Wasting Good Intentions

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
20th December 2011

Tagged: christmas new year

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Christmas and New Year resolutions have a great problem in Australia – summer holidays.

Each year we hear again the great news of Jesus’ birth for our salvation and enjoy singing his praise, being with his people, hearing his message and laying our burdens before him in prayer – and then the summer holidays hit. And with the summer holidays comes a disturbance in routine and a forgetfulness of all our resolutions.

It is the same with New Year resolutions – they are not made in the regular routine of life but in the height of holiday festivities. It is the time of year when we travel and catch up with family and friends. The office runs on a skeleton staff and the children are being entertained at home.

In one sense this is the best time to make life-changing decisions. For we are free from the normal busyness to think out again ‘where are we going?’ and ‘why are we doing what we do?’ In another sense this is the worst time to effect change because our holidays have already changed everything and we are so removed from what we will need to change in the regular routine of life. By the time we return to work we have usually lost the resolve to bring about change and so our old habits kick in and we return to our old trusted mould of getting things done.

The festivities of the end of the year and the holidays that follow are a wonderful release from the drudgery of life. They relax and re-energise us for the coming year. Even the frantic busyness of getting everything done for Christmas and organising the New Year’s Eve party focuses our attention creatively away from the usual and mundane. But it is the resolutions to change that suffer at this time.

Yet it is at Christmas and New Year that we make resolutions. It is more than deciding to diet whilst in the midst of over-eating. The season forces us to stop and think about the year past, catch up with the extended family and old friends, and give more time to the children as they finish one stage of their education and look forward to the next.

Christmas is more than the bonhomie of wishing everybody happiness. It confronts us once more with the place of God in our life and plans and, our place in God’s life and plan. So many of us return to remember he who gave his life for us. And in the memory decide we really should do this more often. We really should find out more about the Bible. We really should get the kids to church and Sunday school. But then summer holidays, then preparation for ‘back to school’ and the routine of busyness takes over again.

It is somewhat akin to the lepers that Jesus healed (Luke 17:11f). There were ten of them, isolated from the rest of the community by their dreadful affliction. Each one required to call out that they were “unclean” before they came into contact with other people. Lost to their family and friends and facing a fearful future. They seemed to be under the judgement of God. They begged for mercy from Jesus and were told to show themselves to the priest; the regulatory requirement for being declared cured and accepted back into society. In obedience to his word, they headed off and as they went they were healed. But only one of them returned to say thank you. Only one of them remembered the man who had mercy upon them. Only one of them turned to praise God. And he was an outsider to Israel for he was a Samaritan; the enemy of the Jews.

As the carol says

                “We hear the Christmas angels

                the great glad tidings tell -”

And we pray

                “O come to us, abide with us,

                our Lord Emmanuel”

But then we forget. We do not mean to forget. It is not our intention to forget. It is just that life gets busy and we are overwhelmed with the things we have to do, and then there is January and the summer holiday season. And life’s demands squeeze out our good intentions.

It is not hard to imagine the joy and excited busyness of the nine lepers. They had to get to the temple. It was some distance away.  And then there were the family members to tell and rejoin, and the business or farm to contact to get back their job. It wasn’t necessarily that they were ungrateful but most likely too busy to express their gratitude or to praise God. Too busy to find out who this man was who could cleanse leprosy with a simple command. Too busy to meet the man who was God. Too busy to hear of even greater news that Jesus gave to the Samaritan “Your faith has saved you”.

How typical it is of us at summer time. We think for a moment of the God who made us and came to earth to save us. We ponder again our life in the light of his mercy as we sing the wonderful words of the carols. We decide that this year we are going to do something about him. And then the reality of summer holidays takes over – and as Jesus says in his parable of the sower: “And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them” (Mark 4:15).

Better to be an outsider who turns back to praise God than one of his people who goes on ignoring or forgetting him.

(You may wish to reproduce this piece in your church bulletin or use as a handout this Christmas. Please simply acknowledge the source as phillipjensen.com)