New Year

1. Did you know that New Year's Day is the one holiday that is almost universal? It is the world's most observed holiday.  
I trust you've made your New Year's resolutions one of which is to be in worship each week. Well done for this first Sunday. I won't ask you if you've resolved to lose the weight you gained between Thanksgiving and Christmas, or if you're planning on joining a health club, or if you're going to run five miles a day. Five miles, by the way, is my total aggregate of a lifetime of running.

The late Erma Bombeck made some memorable resolutions over the years:

1. I will go to no doctor whose office plants have died.
2. I'm going to follow my husband's suggestion to put a little excitement into my life by living within our budget.
3. I'm going to apply for a hardship scholarship to Weight Watchers.
4. I will never loan my car to anyone I have given birth to.

2. Joke writer Ed McManus has some words of comfort for those of us who are setting resolutions: "Don't worry about [keeping] those 2013 News Year's resolutions," he says. "You only have to deal with them until the end of February and then you can give them up for Lent." It sounds like he has been spying on some of us.

Resolutions are good, especially if there are changes we need to make in our lives. I heard about one poor guy who dialled his girlfriend and got the following recording: "I am not available right now, but thank you for caring enough to call. I am making some changes in my life. Please leave a message after the beep. If I do not return your call, you are one of the changes."
It's good to make changes, for the most part. As we are often reminded by our critics, our spouses or our children, none of us is perfect. In fact, some of us might have some deep regrets about the way we've lived our lives.

3. Dr. Les Parrott tells about a guy in Fredericksburg, Virginia named Cliff Satterthwaite who helps people get rid of their regrets. Each New Year's Eve Mr. Satterthwaite sets up a booth there in Fredericksburg where those celebrating New Year's Eve can come for a moment of sober reflection. Put the emphasis on "sober" reflection. Those who come write their regrets on a scrap of paper, then they set a match to them and turn them to ashes in an adjacent canister. Literally, their regrets go up in smoke. At least, that's the general idea.

We could do that. We could write our regrets on a piece of paper and bring them to the altar and watch them go up in smoke. That might be very therapeutic for some of us as we begin a new year. But our text for the day from the prologue to the Gospel of John puts the emphasis not on our past, but on our future. Not on our regrets, but on our possibilities....

4. Tom Ervin, Professor of Music at the University of Arizona was attending a conference for music teachers in New York. While at the conference he purchased a talking metronome. A metronome is a device for counting the beats in a song. Before Tom and his son boarded their flight home, Tom hefted his carry-on bag onto the security-check conveyor belt.

The security guard's eyes widened as he watched the monitor. He asked Tom what he had in the bag. Then the guard slowly pulled out of the bag this strange looking device, a six-by-three-inch black box covered with dials and switches. Other travellers, sensing trouble, vacated the area.

"It's a metronome," Tom replied weakly, as his son cringed in embarrassment. "It's a talking metronome," he insisted. "Look, I'll show you." He took the box and flipped a switch, realizing that he had no idea how it worked. "One . . . two . . . three . . . four," said the metronome in perfect time. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

As they gathered their belongings, Tom's son whispered, "Aren't you glad it didn't go 'four . . . three . . . two . . . one . . . '?" For the past few weeks we have been counting down the days until Christmas. Now we could count the hours until the dawning of a New Year. But we need to linger with Mary and Joseph for a little while longer, because what happened immediately after Christmas is a stark reminder of the world in which we live... 
6. Stay Focused!
We sometimes miss the great opportunities of life because we get sidetracked. I once heard the tale of a talented and gifted bloodhound in England that started a hunt by chasing a full-grown male deer. During the chase a fox crossed his path, so he began now to chase the fox. A rabbit crossed his hunting path, so he began to chase the rabbit. After chasing the rabbit for a while, a tiny field mouse crossed his path, and he chased the mouse to the corner of a farmer's barn. The bloodhound had begun the hunt chasing a prized male deer for his master and wound up barking at a tiny mouse. It is a rare human being who can do three or four different things at a time--moving in different directions. 
The Apostle Paul knew his number one priority in life was to live his life to the honor and glory of God by preaching the Gospel. However, we know that Paul is not in a plush hotel room but in prison. He receives a report that all is not well at the Church in Philippi. His very life could be ended at any moment. And the list goes on. However, the Apostle Paul would not allow anything to cross his path that would deter him from his priority. Paul knew that his new life was a gift from God, not from the promises of humanity. His life was to be lived for his master. Nothing would sidetrack him of that priority!
 Eric S. Ritz
7. Living by the Calendar Instead of the Clock (New Year's)

"Leisure," from the Latin, means "to be free." Leisure is anything that restores you to peace while you are doing it. So, gardening, golf, reading, puzzles, and many other things can restore us to peace as we do them. Another cousin of leisure is the word "paragon." This little-used word means "the second thing that we do in life that keeps the first thing in tune." Hence, our work may draw energy from us, and we have then a "paragon," a leisure thing we do in order to restore us.  

