Circle of Life : A New Year Message
Another year is coming to an end, another new year is about to begin. And this is not a unique phenomenon. It happens every 12 months, every 52 weeks, every 365 days. This is a cyclical event that happens with regularity.
That regularity is what prompted me to consider the theme of “Circle of Life” for tonight’s message. Most of us would have seen the movie Lion King and many of us would remember the song Circle of Life from the movie. The Lyrics of the song go like this.
From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking, step into the sun
There’s more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
There’s far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high
Through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round
It’s the circle of life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle
The circle of life
– Songwriters: Elton John / Tim Rice, Circle of Life lyrics © Walt Disney Music Company
How many of us sitting here can identify with the lyrics of the song? Especially the words that life moves us through despair and hope, through faith and love, till we find our place in the Circle of Life. How many of us might have gone through that cycle in 2018, and are unsure of what we will go through in 2019?
And when we study the bible, we can find that King Solomon, starts off his whole sermon on the meaninglessness of life in the book of Ecclesiastes by affirming the very same concept. Ecclesiastes 1:3-5 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW) 3 What do people gain from all their hard work under the sun? 4 Generations come, and generations go, but the earth lasts forever. 5 The sun rises, and the sun sets, and then it rushes back to the place where it will rise again.
But my message is not on that bible passage tonight. I want to raise a whole new question tonight. If we accept that we have to find our place in the Circle of Life, if we accept the concept of the Circle of Life, how can we make the best out of it? How can we find the “right” place in the Circle of Life and not be like King Solomon who found it all meaningless towards the end of his life? What can we do to get the best out of the Circle of Life?
I am going to dwell on two things we can do, especially in the context of ending of one year 2018 and beginning of another year 2019. We are about to bid good bye to one year and say hello to another year. So when we look back, what will help us to put the Circle of Life in the right context is the virtue of Gratitude, and when we look ahead, what is essential is the requirement of being Born-Again. So this is what we can do to get the best out of our Circle of Life. Look back with Gratitude on the year that has gone by, and make a commitment to be Born-Again while entering the new year. Let us examine these two a bit more.
The first century BC Roman thinker Cicero (who is considered a righteous or virtuous pagan by the early church fathers) is believed to have said “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all virtues”. It is common belief that Gratitude is required. Actually it has even been proven scientifically that people who express gratitude have greater life satisfaction, fewer visit to doc and better sleep. But with all that good evidence for us to be thankful it is often the most forgotten virtue too. A social research by Simeon Floyd, Anthropologist at Max Planck Institute of Psycholinguistics , Netherlands, shows that Globally only 5.5% people express gratitude in words or even in gestures like a nod of approval. English Speaking population has highest % at 14.5%. Italians come next at 13.5%. There are language groups where an equivalent of Thank you does not even exist. Let us be part of that 5.5% . Let us make an intentional effort to be thankful to all that has happened to us in 2018. I was touched by this poem titled “I live in Grace” by Susan Fowler, (author of Self Leadership and several other books) on the topic and I suggest we recite it together.
I live in Gratitude.
Every Experience is a blessing
Or a blessing in disguise –
An opportunity to learn, grow and evolve.
I live with an open mind
A closed mind fears
What is does not understand-
But infinite possibilities light the darkness
I live in mindfulness
Aware of the precious now-
This moment is a treasured present.
I live without discrimination.
Knowing that what I do to others-
I do to myself.
I live life as a constant prayer
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done-
On earth as it is in Heaven.
I live with and live in, love.
Love recognises the interconnection
of all things-
When love is in action, I live in grace
Copyright Susan Fowler and Drea Zigarmi, 2018.
If that is not enough to give us a reason to be grateful for the year that is ending today, let us be reminded of the numerous instances where the Bible ask us to be grateful and give thanks. 1 Chronicle 16:8, Psalm 69:30, Psalm 95:2, Psalm 116:17, 1 Chronicle 16:34, Psalm 9:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Jeremiah 33:11, Psalm 147:7 etc.; are just a few instances.
