Presence!
Isaiah 63:7-9

It feels kind of weird, yesterday was Christmas day, complete with worship services and celebrations, gift giving and eating too much food, and today we are in church again, on the last Sunday of the calendar year.  We haven’t really had time to enjoy the effects of Christmas and the blessings that it brings and we’re back again.  The emphasis has shifted a little but the reality is nothing has really changed, God is still with us, we are still his children, he is just as present with us today as he was yesterday and will be tomorrow.

Today we are celebrating with Rudi and Anne as they have achieved fifty years of marriage, a wonderful milestone; they have been truly blessed to reach it.  Often at events like this we take the time to look back and share stories of a bygone era and look at old photos and notice how much people have changed, especially when half a century has elapsed.  We also pause and reflect at this time of year, the last Sunday of the year and think about where we’ve been and where we are going.

That’s exactly what Isaiah was doing for the Israelites, they had been through some pretty traumatic things in their history, trials, suffering, oppression, years in the wilderness, yet he draws their attention to the mercy that God has shown them.  He became their saviour in all of their distress, not an angel or messenger, but God’s own presence saved them.  He lifted them up and carried them in days of old.  That reminds me of the poem “Footprints”, I know some people write it off as sentimental and superficial, but when you reflect on it in light of Isaiah, it makes a lot of sense.

“One night a man had a dream about walking along the beach with the Lord.  The sky flashed scenes from his life.  For each scene he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand: his and the Lord’s.  After the last scene flashed before him, he looked at the footprints, noticing that at the most difficult times in his life there was only one set of footprints.  “Lord, you said you’d walk with me all the way if I followed you.  But during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints.  Why did you leave me when I needed you most?”  The Lord replied, “I love you and I would never leave you.  In your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, that was when I carried you.”

They say that hindsight is 20/20 vision, in fact that’s what hindsight is, reflecting on events of the past and seeing the significance of them.  I have here a rear-view mirror, in fact the one out of my mini-van.  I would look you to take thirty seconds to a minute and look in your own rear-view mirrors.  No not out in your cars, in your minds, metaphorically speaking, think about the times in your life and where God has carried you.

Have there been significant times in your life that in hindsight you have seen God working for good in those who love him?  This is the kind of thing we have been encouraging our guest speakers at Shedmen to do over the last year or two.  To think about their lives, and identify any ‘God moments’.

The Israelites were able to reflect and rejoice at God’s gracious and saving work in their lives, we should too. 
As we have all been celebrating the birth of Christ in these past days, there has been people who have felt greatly distressed in the whole process.  There are those who have no one to share the time of celebration with, who spend the time alone and lonely, longing for someone to share the celebration with.  There are still others who can’t afford the type of Christmas celebration that the western world holds up as being normal and so they struggle to find gifts, or rack up big credit card debts.  Then there are the millions who have lost loved ones in various ways or who are separated from them during this time that are sad and lonely or bitter. 

Wouldn’t it be great if we could do something to alleviate those issues for them, to give them somewhere to go for Christmas, to help them understand the true meaning of Christmas and God’s amazing grace, to be there for them in their hour of need and highlight to them God’s presence with them too?  How good would it be for everyone in the world to be able to pick up their rear-view mirrors next year and be able to say, “yep, God was with me, through those people at church, in his word and in the sacraments.”  And that they would be rejoicing as they recount the gracious deeds of the Lord to others.

I’m not sure how to do that, and we certainly couldn’t manage to achieve it for the whole world by ourselves, but maybe one person at a time we could make a little difference, maybe we could create a wave and the ripple effect would spread out beyond our reach and into the lives of others.  That’s something for us to pray about as we begin our New Year.

Let’s give thanks to God for his gracious deeds, and share those deeds with others.  Let’s praise God for sending his Son to be our Saviour and making us his people.  Let’s rejoice that when we are struggling God picks us up and carries us, he takes our burdens on and helps us deal with them.

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his steadfast love endures forever.
Amen