Facing a new year always generates conflicting feelings within me. I hope that this is not unusual for pastors. Of course, anticipating ministry creates a sense of eager enthusiasm as Fellowship Covenant and I wonder what the Lord has in store for us in 2013. Yet, along with the anticipation, I sense a wispy cloud of melancholy. The older I get, the more I surrender to the reality that much more of life happens to us than we make happen.
How can “Epiphany” help us see the new year?
When I was younger, I had a driving energy riveted to a clear vision and pastoral passion and I was going “to be a history-maker in this land.” While multiple interpretations swirled around Matthew 11:12, I took it to mean that a passionate force was required to advance the kingdom of God. I was wrong (about the meaning), but it fit my attitude at the time. No place for laziness or que sera, sera in the Lord’s work. I now gaze into the future unknown and do not pray Carpe Diem! Now, I whisper, “Lord, seize me. Please!”
We find different tools to launch us off the starting block of a new year. For pastors, it is usually books. I used to revel in getting a new commentary or two and being intellectually challenged as well as spiritually energized. I always have loved the opening sentence in the Preface to the multi-volume NIDNTT, “Bury yourself in a dictionary and come up in the face of God.” I have never liked devotional pabulum (though some are nourished by it). A diligent scholar who brings me into a wrestling match with the words, history, culture, etc. of a biblical book causes my heart to catch fire. Some of my family members still shoot me strange expressions when I do a sudden fist pump and shout, “Yeeaaaah!” When they realize I’m reading an exegetical commentary they appear ready to cart me off to a shrink. Some pastors broaden their reading to a new book by a favorite author—Annie Dillard, Pat Conroy—or a classic author—St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila—or a popular author—John Grisham, Kathryn Stockett.
Wondering about the new year and wandering mentally around the life of Jesus, I find myself drawn mysteriously to Jesus’ beginning. Not his virgin birth, not the Christmas events. The beginning of his public ministry: his baptism by his cousin John in the Jordan River. All the dynamics are there for pastors to mull over: a desperate and needy people worn out by Judaism du jour; a prophetic voice (and relative) who sockets Jesus’ beginning into the on-going Story of Israel; a rite of passage and identification with people that are packed with missional dimensions; a palpable empowerment with the Holy Spirit of God for the tasks ahead; and, the best for last, a Voice from heaven making exuberant declarations of love for the new Coming-on-the-scene-One. Jesus stepped into something big that preceded him. Jesus was new, but the Story had been around a long, long time. He found his place in the Story and advanced it, focused it, and energizes its continuation to this day.
Join me. Fast forward through the Gospel story. Was Jesus’ ministry determined by people’s needs? Was it limited by budget constraints? Did it contain a benefit package and a personal parking place? Was he surrounded by sharp people who “got it”—the vision, values, and objectives? Can a person really live off “the will of God”?
I think a good New Year’s resolution is: I would like to get to know Jesus better this year. I think I need to hear again, “Do you love Me?” and “Care for My sheep.”