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30th December 2001

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After Christmas Beverley and I take down our Christmas Cards. We re-read the cards that brought back the happy memories we had when we first read them on their arrival. We take the matter of sending and receiving cards seriously. We send and receive several hundred. We keep a record of every-one's names and addresses, and note if they sent a card in return. We have friends with whom we have corresponded for over fifty years. Every card received has been recorded.

We re-read the cards and note any absences. We say to each other: "We never received a card from Muriel this year. I wonder how she is. She must be ninety-five by now. She has probably moved into that nursing home." I comment, "I'll ring her minister and he will give us any information." Some other card does not arrive and we comment. "Poor old Geoff. He was a great fellow. He did an amazing lot in his life for others." The Christmas Card list records the names of young people who send cards with an expression of thanks before leaving for overseas study, and some who have joined the ranks of missionaries. Some names are former great people, politicians, statesmen, educators who are now largely forgotten, but with whom we still have contact. Others are farmers from our days in the bush and we even have one who was our Church secretary for seven years while I was a student minister in the slums of Melbourne. The arrival of such cards prompt me to get on the phone and ring a dozen or so people who have been responsible for the forming of our lives and ministry. The passing parade is recorded in the Christmas Card book!

It is important that everyone has some markers that show the way they have travelled. The great Australian Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson was lost for three months in terrible Antarctic blizzards in 1912 in which his only companions died. He found his way to safety because on the journey inland, he erected tall poles with black flags as markers along the way. Some markers remind us of the way we have come, and the way back to our home without becoming lost. 

The late Rev Roger Bush, former 2CH radio personality, was an ex-serviceman from World War 2. One of Roger's friends was on an infamous prisoner of war ship from Java. Seventy-five men were battened down in a hold of an old ship with no bedding or blankets, not enough room for them to lie down, with food being passed down in a slop bucket and bodies being passed up to be dumped into the sea. They were in that hold for three months unable to tell night from day. Of seventy-five men that went into the hold, only twenty-six survived. Then the engines stopped. They had arrived at some port far away. Some soldiers ordered them at bayonet point down the gang-plank and to a concrete building. One said to another: "Do you know what week it is?" I did not know what month it was! We were pushed into a concrete cell and we knew we would all die. Suddenly, we heard on the quiet night air the sound of bells… bells I found out later from a Christian monastery high up in the hills. We looked at each other and threw our arms around each other and wept like children. It was Christmas Day. We knelt and listened to the message of the bells… and somehow we found our faith again!"

There is something refreshing about starting a new year. What is behind can be largely left behind, and we all have a sense of being able to start afresh. As we were taught as children, we have started a new page in life's book. We can turn over the old one with its smudges and errors and start afresh. Not that we are exactly back where we started. Because most clock faces are round we get the idea that after the passing of a minute, an hour, a day, a year, we all start off again exactly where we started before. Not so. Time is like a screw - we go round, but we advance towards a point where the screw runs out. The screw has taken another turn and we stand at the beginning of a new year, but now that much further along the track. Some of us at a deep point of despair last year never thought we would make it. But we have. Thank God! 

In advertising, one of the most powerful words is the simple three-letter word "new". Put new in front of a product and people want to inspect it. Label a perfume as new and women want to wear it. Term a car as the new model and people want to buy it. Describe some diet as new and thousands want to try it. Advertise a washing detergent as possessing a new additive and sales will soar. Philosophers will argue any new idea. People who are spiritual lost, cling to crystals, pyramids, and hocus pocus simply because it is called New Age. Old immoralities were suddenly acceptable when they were called the New Morality. When the Apostle Paul came to Athens the Athenian philosophers were enchanted by his good news about Jesus and His resurrection. Acts 17:21 "All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas." 

How like contemporary society! People just itching to hear the latest news, wanting to discuss and dispute, seeking out new teaching, strange ideas, doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas! We face a new year. What's new? There are four new possibilities right now!

