According to Buzzfeed 2017 was “The Year That The Internet Destroyed Our Shared Reality”. CNNMoney: “The Year of the Red-Hot Job Market”. CNN: “The Year Americans Couldn’t Say ‘Gal Gadot’ and a lot of other things”. And on and on… Almost every reporter, talker, or news source named the year.
And that kind of characterization is a useful tool – it helps us frame things in and think about them. What would you name your 2017? The year mom died? The year of the job change? The year my health went south? Your name would reflect something of your view on things, wouldn’t it? Would your name share a positive outlook on the year? A sense of struggle? Dissatisfaction? And as you think, don’t forget, another new year’s right around the corner. What about the year to come? What will it be? How will we name it?
Here’s a good option… This week along with the Epiphany of Jesus, many churches around the world will celebrate the name of Jesus too.Simeon sang his importance in the gospel: “my eyes have seen your salvation.” That’s Jesus – his name means “God saves.” That’s also what St. Paul was celebrating when he wrote to the Colossians. Their congregation was plagued by all kinds of teachers who said, essentially, you need Jesus plus something else in order to really be God’s people. Paul was saying, “No – you have everything you need in Jesus your Savior. In fact, you are his holy people, so ‘do [everything you do] in the name of the Lord Jesus.’” This morning, you too, everything you do in the coming year you do this way… Let’s consider how to enter the new year in Jesus’ name. And that will mean two things, according to Paul: 1) considering how you present yourself to the world and 2) considering what rules your life.
1. Clothed with Virtue
We like to say that they’re not important. We like to proclaim that we’ve been liberated from clothing rules and judging by appearances, but how we dress and what we wear says something about who we are and what we’re doing. For instance, when we pastors go into that sacristy and come out dressed in white robes with stoles, we’re trying to say something: we cover over our own personalities with simple white, and we wear a sign that says we’re here as servants of Christ – under his yoke. If you don’t take in all that each week, at least these clothes probably say: pastor.
Paul wants us to dress each day for who we are and what we’re doing. You are “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved”. You are those God has chosen by faith from to know salvation in Christ – his elect. And you, by faith in the holy one Jesus are holy people – forgiven of sins, pure and clean – and because God in just this way loved the world, you have his care and attention. And as Paul said in the verse before our section: “you [such people] have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self”
What do such people wear? The same virtues they’ve learned from God. Listen to Paul’s list again and notice that together these are really a uniform of service to others: “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Literally Paul starts with “a heart of compassion” – a deep-down, sincere feeling of compassion for the situations of those around you. Which produces kindness, an attitude in you that wants to do things that are helpful for those. Humility – naturally then, like Jesus Christ, taking the form of servant with one another. Gentleness – not timid or weak and waiting to be run over, but being self-assured in our humility and kindness and compassion because we know we have all we need from God already – we don’t need to demand and assert and get. And it brings patience – able to withstand all kinds of adversities and troubles in putting on these virtues.
Come to mention it, adversity and how we deal is actually a great part of how we characterize things, isn’t it? Paul knows…he’s human. The temptation to label our days and minutes and activities selfishly is very strong. Humility isn’t always appealing. Service can seem burdensome. Disciplined and content with God’s will – often hard. Patience? Who’s got time? So, people who put on God’s virtue are going to have to be “bearing with one another and forgiving each other”. In this new year, we will understand that sin will happen even here and in our homes and in our hearts, and we will put up with one another – bear difficult things with patience and humility, and also forgive one another when we sin. But this is naturally what we would wear and share because this is what Christ has given to us. He bore the burden of all our sins. He puts up with our wayward straying and our struggles. And he has consistently shown only free and encouraging love to us. So, of course Paul says, both for ourselves and for one another, putting that love on top of everything else is vital. When we put on love that seeks to serve those around us as Jesus has served us… Love that demands nothing of one another just as God did not demand of us… When we wear that love and walk in it then we will be as Paul says, “bound together in perfect unity”.
