We are now into a new year. 2012 is gone, and we are now quickly moving into 2013. Does it seem weird to anyone else that this is the year that we are in? As kid growing up any date with 20 something in it was something far off in the future. I kind of thought that because the 2000’s we so far off that when 1999 ended the 90’s would just start over again. 14 years later and we are now in a time that the great science fiction writers happily promised us we would have colonies on the moon, exploration to mars, personal robots, flying cars and we would have made contact with a few different aliens. We also had some more pessimistic writers that have told us that we would blow ourselves up, some country would conquer the other, the world would end, some sort of biological disaster would happen, and that several different alien races would conquer us. Given though that none of us came here today driven by our robot chauffer in our flying car, and that we are all here and not ruled by some strange creatures, I think it is safe to say while the number 2013 may sound futuristic the future in many regards is still a few years off.
But this is a new year. The new always comes with a bit of excitement and hesitation. We do not know what is going to happen. It is strange what I have been reading over the last few days as 2012 came to a close. So many people felt that it was a bad year and were looking forward to a new year. Growing up listening to my Dad preach he would always cram in a certain line for his New Years sermon, or if we were going on vacation his Christmas sermon. “This year was better than the last, and next year will be better than this one. No matter what tomorrow brings as long as it comes it is better than today, just as today is better than yesterday by the shear fact it is here. That you are alive and can continue the adventure makes this the best year of your life”. My Father was a ridiculously optimistic fellow he was known for saying that “life is what woke him up in the morning”. Honestly what it was was my brother and I and 5 cups of coffee. But until recently I never understood this outlook on life. 2012 really has been the best year of my life, not despite all of the bad stuff, but the whole year together. And by faith and the grace of God if I get to look back on 2013 I will again say this is the best year of my life.
This outlook isn’t something that came with a change of age or necessarily of wisdom. But it comes with a change in spirit. The ability to see the world through God’s eyes changes greatly our perspective on how we see everything. We no longer look at the world then in the us versus them mentality or good stuff versus bad stuff, but we now look at things to see how is God at work in the world around us. I want everyone to turn to the book of Jude.
To the Greeks he was called Judas, and to the Hebrews he was Judah. To us he is just Jude the brother James, leader of the church in Jerusalem, and half-brother to Jesus the Christ. For a while he was actually mistaken in the early church with the other Judas the son of James and betrayer of Christ. If it wasn’t for a closer look at his genealogy and that he quotes Peter this letter may never have made it into the bible. And that would be a sad state of things. This Jude though grew up in the same home as Jesus calling Mary and Joseph, mom and dad. Likely he would have been trained in carpentry. Jude was probably present at the wedding in Cana, and a few of Jesus’ other miracles. He would have heard Jesus teach and preach several times. Yet despite all of this we know from scriptures he didn’t believe until after Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was not until Jude became convicted by the Holy Spirit did his focus change. Instead of seeing his annoying older brother who was always “upstaging him”, Jude now saw his savior. This now is the Jude who wrote the epistle we are going to start unpacking.
Read verse 1 and 2.
Mercy and peace had a long standing of being a Jewish greeting. It was something uniquely Christian to add love. This is still a Jewish greeting mercy and peace. Though they have different phrases for it now. A young Jewish boy named Leonard brought us the greeting this way “Live long and prosper” we’ve known Leonard better as Spock from the Star Trek franchise.
Mercy is an inevitability of need for us in the face of a Holy God. Where we are, is in a position of utter separation from God. The ancient church developed a prayer for this that we still use called the Kyrie Eleison, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy. Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”. Mercy. It is something we desperately cry out to God for. It is something we long for more than food, water, or air. Without the mercy of God we would only have death and damnation. It is God in his infinite mercy that sent Jesus to die for us. Jesus in God’s mercy is our way to move out of our sin and separation from God back to being in relationship with God.
When Jews talked about mercy it was the idea of freedom through sacrifice. They would have thought of the Passover and the sacrificial lamb. For us Christians and those who have lived to see the gospel fulfilled we know that mercy is in the cross, that it is Christ’s sacrifice. But mercy is more than just the commune between us and God.
In our house the word no is starting to be used a lot. Joey , our son, is a year and a half old. He is fully mobile and just starting to talk. All of this means he loves to explore and only has about 12-20 words that really work for him. So inevitably he does stuff he’s not supposed to do. Given that he is still new to this world and stuff that we think is common sense just isn’t to him yet. This is especially true when it comes to his relationship to our cats. I’m not a hundred percent convinced that he knows they are alive. He will often come to the one that he can catch and pick her up by the tail or try stepping on her. Then as parents we have to say “no”, hoping that he understands the fault he’s made. Most times he doesn’t get why we are saying no. Which now puts us in this awkward what do we do position. Do we up things from a no to time out, or do we give him mercy because he doesn’t fully understand.
Think to Jesus’ words on the cross “they know not what they are doing”. Mercy is often given in the face of ignorance. When someone wrongs us rarely are they thinking to the full extent that it is going to hurt us. There is usually some specific goal, very often self centered. That person that cut you off in traffic, was paying no mind to you they just needed to get somewhere. Or the person that took that last box of cereal you wanted, they had no way of knowing you were coming done the isle for it. These people are acting the same way Joey does with no idea they are doing anything wrong, and they probably won’t stop if you said no either. This is where mercy comes into play in our everyday lives. It is how we choose to react in these situations that will be our standard of mercy. Will we be Christ like and let things slide offering our prayers to them if not more if the situation demands? Or do we turn to anger, and hurt? Do we let these dark emotions fester inside of us, giving a foot hold to the enemy? In this New Year with all the new adventure it will bring you from Christ I give you mercy. May you give it as freely as you have received it.