1. YOU CAN HAVE A NEW REGARD FOR OTHERS. Want to change your opinion of people? You can by changing the way you view them. Most of us view people through eyes that experience and prejudice have distorted. We become cynical about people. After all, we have been taken down, deceived or discouraged by people with mean motives and selfish aims. We distrust others. But when you become a Christian, being in Christ, makes you look at people with a different viewpoint. You see them still as sinners, but as people who are capable of forgiveness and being changed. You have an optimistic not a pessimistic view. You have a new regard for them.

We recognise now that these other people are also people for whom Christ died. We once were cynical about even Jesus Christ, but once we discover Him to be God's answer to our needs, our view of Him has changed not only our view of ourselves, but our perspective on all other people. As Paul put it: 1 Cor 5:14-16 "Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer."

Our viewpoint has changed, because we have been changed. Our outlook is different because we are totally different. We have been renewed, remade, reborn! Christ is in us! As Paul further writes: 17 "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" There is no greater re-construction program, than that which renews yourself with a new reality within. 

Dr Gordon Allport of Harvard University has stressed the importance for people to always be in a process of "becoming". He has made massive surveys of people who have been changing over the years, some for good and some for the worse. His conclusions includes the fact that people in all age groups need to become something more than what they are. J.B.Phillips translates this verse: "If anyone is in Christ, he is becoming a new person altogether." That's the hope for the new year for you: if you become one with Christ, there will be a new you! When you are in Christ, Christ is in you. That's a new reality within. Jesus urged us "You must be born again." You can be renewed with the reality of Christ within. 

3. YOU CAN HAVE A NEW RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD! People everywhere have been seeking for a new relationship with God. We read the newspapers and watch the TV and listen to the radio news, and all we see and hear is despair and death. The headlines are always miserable. People complain but we know the answer: good news does not sell! Humans are warriors in a world where we should be at peace. We are slaves when we should be free. 

We are fools when we should be wise, destroyers when we should be builders. We are vagabonds when we should be at home. Instead of being at ease with life, many of us are diseased. This changes when we have a right relationship with God. Paul wrote: 18 "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation." Instead of alienation we are reconciled. Instead of disease we are at ease with God, ourselves and our world. This comes in a new relationship with God.

4. YOU CAN HAVE A NEW REASON FOR LIVING. Many people can give you a reason why they have a certain job. But few people can give you a reason why they are alive! People find ultimately no meaning and purpose in life until they can discover why they exist. What is your main reason for living? To earn money? Surely not! To do a job? Surely not! To care for your family? Possibly! To make a contribution to the sum total of human good? Getting warmer! What if your main reason for living was the change this world, to bring people out of alienation and lostness into reconciliation and meaning? What if you lived to help people discover their eternal destiny? That is what Paul describes as yours when you have a new reason for living! Listen as he describes it: 18 "God gave us the ministry of reconciliation," 19 "God has committed to us the message of reconciliation." 20"We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God." 

When we are new people in Christ, we have a new reason for living. We have a ministry to perform. We have a message to declare. We have a task to fulfil. We become witnesses, disciples, ambassadors - ambassadors for Christ. What a tremendous honour God has given us: to be His representatives to others in this world. But He enables us to do it by giving us a new regard for other people, a new reality within, a new relationship with Himself, and a new reason for living. When God makes you new, everything is different! The good news is, that you need not stay the way you are. You can be changed. You can be different. You are right now on the edge of newness!

What is our message as Christ's ambassadors? What is the good news we must proclaim? As a new year starts, "We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God." This is the most appropriate time to become a brand new person. "I tell you, now is the time of God's favour, now is the day of salvation." What's new? You will be new. You will have a new regard for other people, a new reality within, a new relationship with God and a new reason for living. That's what's new! Become a new you now! Find faith again! Hear the bells!
Let the Christmas bells ring to call us back to God and into the new with Him. "Ring out the old; ring in the new!" (Tennyson) Find in Jesus Christ a new regard for other people, a new reality within, a new relationship with God and a new reason for living. That is what is new! A new you - and a new….everything!

Alred, Lord Tennyson, captured the spirit in this poem:

"Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die. 
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true. 
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind. 
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws. 
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good. 
Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace. 
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be."

Roger Bush "A Bush Christmas" Rigby 1980

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes


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