So shall we take a moment to pause tonight and give thanks to the Lord and express our gratitude for the year that has gone by? Not all things might have gone great, but the fact that the Lord was with us through it all should be enough to give thanks. Let us take a minute to express our gratitude for 2018.
So that was looking back. But what do we do with what lies ahead of us? A brand new year is beginning. Do we continue the same way that we have lived? Do we make some more new year resolutions, and break all of them in the next few hours/ days/ weeks? How could we be different? How can we make 2019 different for us?
Let us turn our Bibles to John Chapter 3. This is the chapter where we have the most quoted verse of the Bible, viz; John 3:16. But just before we have that beautiful summary of the gospel message, we have an interesting episode of a dialogue between Jesus Christ and Nicodemus who is a Pharisee, a scholar, a member of the Sanhedrin, a senator, an influential person. During the dialogue, Jesus tells Nicodemus , “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3 NKJV). And because Nicodemus did not understand it , he explains the concept and repeats the message again, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ (John 3:7 NKJV). This is a key message for us tonight.
When we are born, we are born of the flesh. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:6 NKJV). Our natural identity is drawn from who our parents are, or what our family is, or our achievements or our qualifications, or our belongings or our baggage or whatever. It is the defective identity. If we continue in that defective identity, we will just be caught up in the Circle of life, and will not reach anywhere. We have to shed our natural identity and be regenerated through the spirit. We have to be Born-Again. Paul puts it beautifully. “But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. 9 But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years. (Gal 4:8-10 NKJV). So, if we are grateful for the past year, but we continue to live as if nothing needs to be changed, if we continue to do what we had done in the past, nothing will change, we will still be going through the endless Circle of Life, not reaching anywhere. We will as Paul puts it, “observe days and months and seasons and years” . Is that what we want to do? We claim to know Jesus Christ, but do we act as if we have been Born-Again because of that knowledge? So that is the second thing we need to remember tonight, as we prepare to step into the New Year. We need to be prepared to let go of our past sins and be Born-Again.
But can we do it on our own? Can we do it by our efforts? Can we take the help of good men to be Born-Again? Nicodemus was unable to grasp this, and Nicodemus was no ordinary man. Jesus himself acknowledges the fact “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? 11 Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? (John 3:10-12 NKJV). Someone as knowledgeable as Nicodemus could not fathom the concept of being Born-Again. So let us not be dependent on our knowledge or wisdom or good works or religiosity to understand what being Born-Again means, let alone be Born-Again. Being Born-Again is a heavenly matter, and we cannot take the help of earthly things to understand it, or execute it. Ideally we need to go to heaven to be Born-Again, but thanks to God’s love and grace, we don’t have to do that, because in Jesus Christ, Heaven’s instructions to be Born-Again has come down to us. This was predicted earlier, in Proverbs. Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, If you know? (Prov 30:4 NKJV). We needed help from someone who is from heaven. And we do have someone who can help us to do this, to be Born-Again. “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. (John 3:13 NKJV). Last Sunday, Pastor Albert Davis spoke about this. About people running here and there for help, when God says, He himself has given us a sign through the Son born of a Virgin, Immanuel, God with us. Let us stop looking at all the wrong places to help us to be Born-Again. Jesus gets to the marrow and the quintessence of the Gospel message soon after affirming the “You must be Born-Again” discourse, by stating the simple fact. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16 NKJV)
Let us remember that the phrase “whoever believes in Him” includes all of us, immaterial of where we are in our faith journey, immaterial of how much (or how little) we have messed up last year, however old we are, however young we are, however much we think we are lost… If we believe in Him, He will give us a second chance, He will help us to be Born-Again.
So tonight as we step into the new year, shall we stop being caught up in the endless Circle of Life? Shall we make a commitment to die to our old selves and be Born-Again? Can we do this by not running around here and there for help, not by making a whole lot of new year resolutions, but by doing this simple task, the simple task of believing that Jesus Christ is Immanuel, God with us, and He is the only one who ca help us to be Born-Again? Shall we commit our lives to Him at the beginning of this year?