Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
~ Romans 12:2
How was 2016 for you? Over the last few months, I’ve heard more and more people who have been eager to close out calendar year 2016 and begin with a fresh slate in 2017. In 2016, most of us were appalled at the ugliness of the campaign for the office of the President of the United States, we have been shocked by violence upon violence both within our country and around the world. Many of us have also experienced intimately the pain of job stresses, family discord, illnesses, and deaths. It can be overwhelming. And, while those around us celebrate and smile and seem unaffected by these things, we may feel that we are supposed to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and live today as if none of the events of 2016 have had an effect on us.
The opening paragraph may sound like a gloomy way to start this pastoral article, especially since we recently celebrated one of the greatest events in history … the birth of Christ. While Christmas is loaded with celebrations, traditions, worship services, and all sorts of gatherings, we celebrate Jesus who comes to us to reveal the love, mercy, and power of God. Sometimes when bad things happen, people ask: Where was God? Did God abandon us? Does God even care what happens to us?
The truth is that God comes to us in the middle of all of life’s joys and sorrows to help us see that hope is real. Hope is not of our own creation and we cannot will ourselves into hope. Instead, Jesus happens to us. One of the names we use for Jesus, especially at Christmastime is “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” God comes to be with us to bring about transformation. As we are transformed, we are renewed … we are made new. This renewal helps us to see and hear what God is saying to us.
Looking back on 2016, we pray for the Holy Spirit to transform us by renewing our minds. We step into 2017 with much more than a set of New Year’s resolutions. We enter 2017 with hope and confidence. We don’t know what the year will bring, but we know that God does not and will not abandon us.