Most often, to build toward leisure demands that we disassemble something else. In Thomas Moore's book Meditations, he tells of a pilgrim walking along a road. The pilgrim sees some men working on a stone building.

"You look like a monk," the pilgrim said.
"I am that," said the monk.
"Who is that working on the abbey?"
"My monks. I'm the abbot."
"It's good to see a monastery going up," said the pilgrim.
"They're tearing it down," said the abbot.
"Whatever for?" asked the pilgrim.
"So we can see the sun rise at dawn," said the abbot.

Richard A. Wing
8. Who Needs Resolutions? We Need a Revolution!

Welcome to this New Year. I trust that one of your resolutions for this year is to be in worship every week. Good for you. That's one resolution you've kept for at least one week.
I heard about one poor fellow who decided to make only resolutions this year he could keep. He resolved to gain weight, to stop exercising, to read less and watch more TV, to procrastinate more, to quit giving money and time to charity, to not date any member of the cast of Baywatch, and to never make New Year's resolutions again.
Maybe he's onto something. Why torture ourselves when we never keep those resolutions more than a week anyway?
What we need, of course, is not another resolution, but a revolution. We need a turning point in our lives. Like the wise men of old we need to catch a glimpse of a guiding light, and we need to follow that light to a New Life in Christ. 
King Duncan
9. Seven Resolutions

I like a list of resolutions prepared by the Rev. Walter Schoedel. He calls them '7-UPS for the New Year.' No, this has nothing to do with the soft drink. These 7-UPS fall under the heading of attitudes and actions.

The first is WAKE UP--Begin the day with the Lord. It is His day. Rejoice in it.
The second is DRESS-UP--Put on a smile. It improves your looks. It says something about your attitude.
The third is SHUT-UP--Watch your tongue. Don't gossip. Say nice things. Learn to listen.
The fourth is STAND-UP--Take a stand for what you believe. Resist evil. Do good.
Five, LOOK-UP--Open your eyes to the Lord. After all, He is your only Savior.
Six, REACH-UP--Spend time in prayer with your adorations, confessions, thanksgivings and supplications to the Lord.
And finally, LIFT-UP--Be available to help those in need--serving, supporting, and sharing.

If you're going to make New Year's resolutions this year, let me suggest Rev. Schoedel's list.
Why do we bother to make New Year's resolutions in the first place? Why do we feel this need each January 1 to set new goals? Maybe it is because resolutions help us to identify our priorities. They answer the Question: how do I want to invest my time, energy, money, and talents in this New Year? The New Year reminds us that time is passing. It is up to each of us to maximize the potential of every moment. 
Walter Schoedel
10. Keep Your Head Right
Pastor Stephen Brown taught swimming and diving for a number of years. He tells about a young boy named Billy. Billy had watched so many professional divers and wanted so much to dive like them that he refused to take time to learn the basics. Time after time Brown tried to help Billy see that the most important thing about diving was to keep his head in the proper position. If his head entered the water properly, Brown explained, the rest of his body would enter the water properly--at least, more properly than it had been. Billy would dive into the pool, do a belly flop, and come up grinning, "Mr. Brown," he would shout, "were my feet together?"

