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December 29-January 4–Happy New Year

Contributed by Paul Henrickson,  Chaplain, Roanoke College;  Salem, VA

Warm-up Question

Was 2010 a happy year for you?  Why?  What do you think makes for happiness?

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!  (With great emphasis on HAPPY!)  It’s time to make those New Year’s resolutions – you know those promises you make to yourself and then wiggle out of them by Valentine’s Day.  Let’s see, what will make me “happy” in 2011?  In 2011 I am going to lose 20 pounds; I am going to quit smoking; I am going to take more time for my family; I am going to read one good book each month … We make New Year’s Resolutions because we imagine that we can live happier in the future than we did in the past.  If I ask my students what they want in their life, they always say “I want to be happy.”  After all, we have it written in the Declaration of Independence that we have the right to the “… pursuit of happiness.”  So let’s all resolve to be happy in 2011.

Daniel Gilbert is a Psychology professor at Harvard – he studies “happiness.” In 2003 he wrote an article for the New York Times entitled “The Futile Pursuit of Happiness.” In this article he argues that we can’t “pursue” happiness because we really don’t know what will make us happy.  He emphasizes that there is a gap between what we predict will make us happy and what we ultimately experience.  Gilbert calls this gap the “impact bias.” He says that we consistently over estimate what will make us happy; i.e. planning for a vacation anticipates more happiness than actually going on the vacation.  Gilbert writes that impact bias “…characterizes how we experience the dimming excitement over not just a BMW but also over any object or event that we presume will make us happy.”

So… “Happy New Year!” (with Happy being an elusive goal.)

Discussion Questions

  • What are your resolutions for 2011?
  • If “happiness” is your goal, what kind of grade do you give your life so far?
  • Why do you think we experience “impact bias,”  the gap between what we think will make us happy and what we actually experience?  What might we do to lessen the gap?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 2, 2011 (Second Sunday of Christmas)

Jeremiah 31:7-14

Ephesians 1:3-14

John 1:[1-9] 10-18

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

If I ever have the opportunity to teach conformation class again, I will require the students to memorize John 1:1-18; this is the pure Gospel.  It is, in a sense, our own “Declaration of Independence” from the bondage of sin and it is the foundation for the life of a Christian.  Listen to these phrases:

  • In the beginning was the Word
  • the Word became flesh
  • the light shines in the darkness
  • power to become the children of God
  • we have all received grace upon grace

This is the Gospel of the Lord.

This is not about being happy; it is about joy. It is about having the abundant life that comes, not because of our clever planning, but as a gift from God.  We are required to do nothing but accept the gift and make it the foundation of our lives of faith.

Resolve to live your life in the gift of grace.

Resolve to repeat these 18 verses once a day.

Resolve to surrender, not to pleasure, but to joy.

Discussion Questions

  • What is the difference between happiness and joy?  Is it possible to be joyful without being happy?
  • John 1:1-18 is one of the great passages of scripture.  If you could only share one other text from the Bible with another person, what would it be?

Activity Suggestions

  • John’s prologue emphasizes that God’s love is not merely an abstraction, but has become touchable in a person.  Share a time when the love of God became more than a theological term because you experienced it in a person.
  • Draw a picture to illustrate, ‘the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
  • Read John 1:1-18 each day for a week and keep a journal of your thoughts in response to the words.  Share your insights the next time your group meets?

Closing Prayer

Lord of all Joy, by your grace let me surrender to the joy you have given me.  Let me live this day in the light of the Word, made flesh, and evident to me. Amen

January 7-14, 2009 – Dropping the ball on New Year’s night

Warm-up Question: If you are already baptized, do you remember the date and place? Who were your sponsors?

In New York City, the first-ever Times Square celebration on New Year’s Eve occurred in 1904. Originally named Longacre Square, the name was changed after the New York Times opened their new headquarters in that district. The Times Tower was the second-tallest building in Manhattan at the time, anchoring the intersection of Broadway, 7th Avenue and 42nd Street.

The owner of the Times newspaper spared no expense in preparing a spectacular New Year’s Eve celebration. After a full-day street festival, fireworks were set off and at midnight over 200,000 people cheered with noisemakers of all kinds. The celebration could be heard nearly thirty miles north on the shores of the Hudson River. The entire building remained lit up for the evening and the area quickly replaced former gathering places while capturing the attention of the nation and the world.