2. Ruled by Peace
In fact, if we clothe ourselves in the virtues Jesus names and desire to put his name on every part of our lives, then what binds and guides and directs us will be incredibly important.
Paul says it like this: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” Paul paints a picture something like a referee in a game. When you play basketball, the referee keeps you to the rules. And there’s this going assumption that we’re going to play and abide by their rulings because that’s how an orderly and good game is assured. The same holds true in your lives. If God’s peace – the knowledge that you are his by faith in Christ, that you’re forgiven of whatever all are your sins, that you have the promise of heaven, that you know he is watching over life and will bring you to be with him – if God’s peace referees life… Well, that means things. It means that when there is distress in death or the loss of your job or a fight with your spouse or terrible decisions to make, that does not get to rule the day and own you. When there is difficulty and disappointment as we fail each other or as our expectations and desires fall apart, these do not get to rule the day and dictate what we do. God’s people hear the whistle and stop as his peace calls for their attention. This rules things: I am at peace with God through Jesus Christ – and to be in his peace I have been called – sharing his peace with others, that’s my joy – giving thanks for his peace, that’s my way.
And what a temptation in the middle of life’s game to disregard that truth. In fact, what a temptation we face to fill up our lives with all sorts of other rules and guides: be guided by the things that make sense; be guided by the things that will make people happy; be guided by the things that will feel good. No…my friends turn away from those sinful things and be guided by Christ’s peace. But how? You will find that peace alone in his Word. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”
Imagine that you had a house-guest in this upcoming year – dwelling with you for some time. Wouldn’t you want them to dwell richly with you? That is, when you have a guest you don’t say, “Now guest, for the time you’re here in my house, we have provided these Saltine crackers for breakfast lunch and dinner. We have put a cot in the garage with an old space heater – probably you won’t freeze. Be sure not to touch anything or go anywhere in the house. Do not use our televisions or really do anything or that would upset my life’s operation or inconvenience me in any way.” That would be unbelievable. Rather you’d say, “Freely enjoy my home! Eat the food, watch the TV, sleep in this comfortable bed, etc.” If peace from Christ is going to rule our year to keep us in Jesus’ name and the joy of salvation, then the Word of God that gives it has to dwell in us. Do you remember Mary? Jesus’ “mother treasured all [the Christmas things] in her heart.” And so do we with God’s Word – invite it into our hearts and our homes like a cherished guest, with full access to who we are and what we have, read it and learn it and take it to heart so that God can actually rule us with his peace.
When we have God’s peace ruling our lives because his Word is a friend in our homes and our hearts, we’ll see its effects. We’ll have access to God’s wisdom and we’ll be instructing one another by that wisdom. “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” When we fail, we will by it admonish or warn one another. And it will be a joyous thing. It will be like a song, just like these songs we sing in worship that stick in our brains and float down our hallways as our children sing them. In fact, by experience, hasn’t it happened to you that God has taught you, shaped you in this way? That you’ve come into worship angry with someone else or worried about something outside of here – and the Word of God is present, and you begin to think about it, and sometimes (like it was tailor-made for you that day) it begins to gnaw at that knot in your heart or that worry in your head, and it softens you as we sing, and it changes you as someone preaches a sermon, and by the time you leave with God’s blessing you’re different in some way – praising God for helping you to understand your error or your fear, adoring him for how he helped you to be encouraged and strong?
Does it surprise you in the least then that Paul would say, “In whatever you do – words, deeds – do it all in Jesus’ name?” And would you conclude anything different for a coming new year? In Jesus’ name we know love and righteousness and virtue. Let’s cover our days in them this year. In Jesus’ name we have peace from sins and for eternal life and through every day. Let’s let it rule this year. Let’s fill our homes and our hearts with his Word and sing it and speak it with joy. And then, whatever comes in 2018, we’ll be able to give thanks to God our Father. And with salvation joy we’ll look back and say, “2018? That was the year of Jesus’ name!”