"Billy, I don't care whether your feet were together or not," Brown shouted back. "Make sure your head is straight, then everything else will work out."
The next time Billy would stand on the edge of the pool and really concentrate. Then he would dive and, once again, make a mess of it. "Mr. Brown, were my hands together?"
"Billy," Brown would groan in frustration, "I'm going to get you a neck brace and weld it onto your head. For the hundredth time, if your head is right the rest of you will be right. If your head is wrong, the rest of you will be wrong."
And isn't that true in all of life? If our head is wrong, our marriage will probably suffer. If our head is wrong, our priorities will be fouled up. If our head is wrong, it may even affect our health in a negative way. God understands our distress and God seeks to make us new persons so that we can handle our distress more effectively. 
Stephen Brown, When Being Good Isn't Good Enough, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers. Adapted by King Duncan
11. Humor: Resolutions
Wife to Spouse: "I don't want to brag, but here it is February and I've kept every one of my New Year's resolutions. I've kept them in a manila folder in the back of my desk!"
Orben's Current Comedy
12. Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.
Proverbs 27:1
13. Getting Started
Some of us make resolutions like one man, named George, I heard about recently. He said to a friend: "There's nothing like getting up at six in the morning, going for a run around the park, and taking a brisk shower before breakfast."
His friend Bob asked, "How long have you been doing this?"
George said: "I start tomorrow."
14. Humor: 90 Days
We're only two days away from the New Year, and I can feel the anticipation--or dread, depending on your point of view--growing.
I heard one guy say he already dreads the New Year. He said, "The holidays aren't quite over and already I'm about 90 days ahead on my calories and 90 days behind on my bills." Some of you can identify with him.
King Duncan
Fr. Jude Botelho:

The first reading from the book of Numbers strikes the right note. The New Year is a blessing from the Lord, one more year to live, one more year to grow, one more year to love! We are called to bless God, to praise Him and we in turn are blessed by God and reminded that we should bless one another. “This is how you are to bless the sons and daughters of Israel. You shall say to them: May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.”

Appreciating our blessings
Two old friends bumped into one another on the street one day. One of them looked forlorn, almost on the verge of tears. His friend asked, "What has the world done to you, my old friend?" The sad fellow said, "Let me tell you. Three weeks ago, an uncle died and left me forty thousand dollars." "That's a lot of money." "But you see, two weeks ago, a cousin I never even knew died, and left me eighty-five thousand free and clear." "Sounds like you've been blessed...." "You don't understand!" he interrupted. "Last week my great-aunt passed away. I inherited almost a quarter of a million." Now he was really confused. "Then, why do you look so glum?" "This week... nothing!" It’s the same way with the blessings God gives us every day. I don't deserve the comfortable home I live in, the beautiful scenery around me, the clean water that I drink. But after receiving these gifts (and a multitude of others) for years, I sometimes fail to be grateful. I've come to expect these good things. And when one of them is removed I get upset.
Alan Smith

In the Gospel we have the story of the shepherds who come to see the new born king. The Israelites were waiting for the messiah, but when he did come into the world few recognized him. It is only the simple shepherds who are blessed with the gift of seeing the Messiah. To meet the Lord, to receive his blessing, we have to be simple, like the shepherds, who believed the good news. They listened, they obeyed, they believed. They saw a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, a very ordinary sight, yet they believed that this was the Son of God! It is faith that helps us to see the extraordinary in the ordinary events of life. This is the greatest blessing that we can receive - the gift of faith. It will helps us to see the hand of God in all that happens in our life and to discover His presence in the very ordinary events of the new year. Mary too experienced the events taking place and pondered them in her heart. Her faith moved her to believe that this simple, homeless infant, lying in a manger, was the Son of God. Her faith made her share this gift of her child with the shepherds, the wise men and with all those who down the centuries have believed in him. Mary listened, she obeyed, she believed. Following the precepts of the law, she takes him to the temple to be circumcised. He was given the name “Jesus”! In whose name we are blessed each time we utter that name. Like Mary we could begin the New Year perhaps by blessing God and blessing everybody. It does not mean that we have to necessarily go on saying “God Bless you”!  “God bless you!” but rather that we should be positive towards others, accepting, and loving in our words and in our deeds. Everything, every time, and everyone is truly a blessing from God for those who believe!

Calling Him by name!
Sometime ago I attended a funeral of an elderly lady who had several children all well settled in life, one of whom was deaf and dumb. I was happy to see that they had a person brought in to translate into sign language whatever was said during the mass. After the funeral service the whole family gathered for a little get-together in the parish house and it was good to see all the family members really making an effort to reach out to their dad who was in his 80’s, and would now be alone. After a while the deaf and dumb daughter spoke in sign language which the interpreter translated for us. She said she was grateful to her mum who made her feel special in spite of her difficulty. She shared how one day when she was seven she came home and tried to call her mother, ‘Mum’ which she had never done before because she was dumb. This dumb girl made an effort and finally got the sound ‘maaam’ with great effort on her part. She shared that when her mother heard her dumb daughter say ‘Mum’ for the first time, it brought tears to her eyes and she embraced her. Only then did the dumb girl realize what a joy she had brought to her mother by calling her ‘Mum.’ Have we who are believers realized what a joy we give to our God when we call him ‘Abba Father’, and what a blessing it is when we say the name ‘Jesus’?

