HAPPY NEW YEAR!
“A little premature, man…”
When the holiday season rolls around, emphasis is placed on the Big Three: Advent, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. What would happen if we started celebrating the Big Two—Advent and Christmas—instead of the Big Three?
Christians may forget that Advent marks the beginning of the Christian calender year. It entails celebrating two events simultaneously: Jesus’ first coming and his second coming. The lectionary texts during Advent orient themselves more towards the latter, and it might be worthwhile to suggest that we do likewise. It’s high time that we get back to celebrating the Christian New Year with as much anticipation as watching the ball drop at Times Square. Maybe we should realign ourselves with the liturgical seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, and the season after Pentecost. In doing so we may find ourselves getting caught up in the story of Jesus and his people.
Most of us have tried New Year’s resolutions but have come away unsuccessfully. What if our resolutions this year were eschatologically focused instead of self-focused? How can we reorient ourselves towards the hope that Christ will come again? Here are a few suggestions inspired by John Wesley’s sermon “The Means of Grace”:
Isn’t it interesting that Wesley started with prayer? Many Wesleyan Christians have been exposed to and taught to pray the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday. The early church, and those who prayed the daily hours, prayed the Lord’s Prayer three times a day. The petition “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” teaches us to look forward to when God’s kingdom will be fully consummated on earth as in heaven. This is thoroughly soaked in future hope, which, as Paul points out, is inextricably connected to Jesus’ second coming (see 1 Thessalonians 4).
This is anticipatory, too. A helpful modification to praying the Lord’s Prayer in this new year could involve substituting “earth” with whatever location or sphere of influence you are in (like city, town, church, home). Then ask yourself, “what would it look like if God were in control here?” Pray together with brothers and sisters in Christ and seek guidance from the Holy Spirit on how you can live in the present in anticipation of God’s kingdom coming on earth as in heaven.
In his sermon “The Means of Grace,” John Wesley focuses on searching the Scriptures, which includes reading, hearing, and meditation. It seems that over the past several years, there has been an increased interest in how we read the Bible. The importance of how we read cannot be overstated; however, maybe of more importance is that we are reading the Bible. Following a reading plan can be helpful. Reading three or four chapters a day isn’t hard. This New Year could be spent on reading the Bible from the front cover to the back; next year, read from the back cover to front. Soak yourself in the story of God and his people. Meditate on it, and follow how the narrative finds its culmination in Jesus of Nazareth, whose return we anticipate throughout the Advent season.
If your Church follows the lectionary, take advantage of it! If a faithful, healthy member is around for three years, then they should hear the vast majority of Scripture, being exposed to the narrative, motifs, and themes.
3) The Lord’s Supper
Wesley urged the early Methodists to partake of the Lord’s Supper as often as possible, even going so far as encouraging constant communion. When we take the Lord’s Supper, we proclaim his death until he comes again. We look forward to when we shall gather around the table for the Messianic feast.
Each of these “means of grace” helps to place us in avenues whereby we might receive God’s grace in the present in preparation for the life that awaits us in the (re)new(ed) world. These practices anticipate when the Lord shall come again and put the world to rights.