For the fifth year in a row, Christopher and I led the Sunday-after-Christmas worship service this morning, to give our regular pastor and organist time off after the intensity of Advent.
I prepared the order of worship, solicited prayer concerns, preached the sermon, and officiated over the entire proceeding. Christopher played all the music for the service, including the challenge of a congregational hymn sing (my favorite!), where those in the pews are invited to shout out the number of their favorite hymn from the hymnal, whatever it is, for us all to sing together.
Today Christopher faced the hurdle of not one but two hymns that neither of us ever heard before, plus a hymn not from the traditional hymnal, but from a more contemporary songbook, The Faith We Sing, which has more tricky musical accompaniments. I had promised him I wouldn't let anybody call one out from there, but when it turned out to be "Shine, Jesus Shine," I couldn't resist. And he played it beautifully for us all to sing our little hearts out.
It's fun for me to come up with a new sermon focus for each successive new year. Last year my theme was using our gifts in the new year, drawing on the parable of the talents (Luke 19: 21-28). The year before I talked about starting the new year not by eliminating bad things from our lives but by cramming our lives so full of good things that the bad things would find themselves crowded out willy-nilly. This year my message title was "Starting All Over Again - Again." The question I posed was how we can make ourselves believe that we're really going to heed the coming of Christ into our lives this year, when we didn't make good on this promise to ourselves last year, and the year before that, or the year before that.
I found and shared some some sobering statistics about New Year's Resolutions: 45 percent of Americans make them; only 8 percent end up keeping them. I found a list of the ten most popular new year's resolutions to pair with the list of the ten most commonly broken resolutions. As you may have guessed, the two lists were almost identical. Should we, then, give up on resolutions altogether? Jesus does tell us, in the sermon on the Mount, to avoid oaths: just let our yes be yes and our no be no, and be done with it. But he also gives the barren fig tree another chance to bloom and bear fruit. In the end, I took the side of resolutions, citing a study that people who make them are ten times more likely to achieve success in their goals than those who don't, however paltry that success might be. I took the side of believing in the power of new beginnings.
I love this mother-son Sunday-after-Christmas tradition so much. As I prepare to start all over again - AGAIN - for the new year, this is something from past years that I want to keep.
I closed the service with this poem by civil rights leader and theologian
Dr. Howard Thurman:
Today the music in my heart was wonderful, glorious, heart-soaring hymns pounded out by Christopher, on this last Sunday of the year about to end.