At the end of 1907 when New York banned the fireworks display, the owner of the Times arranged to have an iron and wood ball that weighed nearly 700 pounds lowered from the buildings flag pole at midnight to signal the transition from 1907 to 1908. For nearly 100 years, the same sign making company has been responsible for the lowering of the ball. Even after the New York Times outgrew Times Tower in 1914 and moved to West 43rd Street, the celebration in Times Square continued to grow as a part of America’s cultural fabric.

While the original building has been stripped down and transformed into another company’s headquarters, the celebration of New Year’s Eve in Times Square has continued to draw international attention. With modern technology, it is estimated that over one billion people watch the ceremony every year. The lowering of the ball has become an international tradition as people welcome the new year.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Why or why not? If you do, what is the most successful resolution you have made and why? What was the least successful and why?
  • New Year’s marks a time of hope and change for many people. What other events promote hope or change for people? Why do we need or not need these events?
  • If you could only celebrate one event a year, what would it be and why?
  • What are the names of the seasons on our liturgical calendar? What does each season celebrate or mark? Why is each season or time period on the church calendar important? Refer to Evangelical Lutheran Worship or the ELCA Worship Web site for planning, if needed.

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 11, 2009.
(Text links are to
oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

New Year’s Eve marks a time of transition for many people around the world. For some it is a time of hope, for others a time of celebration, and for many it is a time to make new promises and set new goals. We call them resolutions, and they are often set to improve on goals already accomplished or on goals we hope to achieve. Either way, these goals and promises mark a new beginning for us.

John the Baptist’s ministry was different than prophets and teachers of the past. It was different because he was “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4) Many came, many were baptized, and many confessed their sins. This confession, however sincere, still lacked one thing. It lacked the element of mission. (Even whole-hearted repentance can still be self-centered.)

God’s relationship to humanity has many transitions, new beginnings, and promises. Think of God’s actions for Abraham, Noah, Moses, Ruth, Elizabeth, and Mary to name a few.
When Jesus walked up to John to be baptized, there was more than a new beginning or a ritual. Jesus’ baptism marked a transition in the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise to all humankind through the Christ child. “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (vs. 8)

It is in Christ’s word, deeds, and actions from that point forward through which we understand the gift of mission we receive with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. All the way to the cross, and through Christ’s death and resurrection, our own baptisms bring us renewal and transition every day. As members of the body of Christ, we live out our baptism every day so that the world might know the transforming love of God.

Discussion Questions

  • What is the largest crowd you have ever been in? What was the experience like? Why were you there?
  • Read Mark 1:8 again. What does it mean to be baptized in the Holy Spirit? Is this a proclamation of our mission as the body of Christ? As individuals? If so, what does this mean for us?
  • How does our congregation celebrate baptisms? What are the responsibilities of the parents, sponsors, and congregational members described during the baptismal celebration and liturgy?
  • Do you mark your baptismal anniversary with any kind of celebration or ritual? Why or why not?

Learn more about the sacrament of Baptism at the ELCA Worship Web site for Frequently Asked Questions.

Activity Suggestions

  • Participate in the “Affirmation of Baptism” found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 234.
  • Ask your pastor or congregation’s leaders to see the congregation’s baptismal records for the last year (or two). Send a thank you, birthday card, or letter of encouragement to parents and/or sponsors to commemorate the baptisms in the congregation. If this is not possible, try surveying as many members of the congregation as possible to see how many can remember the date of their baptism. Start a bulletin board with postcards or notices that members can fill in. The postcards could read: “I’m__________ and I was baptized in ________ (city) on __________ (date).”
  • Take turns completing this sentence: “Being baptized means that I…”, or “I live out my baptism each day by…”
  • Choose a hymn to sing from the Baptism of our Lord (page 1178) or Holy Baptism (page 1183) topical sections of Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

Closing Prayer

Prayer for Daily Renewal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 86:

Almighty God, by our baptism into the death and resurrection of your Son, Jesus Christ, you turn us from the old life of sin. Grant that we who are reborn to new life in him may live in righteousness and holiness all our days, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Almighty God, you renew us and restore us through baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Guide us to holiness and righteousness as we live out your word. Amen.

Contributed by Matthew R. Nelson
Walla Walla, WA