so then, I encourage you in the Lord…
Make a commitment right now that each and every day you will have a daily devotion. Make a resolution that you will worship God each day and pray for yourself and one another. And especially make a solemn decision that this year you will worship each Sunday and attend Bible class.
You need this and we need you. We do not worship only for ourselves but we come together to worship to be strengthened by the presence of our fellow Christians—to be reminded that there are those who share our faith and our values in this dark, unbelieving world—and to make sure that the worship and knowledge of the one true God goes forth into the world. The Bible says:
Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
By virtue of our baptism into Christ we bear his name. We are Christians. And so here in these words is a wonderful summary of everything we talked about today: that we would do nothing in this New Year that we cannot ask the Lord to bless—that we would only do those things upon which we would not be ashamed to place his name.
To glorify God in all that we say and do means that we will magnify him by what we say and do—it means that those around us will praise God because of what they see in us—it means that the Savior who lives within us by his Spirit would be made manifest in every moment of our life.
Losing weight and saving money and getting organized are worthy goals and helpful resolutions but they cannot compare to being a better, more consistent witness to Jesus. And so then let us put on Christ and his love and glorify God in all that we say and do. Amen.