The big difference
A shoeshine boy was plying his trade in New York’s Grand Central Station. A silver medal danced at his neck as he slapped his shine cloth, again and again, across a man’s shoes. “Sonny,” said the man curiously, “what’s the hardware around your neck?” It’s a medal of the mother of Jesus,” the boy replied. “Why her medal?” said the man. “She’s no different from your mother.” “Could be,” said the boy, “but there’s a real big difference between her son and me.” The boy’s devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus, invites me to ask: What role does Mary play in my life? How might she play an even bigger role?
Mark Link in ‘Vision 2000’

Life is what you put into it!
A son and his father were walking in the mountains. Suddenly, his son falls, hurts himself and screams: "AAAhhhhhhhhhhh!!!" To his surprise, he hears the voice repeating, somewhere in the mountain: "AAAhhhhhhhhhhh!!!" Curious, he yells: "Who are you?" He receives the answer: "Who are you?" Angered at the response, he screams: "Coward!" He receives the answer: "Coward!" He looks to his father and asks: "What's going on?" The father smiles and says: "My son, pay attention." And then he screams to the mountain: "I admire you!" The voice answers: "I admire you!" Again the man screams: "God Bless you!" The voice answers: "God Bless you!" The boy is surprised, but does not understand. Then the father explains: "People call this ECHO, but really this is Life. It gives you back everything you say or do. Our life is simply a reflection of our actions. If you want more love in the world, create more love in your heart. If you want more competence in your team, improve your competence. This relationship applies to everything, in all aspects of life; Life will give you back everything you give to it."
- Unknown

Being given a name
In his book Roots, Alex Haley tells how his African ancestors name their children. Eight days after the child’s birth, the father took the child into his arms whispered its name into its ear. That night the father completed the ceremony. Carrying the child out under the stars, alone, he lifted the baby up to the sky and said, “Behold the only thing greater than yourself.” This naming rite helps us appreciate better the two rites that surrounded the birth of Jesus: circumcision and presentation. Circumcision initiated Jesus into the community of God’s chosen people. Presentation consecrated Jesus to God.
Mark Link in ‘Daily Homilies’

Christmas Presence
I have always been a less than adequate speller. Practice and learning phonics with my children has aided in my improvement, but sometimes I still get it wrong.  And, sometimes it can be in the most embarrassing ways. Several years ago, I had planned the family Christmas to be celebrated in my home.  I had decorated, cooked and planned the entire event to the last detail.  I had even mailed formal invitations to each family member. They read as follows: “The honor of your present, is requested on December 25th, to a family celebration of Christmas, at five o'clock in the evening.” I didn't catch my mistake, but my entire family did.  Being the good-humored bunch that they are and loving a practical joke, they all became conspirators.  I had made it too easy for them to get a good laugh. Christmas evening, at exactly five o'clock, my doorbell rang.  Putting on my best holiday smile and producing my warmest "Merry Christmas", I swung open the door, expecting to meet the cheery faces of relatives and loved ones.  My salutation was caught in midair when, instead of family faces, I was greeted to an enlarged copy of my invitation with the word "presents" highlighted, and all the gifts everyone had planned to bring stacked neatly on my doorstep.  No one was in sight. I began to hear snickers coming from the bushes along the side of my house.  Realizing I had been "had", I collected the presents, brought them inside and closed the door.  They weren't going to get the last laugh! I rushed to my bedroom, found a sheet of poster paper and wrote in large letters, "Thank you for your presents, I do hope you come again next year!", highlighting the word "presents".  Then I taped it to my front door and waited, and waited, and waited, and waited.  We're a bunch of stubborn strong-headed Scots and admitting defeat wasn't going to come easily. Finally I relented, being I was the hostess!  I opened the door and collected relatives from behind, bushes, trees, shrubs and cars. Dinner was everything I expected.  We laughed and cajoled.  It made a perfect Kodak moment. After dinner, as is tradition in our home, the oldest grandchild there reads the Christmas story from Luke's account.  We pray, thanking God for the prior year's blessings and then begin opening the gifts. When the wrapping paper was put away and children bustled around in the den with new toys, the adults nibbled on dessert.  This is the time when conversation generally gives way to introspection.  That night would be no different. Watching our children play, my brother-in-law sighed, "How often do we want God's presents more than His presence?" Everyone smiled.
Lissa Lee