Both inside and outside of the church the last 40 days of the year always feels like a bit of a party. Outside the church, we start with getting together with family over thanksgiving. We eat lots of food and watch football. Then the month in between we are getting ready for the next party. We look for the perfect gift for family and friends to make the next party great. When Christmas comes we share our gifts with one another, eat lots of food, and generally celebrate once again. Then to top it all off, we bring in the New Year with a party. Inside the church, Advent season is a time of waiting in excitement for the party to come. We build up to a crescendo on Christmas Eve with the celebration of Jesus birth. The place was packed with people, its decorated so nicely; we light candles and sing songs. For many people it is their favorite service of the year. It is a huge party.
But now today there is a feeling that the party is over. The poinsettias aren’t quite as lively as they were on Christmas Eve (we have hidden the ones that look more wilted). While some people will hold out for a little while longer, many people are starting to think about taking down their Christmas tree and putting away decorations for another year. Soon we will be heading back to school, work, or just the routine of life once again. There aren’t any more parties to prepare for in the near future (unless you have big plans for an Epiphany party).
This is true when we think about the Bible stories we have heard recently as well. We had all kinds of excitement within the stories with angels and stars and shepherds. We had the Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary telling her she was to carry the son of God, an angel appearing to Joseph telling him its ok to take Mary as his wife even though she is pregnant, a choir of angels appearing to Shepherds in the fields and told to go to Jerusalem to see what just happened. These angels appearing all over the place were preparing everyone for the celebration of Jesus birth. They were announcing to everyone, “This is a big deal!”
But now today, the party is over. Jesus has been born and Mary and Joseph are getting back into their everyday life. They have brought Jesus to the temple to be circumcised because that is what good Jews do. It is in the temple that we meet a guy named Simeon who sees this tiny baby and sees the salvation of the world. Simeon has been told that before he dies he will see the Messiah. He doesn’t need any angel poking him in the ribs saying, “Hey this is the son of God!” or see a choir of angels singing glory to God, or even a glowing baby Jesus. Simeon is not given any interruptions, intrusions or angels. He knows this little baby, this tiny newborn, is the Messiah so he simply says, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” After all the lights, angels, bells and whistles are done, Simeon saw that Jesus was God even without all the fanfare. Put simply Simeon had the faith to see God in this little baby after the party was over.
Now that the parties are over for us, we start thinking about how we can make this year better than the year we just experienced. So we start with resolutions about losing weight, eating better, quitting smoking, saving up for that trip we want to take, getting better organized, or anything else that will make 2012 better than 2011. I don’t know about you, but I get excited about the many possibilities with my resolutions. I am going to run that marathon this year. I am going to eat better and lose all the holiday weight from all those parties. I am going to read all those books I have been putting off. It is exciting thinking about all the great things I want to accomplish this year. And that seems to be true for many people. There is a certain hope for almost everyone that this year will be better than the last. A hope that we will be able to do in 2012 what we couldn’t do in 2011.
Then as time goes along during the year and life gets in the way, our motivation often starts to wane. I read a study that said more than a quarter of the people that make resolutions will give up on them after a week and more than half after 6 months. Many people are able to keep these resolutions for a while, but when the excitement of the new year wears off, when the parties end and life get going again, we give up on our resolutions.
A few years ago I ran a half marathon in Phoenix, Arizona. We got to the start line and it was beautiful. There were people all over the place stretching, jogging in place, and excitedly talking to one another. The starting line over looked the valley below and there were beautiful lights everywhere. The sun was starting to peak over the mountains in the east. When the start gun went off, there was excitement about the race ahead. It was palpable. There was a pack of people all around me and there were probably 20 people deep on each side cheering all of the runners on. There were all kinds of strangers giving me and other runners’ encouragement as the sun started to rise over the desert. It was exhilarating and breath taking. It stayed that way for the first few miles. But as the race went on that initial excitement faded away. There were only a few people lining the streets and instead of cheering me on as I ran by they seemed to be waiting for their loved one. By mile 10 there were only a few runners around me and by now I was exhausted and I was running in the desert. And there was no one on the side of the road at all. It was miserable; the excitement of the beginning was over. As we got to the last mile, I just wanted it to end. I am just trying to occupy my mind that is telling me, “Stop, stop, stop!” My faith that I could finish this race had completely faded. I felt like I had been running by myself for quite a while when over my shoulder I heard this guy encouraging a couple of runners around me. I heard him yell to anyone who would listen, “We only have a mile left, come on we are going to finish this race.” I was exhausted, but somehow I knew I was going to be able to finish this race. That stranger was God embodied encouraging me after the party and fanfare of the beginning of the race was long over. With a small gesture he gave me the faith that I could finish the race.
When the party is over, when all the excitement of the beginning has ended, we need someone to help us the rest of the way. We need someone to be there to call us every morning to make sure we ran, we need someone to keep us accountable to eat a little better, someone who can help us be the person God calls us to be. Someone who connects us to this community and helps us use the gifts God has given us.
In a moment you will have a chance to make your resolution. This year I want you to think not just about your resolutions, but how you are going to keep your resolutions. Who is going to keep you accountable? Who are you going to keep accountable? In the every day doldrums of life, when all the excitement and flash of Christmas and new years have faded away, how are you going to keep going? When the party is over who is going to be the face of God for you? In that last mile who is going to say “Come on, we can finish this race?”
May we have the faith that Simeon had, the faith to recognize God when the party and excitement of Christmas is over. That we may see God in our everyday lives and in other people who will help us be who God calls us to be in 2012. As you write your resolution on your index card, I want you to write down the name of someone who is going to keep you accountable for each resolution that you will make. Someone who cares about you, someone who wants to see you reach this goal, someone who you can see God in when the party is over. Amen.
Please write your name and address on the envelope. So that we can just put a stamp on it when we send it back to you in the middle of the year.