How will you face the challenges and troubles of this new year? Think of the troubles the last 2 years brought into our lives. We have been confronted with COVID and all the problems and changes it presents. We have faced unparalleled social and political unrest. We have made it through the first couple of weeks of 2022 so far, and have already seen some challenges. But we still have the rest of this year in front of us. How will you face the troubles of this calendar year?
Let me share that I have personally been amazed the last two Sundays at the surprise of God’s grace found in the assigned Gospel readings. I have read these sections of Scripture hundreds of times before. But, this year I saw some new grace, some new love of God which I had not previously seen. Perhaps that happens to you as well when you read God’s word.
The Gospel lesson on January 2 was the Epiphany reading about the magi found in Matthew 2:1-12. These men from the east arrived in Jerusalem asking, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” This question troubled Herod. (v. 3). He ultimately ended up taking the lives of all the infant boys in Bethlehem. Obviously Herod feared a competing king. But, when Herod heard the answer to the magi’s question of where Jesus would be born, he had also heard what kind of king Jesus would be. The religious leaders answered the question with the prophecy from Micah 5. “’In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.”’” (Matthew 2:5-6) Herod may have been a tyrant who acted in violence, but Jesus came to “shepherd” God’s people. Jesus did not come in terror. He came to guide, and feed, to protect and to save. Herod did not have to fear Jesus. We can welcome Jesus as our king who shepherds us, and then receive His unexpected, undeserved love.
By the way, while I have personally focused on other parts of this story in the past, I have not primarily considered the prophecy that Jesus would be such a “shepherd” king. What wonderful grace and love to have Jesus, our good shepherd, as king and ruler of our lives!
Then, on January 9 the assigned Gospel lesson for worship shared the account of the Jesus’ baptism from Luke 3. Jesus was at the very beginning of his ministry. Before him lay the task of living a perfect and sinless life, while being tempted by Satan, rejected by the religious leaders, and misunderstood by his disciples. Jesus would teach and perform miracles, and in turn receive arrest, torture, and death for his shepherding love of God’s people. But, as Jesus faced the overwhelming responsibilities before Him, as He was coming up from His baptism, the Father spoke to Him and assured Him, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22) As Jesus faced this seemingly impossible task, His heavenly Father assured Jesus he was indeed the Son of God himself. The Father assured Jesus of His love, that He found delight in Jesus.
As we face the trials of life, the trials of a new year, our Heavenly Father says to us, “You are my Son [my child], whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” As children of God, our Father loves us and delights in us. What assurance for facing the trials of our lives in the new year.
St. Paul prays for the Christians of Ephesus, for all Christians, in Ephesians 3. “16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
As you face 2022, whatever storms have already happened, and whatever may come, I pray the same prayer for God’s people, for my friends and family, and for myself. I pray that we know the width and length and height and depth of God’s love, that He lives in us.
Knowing the love and grace of God gives me assurance and faith to face whatever this year, or the rest of my life, may bring.