I hope and pray that everyone is having a Merry Christmas! While most people likely think of Christmas 2020 now being in the past, a historic view of the Christmas tradition tells us that it has really only just begun. Christmas is not just a day, it is a season that begins on December 25 and runs through January 5. (This is where the idea of the Twelve Days of Christmas comes from.) During the season of Advent we anticipate the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of the promised Messiah. At Christmas we celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation – of God becoming Flesh, and dwelling among us. (John 1.14) At Christmas we identify with the angels who proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest”; with the shepherds, who were afraid but nevertheless offered worship; and with Mary, who pondered the meaning of these events in her heart. (Luke 2.13-20) Celebrating Christmas as a season helps us to more deeply enter into the meaning of the incarnation, which in turn should enable us to live out the implications of the incarnation. (See John 20.21) And while our North American culture may consider Christmas to be the most important “day” on the Christian calendar, for one to truly get the most out of Christmas we must see the significance of the day (and the season) in light of all that follows it – most especially by seeing Christmas through the lenses of Easter. (Mark 10.45)
Nevertheless, like most, my eyes have begun to look forward to the New Year. This is a time when I tend to reflect on the past year, giving thanks for the many blessings; and also thinking about the seeming many more regrets. It is a time when I, like most people, see the New Year as, sort of, an opportunity for a “do-over”, a time when I get to right many of my regrets. Of course, we can always shape up at any time of year, but there is something about the turn of the calendar to a new year that makes it seem more like a clean slate. Perhaps there is good reason for this. On the traditional Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah (New Year) comes a week before Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). So perhaps there is some innate connection between renewal and the New Year. But I am just speculating. I don’t want to over-spiritualize my own musings. But, whether there is an innate connection or not, most of us tend to use this week between the beginning of Christmas and the beginning of the new calendar year to look ahead to what we hope will be a better year than the one before.
If you are, like me, thinking ahead to the New Year, and about things you want to do, whether or not you have done so in the past, I want to urge you to include growth in grace as a goal for 2021. (2 Timothy 3.18)
It is the tradition of many to make some personal resolutions for the New Year. While making or not making of resolutions is totally a matter of personal preference, and not really a spiritual issue, I would like to offer one suggestion with regard to resolutions. I do not care if you make any personal resolutions for 2021, but I do want to encourage you to consider some resolutions of another. Long ago, a young Jonathan Edwards made a list of personal resolutions, all pertaining to growing in grace and living to the glory of God. I’ve made it my own practice during the first week of every year (and occasionally at other times of the year) to read through Edwards’ resolutions, using many of them to shape my prayers for my own spiritual health. A number of years ago, when I was writing more and blogging, I recognized that the outdated language was a hindrance to appreciating Edwards’ list, so I took it upon myself to update the language – hopefully without diminishing much of the wisdom. I want to invite you to join me in reading through the Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards during the first week or so of the New Year.
Second, among the most common resolutions of Christians at the New Year is to read through the Bible in the coming year – or at least to read the Bible more than in the previous year. This is a noble and a worthy undertaking – one many have tried – and failed. To those who have started out and then petered-out, I want you to know, first, you are far from alone. Second there is hope – and help. To read through the Bible is hard. It takes work. And it is best if you have a plan. My favorite plan is called Read Through the Bible Program for Shirkers & Slackers. If the title itself is not encouraging to you, then consider the question of Marie Haack, of Ransom Fellowship, from whom I got this plan: “What’s so spiritual about finishing in a year anyway?” You can read Margie’s introduction to this plan by clicking here; or read some of the benefits of this plan, as I have previously written, by clicking here.
No doubt, though, there are some who will want to tackle your Bible reading with more intentional ambition. For you there are a number of excellent Bible reading & devotional plans available from Crossway: here, here, and here. Two Read the Bible in a Year options are : Daily Bible Reading Plan; M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan.
And there are a number of excellent apps available for you to listen to the Bible being read. Sometimes listening while reading along is a refreshing way to feed on God’s Word.
Before I wrap up, a couple items related to our worship tomorrow and in the coming weeks.
As we prepare for worship tomorrow (December 27), I ask for you to join me in praying for Charley Bartelmay, our youth director, as he will be offering the message. This will be Charley’s second time to preach at Grace Covenant. But, you might be surprised to know, there is something awesome – even intimidating – about delivering a message from a pulpit. So please pray for Charley to be led by the Holy Spirit, and for him to faithfully deliver what God gives him to say to us.
Also, tomorrow, Isaiah will be introducing a new song to us, O Come All Ye Unfaithful. (That’s not a typo!) Click on the title to hear the song. You might also enjoy learning The Story Behind O Come All Ye Unfaithful.
Finally, I want to thank everyone who participated in our Christmas Eve service. I particularly want to thank all who were present “in-person” for adhering to the more stringent social distancing and mask protocols. Speaking only for myself, and not necessarily on behalf of all the Elders, I would urge that we continue to practice these slightly more stringent protocols, at least for the next few weeks. With health experts’ concerns about the possible increase in the spread of the virus because of holiday gatherings, I would ask that all who gather on Sunday mornings keep their masks on even while singing, etc., just as Camper and I will plan to keep our masks on while leading the service. I will also ask the musicians to keep their masks on while leading us in singing. This is my personal request, not a direction of our Elders. (While they may individually agree or disagree with my request, the Session has not made this a formal request.) But if we can minimize the risk of the spread of the virus, and also alleviate the reasonable and understandable concerns of some who enjoy gathering for worship, it seems the least we can do. For me, this is not a political issue, but a matter of using our liberty to love one another. (Galatians 5.13; 1 Peter 2.16) So I thank you in anticipation of your consideration.
That’s all for this week.
I’ll end this note with these words of the Dickens’ Tiny Tim:
“God bless us, every one!”
Grace & Peace,
W. Dennis Griffith, Lead Pastor