1 Sunday after Christmas; 12.31.17
Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3; Galations 4: 4-7
Pastor Rebecca Ellenson; ICCM
One time when I was visiting my parents, we went to their neighbor’s house for some Norwegian goodies. Their neighbor’s parents, like my grandparents were born in Norway and immigrated to the US. They had been back to see their relatives many times. Orville Haugsby, their neighbor told us a story about one of his visits to Norway. He prefaced his story by telling us that his parents often spoke Norwegian at home and he had learned it that way. When it was terribly cold his father would come in from chores and say, “Ja, na er det temmelig kaldt!” He could figure out from the context what that meant, it meant that it was very, very cold!
Well, one day on a visit in Norway at some relatives’ house there, after a particularly excellent meal he leaned back from the table and said, “Ja, det var temmelig godt,” thinking it meant, That was very, very good. Silence and awkward looks went all around the table. No one said the customarily modest things like, “Oh it was not really so good. It should have been better.” He found out later that temmelig was an understatement like “kind of.” So he was saying to his hosts. “That was somewhat good.”
I think back to that story and the ways many of us were conditioned, when I read the texts for today. We are taught to be modest and unassuming, even when we have really done a great job at something. Accepting compliments is not easy for most of us. Most of us try not to be stuck-up, arrogant, cocky, or proud. But take a listen again to what the Scriptures say God’s view of us is.
From Isaiah: You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem in the hand of God. We are called the beautiful symbol of God’s power and royalty. The crown is not given to us, God is the ruler not us, but we are the beautiful gems in the crown, we are the sign to the world that God is good and strong and in control.
In Ephesians we read: We are blessed in Christ in every way. We are chosen before the foundations of the world to be holy and blameless. We are adopted as children of God through our brother Christ.
From the gospel of John: Again we are children of God, receivers of grace upon grace from God’s lavish supply.
In just these few verses we find all those favorable descriptions of who we are. If we look a bit harder we can find so much more. What about these verses:
Isaiah also says: I have called you by name, you are mine…Because you are precious in my eyes and glorious, and because I love you.
And: You whom I have called my servant, whom I have chosen and will not cast off…fear not, I am with you…I am your God I will strengthen you, and help you.
Jeremiah says: I have loved you with an everlasting love, so I am constant in my affection for you.
Paul says: Are you not aware that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? For the temple of God is holy, and you are that temple.
He says: If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old order has passed away, now all is new.
And: Because of his great love for us, he brought us to life with Christ when we were dead in sin. We are truly his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to lead the life of good deeds which God prepared for us in advance.
Peter says: You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a people set apart, once you were not a people at all and now you are the people of God.
Now, how does God’s appraisal of us match our own self-appraisal? How does it match the messages we’ve learned and internalized? Messages like, “Now, don’t brag,” “Don’t be a wise-guy” or “Don’t be a smart aleck,” “We shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back.” Some of us, grew up thinking that at most we might be “temmelig godt,” somewhat good, acceptable. Others of us grew up with negative messages, that we weren’t then and never would be good enough. What happens to us when we see ourselves only as poor sinners, by nature sinful and unclean, sinning against God in thought, word, and deed, fleeing for refuge and mercy? It can be a challenge to really accept God’s grace and live as the redeemed and freed people of God. It can be hard to rejoice in the garment of salvation, and see ourselves as adorned in the robe of righteousness until we really embrace our new identity as proclaimed in the Scriptures: We are no longer slaves but children, and if children then heirs with Christ.
It is New Year’s Resolutions time. That usually involves looking back over the year and assessing our shortcomings and setting goals for improvement. We say, I’ve been too lazy, too busy. I’ve eaten too much junk food. I haven’t exercised enough. I haven’t helped out enough around the house. I haven’t been good enough. This year I will do better, we promise ourselves.
We have a tendency to feel inadequate, to focus on our sins or our shortcomings. We seem to listen most of all to that self-defeating voice inside ourselves. We have a hard time accepting compliments and thinking highly of ourselves.
What about a different kind of New Year’s Resolution this year? What about a new year lived as Children of God, what about listening first of all to what God says about us–what about living as bright gems in God’s crown, as a diadem in the hand of God. What about really trusting God’s word about us, we are priceless, redeemed, chosen, adopted. We are precious, glorious, blessed, holy.
Why not accept as your New Year’s Resolution the challenge of listening first of all to God’s word about you, let God’s decision about you and your value cover over your own ideas like a robe of righteousness.
We are given a new life, a new beginning each day. God says you shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem in the hand of God. We are blessed in Christ in every way. We are chosen before the foundations of the world to be holy and blameless. We are adopted as children of God through our brother Christ, receivers of grace upon grace from God’s lavish supply.
Happy New Year!