Psalm 135, Isaiah 43.1-13 & Matthew 7.13-27 (Readings for BCP Evensong)

What a quandary – how do we hold in tension our readings today with how we are feeling? We are tired, it’s dark and cold, and we look to the future, to 2022, for light and warmth, to lift our spirits and give us hope. At Christmas we threw open the doors and said to people come and know Jesus, born for you.

And yet today the New Testament reading is full of challenging teachings from Jesus: the narrow gate, being known by our fruit, ‘not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven’, what is your house built upon?

Each paragraph can feel like a punch to the gut. So what do we do? Put aside, ignore it? Say ‘we’ll deal with that when things are a bit easier for us to cope with?’ By no means!

After all, Jesus was speaking into a context where the people of Israel had been under Roman occupancy for about 90 years. They were tired and fed up, and in need of light and hope. And yet Jesus still challenged them about their behaviour.

After all, anyone can behave well when everything is going their way. It is how we behave when we are under pressure which shows the depth of our character, and our faith.

Rather than setting this passage from Matthew aside, we should let it shape our approach to 2022. If we live each day as if it were our last, with at the back of our mind the thought that today we will give to Jesus the account of our life, what difference would that make to the choices we make? If today’s sunset were the last we saw, would we treasure it a little more? When I speak, do I chose words of bitterness and malice, or of love and kindness?

These are choices we make every day anyway. The only difference is being slightly more focused on both the choice and the destination we want to head towards.

This is key when it comes to thinking about the narrow gate. I don’t think anyone stands at a crossroad and looks at the narrow and wide gate, knowing what lies the other side, and actively chooses the path that leads only to shadowy nothingness. I think sin is much more insidious than that. We simply take our eyes off of Christ for a moment here and there, we forget where we are going and make poor decisions, and when we do look back, we find the gate has, somehow, got further away. Of course, its not the gate that moves, but us, but almost without us being conscious of it.

As we stand on the doorstep of 2022, these words of Jesus are a signpost, a reminder, to go in the right direction. And if, having looked back to the narrow gate, it feels far off, then this is the time to step out with renewed vigour.

Every year lots of people make New Year Resolutions. They might think about giving up smoking, or start going to the gym more often. Of course, those are good things to do – but they rely on us saving ourselves. And most people can’t keep those Resolutions going. A poll in 2020 found that it takes just 32 days for the average person to break their Resolution.

We simply can’t save ourselves. We need someone else to come and save us – and that is where Jesus comes in. ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.’ Those words from the book of Isaiah are powerful indeed, and worth holding onto in even the darkest of times. ‘When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.’ (Isaiah 43.1-2)

Hold onto God, for He is holding onto you.

he Christmas story tells us that when we cannot save ourselves, it is Jesus who comes to give us everything we need, and he brings us salvation.

And therefore everything we do is in response to that. Our good intentions cannot save us, but with a grateful prayer and a thankful heart we can respond to the Christmas story and embrace our life in a new way.

So at the start of 2022 I invite you to reflect on what you’ve received from God and how you would like to respond, how you would like to grow closer to God this year.

Is there something you would like to do – perhaps talk to God more often? Perhaps listen to God more? Or is there something you would like to do to respond to all that God has given you? Get involved with some social justice action or perhaps step into a new role here at church?

None of these things will make God love you any more or less – you have been called, you are redeemed, you are loved, utterly and completely. And you can’t fail at this – because it’s not a resolution that can be broken, it’s simply a step on our journey with Jesus. This is about growing into the person that God is calling you to be, and in 2022 letting your soul shine with the love of Christ.

And as you go forward with your New Year Prayer for 2022, may this year be filled with God’s presence in your life, and may every blessing, however small, bring you joy, hope and love.

(Photo: taken in 2012 on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The doorway to the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, and to enter all must bow.)