It seems appropriate as we celebrate the start of a new year that we hear the words “in the beginning.” Those words are so full of promise, hope, and life. “In the beginning” signals a new start or a fresh start. It’s a chance to leave the past behind, forget about our problems, shake off the dust, and declare something new. As we counted down to midnight, I asked my family their best and not so great moments of the past year. And we had a few moments to reflect and then we moved on. We watched the big ball drop, and just like that, “in the beginning” became a reality. 365 brand new days ahead of us full of whatever God has planned. It’s exciting and nerve wracking all at the same time, isn’t it?
I could make this an easy sermon and tell you that no matter how your 2015 was or no matter what you have planned for 2016, God loves you, will never abandon you, will always forgive you, and will be there for you no matter what. That seems like a good message as we head into a new year full of whatever. But, of course I can’t make it that simple.
Even though we turned the calendar over from one year to another, some of our problems still follow. With the switch of one year from another, we still have real issues of violence, terror, and fear that surround our everyday lives. There are still issues of hunger, poverty, racism, classism, and injustice.
At the same time, there is something wonderfully poetic about “in the beginning.” It’s like when the fresh snow has fallen and everything outside sparkles and is pure and clean. It’s that first big breath of air in the morning. We may still be surrounded by a lot of hurt and troubles, but for a brief moment, we get a glimpse of what the kingdom of God just might look like. With those three simple words “in the beginning” we are immediately transported either back to the beginning when God created everything into being by just speaking, or we are transported back to a simpler time in our own lives.
“In the beginning” before we had troubles, before we had responsibilities, before we had money issues, health issues, personal issues, terrorism, or even people dying just due to the lack of clean water, we had the Word. Before everything else, we had God. And when we read “in the beginning” we should think of that like a foundation. God is the foundation of everything we do and everything we are. Like the hymn says “on Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” So God is in the beginning, at the beginning, and the foundation of everything that is around us, including us.
But how often do we want to replace that foundation? We so quickly want to replace God with other things in our lives that we think will bring us joy, that we think will bring us happiness, that we think will bring us life. But, all those things end up doing is cracking and crumbling. Anytime we try or attempt to put anything other than God as our foundation, as our beginning, we are bound to be standing on sinking sand. Everything else will fail us. And so often, especially at this time of year, we try to make resolutions that center around making ourselves better. Those look different for each of us, but at the center of the resolution is the goal to better ourselves.
Here’s the thing, though, there’s no resolution or goal, that, if met, will make us any more worthy in the eyes of God. There is no resolution or goal, that, if met, will make God love us any more. There is no resolution or goal, that, if met, will “earn” us a place in heaven. That’s not how God works. We have already been called and claimed in the waters of baptism. God gives us a new chance every single moment of every single day. You don’t have to wait for a new year or even a new day to declare a new start. All you have to do is remind yourself of your baptism and it happens all over again.
“In the beginning” is our version of “once upon a time” except this isn’t a fairy tale. This isn’t make believe: this is real life. We have a prince and king that has already saved us through the dying of Jesus on the cross. If the story ended there, our hope would be for nothing. The dying wasn’t the end of the story. Because Jesus died, we shall never know the pain and suffering of death with no hope. The grave opened three days later and was emptied. Now that’s an amazing ending to “in the beginning.” We are told in today’s reading that a “light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not over come it.” This means that nothing, absolutely nothing, will ever be stronger than God and the power God has through Jesus Christ.
We all face darkness in one way or another. It doesn’t matter that the calendar has changed from 2015 to 2016, some of the same issues we had last year follow us. For some the darkness is very dark, and for others, it’s a mere shadow. No matter the darkness, it’s nothing compared to the light of Christ. When Christ’s light shines in us, through us, and around us, it’s as if we have a new beginning all the time. The brightness reveals a clarity that blinds everything else. God’s light is so bright that we can’t but follow it. When the light of Christ shines, everything else around us looks dull and boring. That light is the only thing that matters.
And so, my brothers and sisters, take heart. If your resolution has already failed, it’s okay. If you haven’t made a resolution, that’s fine too. If you’re going to keep your resolution for your own sake, admitting that it will not define you no matter what, that’s fine too. In the beginning there is life. In the beginning there is water. In the beginning there is the old us, being washed away. In the beginning there is bread and wine, enough to feed everyone and fill baskets with leftovers. In the beginning there is an empty tomb that signals life abundant to all who believe.