Next in this greeting we have peace. Peace may be one of the most poignant greetings that could be given this year. 2012 was not a year of peace. I don’t think anyone would try to claim otherwise. We have had devastating floods, multiple mass shootings, our neighbors to the south are being torn apart by their differing ideologies, countries in the middle east traded governments in violent coups, embassies were attacked through terrorist schemes, and Israel and Iran almost started World War 3. Like I said there was no peace. Even at the time of year when everyone says there should be peace on earth a very troubled individual set a house on fire in the middle of the night just so he could open fire on unarmed paramedics and firefighters. Looking at this year through the lens of peace I can understand why so many wished to leave last year behind.
Almost a hundred years ago in the year 1914 the world was at war. The front lines were spread across Europe, Germany was essentially against everyone else. As Christmas started to approach at night either side would begin to sing carols in their trenches. Some nights they would venture out and sing together and exchange pleasantries. Then on the night of December 24th the trenches of both sides emptied. This wasn’t one of the many big pushes to gain ground. No, both sides declared a truce, with no thought to what their superiors might say. The British, the Scotts, the French, and the Germans, more than 100,000 troops had Christmas. They had peace. Unfortunately a story like this has never really happened again. The higher ups wanted their war and ordered such events to never happen again. To prevent the men from thinking their enemies as equals they used harsher techniques of killing to dehumanize the enemy. Their leaders wanted to make sure they decided when peace would arrive.
2000 years before that in the time of Christ the world was ruled by Rome. As long as you were with Rome you were to have peace. The empire would protect you. It was in this culture that Jesus was told to have the title Prince of Peace. It gives this idea to those of the day you think that Rome gives you peace, no I, Jesus, am the ruler of peace. You want real peace you go to Jesus.
Look at what Jesus said about peace in Matthew 5 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be sons of God.” Or in John 16 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” In these verses Jesus clearly tells us two things. First, that it is up to us to make peace. It is a conscious choice on our part to make peace on this world. Even though by our rebellious nature we have bent to war with others, we have the freedom to choose peace. I’m not saying this is an easy choice and neither was Jesus, but it is a choice, and blessed are you if you make it. Second you can have peace because Christ made a way for you to have. Not only are we given the choice to make peace but we are given the opportunity to have peace. In Christ we can have peace. Jesus’ coming here to this world, going through all the pain and suffering that we go through, he did all of that, so that through him and resurrection we could have peace. This does not mean we will not have trials, it just means we can have peace in Christ through these trials.
Let me shed some more light on this for you. This past September I was woken up by very loud banking on my door. I was really confused coming out of a sleep and didn’t entirely understand what was going on at first. Everyone was in a panic and it took me a minute to catch up to what was going on. Kim quickly shoved Joey into my arms yelling that we had to get out of there now. With Joey in hand I grabbed my laptop and went to the car. Between the two of us we only had a handful of possessions and the clothes on our backs. As I am trying to get both of them into the car, I look up and see at the far end of our building, flames shooting out of the roof. After getting Joey settled at a friend’s house, we came back and just watched as most of our block and in some ways our lives for the last four years burned down. We didn’t sleep much that night more from adrenaline than anything. But the next day we woke up and went out and got breakfast. Somehow everyone knew who we were, and they kept giving us these responses asking us how we could be so calm, so at peace. See we didn’t really know anything was wrong, that we were to feel different. We knew everything was going to be okay. Because we were in Christ we had peace.
As you start this year have peace in Christ and be the peace in the world around you.
Finally in this greeting we have love. Like I mentioned before love was not standard to the greeting. It was an additive made by the followers of Christ. Even though Christians had taken the rich Jewish meanings behind the words mercy and peace, and brought fullness to them in Jesus; it was love though that they used to symbolize something uniquely Christian.
Love is a central focus in Christianity. Look at the two greatest commandments, love the lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. Or look to why Christ came to this world as said in the book of John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten so that who so ever beleiveth in him shall have eternal life.” Then we have how Jesus sums up love in John 15 “that no greater love is this than for a man to lay down his life for his friends.” There is no separating love and Christ. God is love and the embodiment of that love is Jesus.
In Greg Paul’s book God in the Alley he tells a story from his time of street ministry in Toronto. The story strangely parallels the story of Hosea and Gommer. The story of Mutt and Wendy, two people that the world had chewed up and left in a mess. Both of them had more than their shares of problems but Mutt believed that his love could overcome all of their issue. Though like Hosea he had to chase after Wendy because she had little care for him. But there was so much heart ache for them as Wendy kept going back to the street corner giving herself away to the highest bidder. Mutt in his love kept going out finding Wendy again and bringing her back to him. He would do whatever it took to get back from whatever sad condition he found her in. He would pay whatever cost; give whatever it took to show his love and to love her. This was his love.
This is a great story of what Christ has done for us. Jesus paid everything, he gave up heaven for us. He freely allowed for himself to be tortured and killed in the worst way possible. We had rejected God there was barely any one that was really serving God but he decided to come and rescue us. Even today through the work of the Holy Spirit, God is in the business of rescuing us. It does not matter how much we run from God, as long as we are still alive he wants to draw us out of our sin and to him. In this year no matter what happens know that Jesus loves you, he desperately loves you and yearns to be in a close relationship with you.
As we enter into this New Year, I welcome you into it echoing the greeting of Jude. I greet you with Mercy, with Peace, and with the Love of Christ. May these three things shape this year for you.