Christmas is done – for another year. By now Christians have celebrated over two thousand Christmases, and we know that there will be another – in just 347 more days. But in the meantime what are we to do? We know that something important has happened, that we need to respond to the reality of new birth, with its promise of new beginnings, in a thoughtful and deliberate way.
For many of us this means new year’s resolutions – some determined, some aspirational, many too often an echo of familiar resolutions made in years past. But the truth is many of us are not so clear on what we ought to be resolving. Do we need a plan, a set of instructions for immediate personal improvement, OR do we need to stop and rethink who and what we are, and what we do?
It may be that before we can decide on such weighty questions we simply need to stop, be quiet and listen – and listen hard and listen carefully – listen to what that mysterious voice of the Spirit, that speaks through our heart and mind, is telling us.
It seems to me that listening to the voice we hear is essentially the message in the story of Samuel that we read this morning.Samuel hear a voice, but wasn’t sure where it came from so he went to his elder, Eli, and asked what he wanted.Eli said “I didn’t call you – go back to bed and let me be”. And, like a good boy, Samuel went back to bed. But Samuel heard the voice again and retraced his steps to Eli And Eli repeated that he hadn’t called him – and would he please go back to bed.
Then Samuel heard a voice for the third time, and again he left his bed and went to see what Eli wanted This time Eli realized that Samuel was hearing a powerful voice – and that he needed to open his mind and listen to what God might be telling him.
Why didn’t Samuel hear what the voice was telling him – three times in a row?Was he not listening carefully, and so just assuming that the sound he heard was old Eli was calling him as usual? Did Samuel think the call was nothing new, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to think about.
It seems likely that Samuel hadn’t given any real thought to the idea that there might actually be a special message for him. That the Spirit could work through him. If that was the case perhaps he simply didn’t know what to listen for.
The story goes on to report that when Samuel opened up, and listened to the Lord, he learned that he was being called to bring God’s word – good news and bad – to Eli, his family, and to all the rest of the people. Over the subsequent decades Samuel’s ability to listen, and then to act, made him one of Israel’s important figures. It was Samuel who anointed first Saul, and then David, as the people’s King. Apparently he didn’t need a detailed plan; he needed to listen and to respond by acting in a way that was faithful to God’s intention for him.
So listening to one’s inner voice is important. It allowed Samuel and, in the same way, it can allow any of us, to hear what we are called to be, and to do; and then to show us how we can make a positive difference – in our family, in our community, in our world.
Now Samuel lived a good three thousand years ago – more than one thousand before that first Christmas – so you might wonder if his story has much relevance for us, and our current problem of deciding on our new years’ resolutions for the modern world of 2024. You didn’t think I had forgotten about them did you?
We need to ask if we can hear a voice speaking and pointing us towards a way – giving us a set of resolutions if you like – that can light a path for the new year that we are launched on? Who might we be listening for?
Several hundred years after Samuel, another prophet named Micah, began to preach in Israel. He too was attentive to God’s message for the people. It was Micah whose attention to the Spirit allowed him to make the famous prediction that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem. I think if we listen to his teaching we can hear voice that will animate our souls.
Micah challenges us by posing a simple question; he asks ”What does the Lord require of you?”
Now that sounds a simple question. But it is surely a profound one for, if we can listen carefully to hear the answer, we will hear a framework for making our resolutions and, as important, for guidance in implementing them.
And what does Micah say the Lord requires of us?It turns out to be nothing more than three simple things: “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Can we then simply resolve that before thinking or acting we just decide whether the thought, word or deed we have in mind meets a basic test of justice and kindness? Of course some may quibble over what constitutes justice in the face of injustice or inequality; and we might sometimes differ about what the kindest thing to do is in different circumstances.But surely, if we listen to the inner voice of heart and mind, we will rarely be left in doubt about whether we really are being just and/or kind.
The third requirement Walking humbly with our God seems rather less obvious. But here Christ’s great commandment “that we love one another” provides a guide for it reveals what it means to ‘walk humbly’ with the Spirit. So perhaps here we have it – a new year’s resolution that is about 2,800 years old – but one for this year and for every year:
Resolved that we:“Act always with justice, support and nourish kindness everywhere, and treat others as we would like to be treated.”Do we need anything more? It may not be easy but, if like Samuel, we learn to listen carefully to the quiet voice of the Spirit calling to us, we have a resolution that will guide us to make a difference.
Thanks be to God, Amen