Some thoughts from a few days ago on New Year’s resolutions, in light of Isaiah 63:1-9:
It is quite an interesting day—the day after Christmas.
Our anticipation has culminated in an extraordinary moment of realization. Tearing and ripping and opening has revealed the toy that has taunted us for months, the gadget that has garnered great reviews and glowing recommendations, the fashions that will flatter our figures, the sequel that has sworn to satisfy the suspense its predecessor created. And yet within mere minutes, we’re aware of what we didn’t find hidden under the tree, we’re disappointed because of what we didn’t get to unwrap, we’re conscious of the longings we thought would be satisfied with this or with that, but which apparently just morphed into new longings for a different this and an alternative that.
Our tastebuds have been tantalized and tickled, our stomachs have been sufficiently satisfied, our bellies have ballooned and become bloated from all of the glorious food. And yet within mere hours, we’re burdened with regret, saddled with guilt, and weighed down by the desire, the longing, the need to, in fact, get our weight down.
And as if all of that weren’t enough of a buzzkill, today, the day after Christmas, marks the start of a week in which we’ll be encouraged to make another list. It’s a list that forces into oblivion the Thanksgiving of just over a month ago, that shoves off the stage the humble King of the Universe born in a lowly, stinky manger of just a day ago. It’s a list that demands that we turn a critical eye on our bodies, our intellects, our financial standing, our souls, our routines, our families, our habits, and identify every single thing with which we’re unhappy, every single thing we wish were different, every single thing we wish we could change. In short, it’s a list that, in order to write it, necessitates that we pinpoint everything negative in our lives so that we might try to find a way to turn those negatives into positives.
And the reality is, we have no room in the inns of our lives for a downwardly mobile God. One room is filled with hardly used As-Seen-On-TV exercise products. There is a Thighmaster in the corner, an Ab Rocket on top of one of the beds, an unopened box with the Perfect Push-up inside, not to mention a tangled up Bowflex machine taking up the last of the floor space.
Another room is stacked floor to ceiling with giant tubs full of clothes that used to fit. Jeans we’re sure we’ll be able to fit back into an a few more weeks. Shoes we’re going to wear again once that one outfit they match finally fits again. Jackets that are just a little bit too snug, but by the time next fall rolls around will either fit perfectly or be too big.
Another room is a mess of scattered products. There’s a South Beach Diet cookbook and an Atkins recipe guide. There are cans of Slimfast and boxes of Weight Watchers snacks.
Another room is a catch-all, housing a veritable plethora of items picked up to aid in the achievement of all kinds of past New Year’s resolutions. There’s a copy of Investing for Dummies from the year we wanted to take charge of our investments and guarantee a nice retirement. There’s a box of Nicorette gum from the year we wanted desperately to stop smoking and take back a few years we might otherwise have lost. There’s a stack of monthly statements from the gym we joined and to which we paid membership dues for two and a half years, despite only working out there a handful of times. There’s a One-Year Bible, looking brand-new except for the first three weeks worth of pages, from the too-many-to-remember times we’ve pledged to read the whole Bible through in a year. There’s a television we discarded years ago when we committed to watching less tv and spending more time outside (which lasted until Black Friday and that can’t miss doorbuster price on a new flat-screen).
Yes there is no empty room in the inns of our lives for the downwardly mobile God, the one who, as Jesus, was born into and lived in poverty, because we are obsessed with upward mobility, a truth of which there is no greater proof than our fascination with New Year’s resolutions.
Oh we’ll join God’s people for worship so long as it doesn’t conflict with the schedule of any of the teams we finally bought season tickets to watch. We’ll serve our neighbors in the community so long as it doesn’t interfere with our new workout routine. We’ll share a meal with our brothers and sisters so long as it doesn’t derail us from our new diet plan. We’ll contribute a very small amount to the work of the church so long as it doesn’t keep us from covering all the expenses necessary to become the ballplayer we’ve resolved to be. We’ll give our time and energy to teach a class so long as we’re not expected to use the time we’ve allotted for personal relaxation to instead prepare to teach.
Often “We will” turns into “Sorry we can’t. We’re too busy. We’ve already got plans. We can’t make it. Can’t you find someone else?”
Which is precisely what the people of Israel, the people called by God to be God’s helpers, said to God when God longed for their help.
So Isaiah records God as saying, “I’ve been treading the winepress alone. No one was there to help me. I looked around for someone to help—no one. I couldn’t believe it—not one volunteer. So I went ahead and did it myself, fed and fueled by my rage.”
We often ask God the question, “Where were you when I needed you? Where were you when we needed you?” But here it is God who asks the people of Israel the question, “Where were you when I needed you?”
And I think it’s fair to say that at times, God would like to ask us, “Where were you when I needed you?” “Where were you when I needed you to encourage someone? Where were you when I needed you to serve someone? Where were you when I needed you simply to be present with someone during a difficult time? Where were you when I needed someone to stand up and challenge your brothers and sisters to be faithful? Where were you when I needed you?”
We were making our lists, we were making promises, we were buying stuff to help us keep those promises, we were trying to make a better life for ourselves! Isn’t that what you want for us?
And Isaiah says, “Enough trying to make a better life for yourselves.” Hasn’t God given you a wonderful life already?
Here’s what I try to do: “make a list of God’s gracious dealings, all the things God has done that need praising, all the generous bounties of God, God’s great goodness to the family of Israel—Compassion lavished, love extravagant. God said, ‘Without question these are my people, children who would never betray me.’ So God became their Savior. In all their troubles, God was troubled, too. God didn’t send someone else to help them. God did it Godself, in person. Out of God’s own love and pity God redeemed them. God rescued them and carried them along, for a long, long time.”
What if we tried it too: Make a list of God’s gracious dealings, all the things God has done that need praising, all the generous bounties of God, God’s great goodness to the people of God—Compassion lavished, love extravagant. God said, ‘Without question these are my people, children who would never betray me.’ So God became our Savior. In all our troubles, God has been troubled too. God didn’t send someone else to help us. God did it Godself, in person. Out of God’s own love and pity God redeemed us. God rescued us and carried us along, for a long, long time.”
Isn’t it time we made room in the inns of our lives for this downwardly mobile God? Isn’t it time we make it our one and only resolution to be there when God needs us?
Wouldn’t it be great if God could say of us,
“I was treading the winepress alone, but you came to help me. I looked around for help—and there you all were. I couldn’t believe it—so many volunteers. So I did my work with you my helpers all around me, fed and fueled by thanksgiving for your faithful companionship.”
May the disappointments and regrets, the guilt and ambitions, that threaten to force into oblivion the Thanksgiving of just over a month ago, and threaten to shove off the stage the humble King of the Universe born in a lowly, stinky manger of just a day ago, be instead kept out of our hearts by a consuming passion and an overwhelming desire to be for God the helpers God has called us to be, the helpers God needs us to be, whatever it takes, throughout this coming year.