The start of another new year. January 1st 2017. We can only wonder at what will unfold this year after a turbulent 2016 that witnessed events that shook the world. The Brexit vote, Donald Trump as president –elect and, of course, Leicester City winning the premier league. Once in a life time events as the Bournemouth football fans cruelly reminded the Leicester city supporters last month.” Champions of England, you’re having a laugh!” They chanted.
To which the Leicester fans replied” champions of England, you’ll never sing that song!”
So we might wonder what song we as Christians, might want to sing this year. A song that would make a lasting difference in some small way to the world we live in because often we see the beginning of the new year as a time of promise and hope; a time of looking ahead to the future. This looking ahead goes way back when in history.
The ancient Babylonians, for example, would make promises to their gods to return borrowed objects and pay off debts in the new year whilst the Romans made promises to the god Janus to whom the name of the month January is derived. These ancient traditions have lived on to the present day in the form of New Years resolutions.
However the big problem with new year resolutions is that generally they are, more often than not, doomed to failure. Apparently 88% of resolutions fail because many of them are unrealistic, unachievable and perhaps a little too concerned with the self.
Perhaps they ignore the lessons of the past and instead just focus on a new year and a clean break. Don’t look back, move on, move forward to better things and better days.
I would suggest we look elsewhere for inspiration for the words of a song that we might sing as a church.
“ I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us”.
The words of Isaiah should ring as true for us today as to the original listeners to his word. These were most likely to be an audience in exile. The remnant of Israel relocated from Jerusalem to Babylon. Words that would bring them comfort and hope for the future.
For the verses we have listened to from Isaiah speak of the kindnesses, the compassion, the distress, the love and the mercy of the Lord. The Lord who lifted up and carried his people all the days of old.
Isaiah takes both his readers and listeners back to the time when the Israelites were in Egypt.
Egypt, the land where Jacob and his sons were reconciled with Joseph, the son he thought had died. The land which allowed the tribes of Israel to settle before rejecting them and putting them to slavery. A people who cried out to God and a God who heard his people cry and through Moses, led them out of captivity in Egypt to freedom and redeemed them.
The past is of great importance to Israel. It is in many respects the essence of its very being, giving a sense of mission and identity but also a clear idea of the mission and identity of God.
The psalmist writes”sing to the Lord, praise his name, proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous deeds among all peoples.”God is known through what he has done.
Furthermore, we gain an insight and understanding of the nature of God’s character as witnessed through the writers and people of the Old Testament which is expressed through their words.
Isaiah in the original Hebrew text uses a word pronounced “ Checed” which is difficult to fully translate its meaning into English. The King James Bible has a good stab at it and calls it “ lovingkindness”. But essentially it incorporates the concepts of a steadfast love, grace, mercy, faithfulness goodness and devotion.
Checed reflects a consistency, a reliability and a commitment given by God to his people. A Checed that in effect began with God’s promises to Abraham and then later formalised in the Ten Commandments and the law delivered by Moses at Mount Sinai. The covenant with the Israelites.
It is a Checed that tells us that God will never renege on the agreement reached with his people.
So as we look on the history of Israel through the Old Testament, circumstances changed dramatically as the human side of the covenant was broken, yet God still spoke to his people through the prophets. God was still steadfast in his love.
Therefore, when God declares in Jeremiah that the time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel; the Checed of God is still there; for as God states
“I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people…..for I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more”
What else is God doing other than adapting his commitment to a change of circumstance.
Six hundred or so years after the times of Jeremiah, stories were told of a gathering of Jewish friends seated round a table in Jerusalem sharing a Passover meal, one of them takes a cup of wine after the supper and says “this cup is the new covenant in my blood which is poured out for you”. This is the Christian story that continues to be told and celebrated by Christians throughout the world.
This is the continuing Checed of God which is enacted in the Eucharist which we shall shortly be celebrating today.
This is the continuing Checed of God which is seen on the cross. Jesus Christ, God’s only son, both fully God and fully man became our saviour through his suffering on the cross and by his love and mercy we are redeemed.
This is our song that we sing and live by.
. It is a song that we should never be tempted to take for granted. Behind it stands the weight of history and the continuing Checed of God . It is a song that comes from our inheritance from the Old Testament and binds us to the story of the people of God. It carries the past into the present and leads us into the future.
I was at a prayer meeting last month and at the beginning psalm 68 was read out. One of the verses particularly struck me.
, God leads forth the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a scorched land.
There is such a contrast between the two halves of the sentence. We see joy and happiness opposing discontent and a desert. Fulfilment and emptiness. Companionship and loneliness, freedom and captivity, hope and despair.these contrasts have not gone away. They are very real issues affecting many people today.
So as we look ahead to this coming year perhaps we should reflect and seek ways how our song can make a difference to people’s lives by Drawing on the wisdom of the gospel.Telling them of the kindnesses of the Lord in both what we say and do Bringing them out of their scorched land and enabling them to enjoy the Checed of God in a relationship with his son and our saviour,Lord Jesus Christ.
I wish you all A very happy new year