Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).
While a lot of people enjoy the New Year celebrations I think that many of us approach the New Year with mixed feelings. Christmas is over and we come back to earth with a bump – we return to a more familiar routine without the lights, the decorations and the sense of anticipation. In the church, Methodists have traditionally celebrated the Covenant Service, which inevitably is something of a contrast to the carol services of the preceding weeks.
The ordinary, everyday word for 'covenant' is 'promise'. We quite rightly think at this time of New Year’s resolutions of renewing our promises to God – but if we think it is only that then we miss an important dimension. When I was growing up, the notice board of my church in Devonport, painted in the traditional black with gold lettering, advertised 'Divine Worship' and in a small letters underneath details of the services said 'registered for the solemnization of matrimony'.
Over the years, I have been to nearly 400 wedding services – at most of them I have been the minister conducting the service and have been the responsible authorised person. I have needed to make sure that the right words are said, that the witnesses have heard and that the registers have been duly completed and signed. But, of course, there is more to it than that. If a wedding service is simply going through the legal rules then it is hollow, lifeless, loveless, joyless and barely legal!
Although the popular chorus is a later addition, the hymn 'O happy day', especially in the unlikely chart hit of the 1970s by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, captures a sense of joy. Like a wedding day, but even more so, the day that 'we fix our hope' on Jesus 'my Saviour and my God' is a 'happy day'. The hymn continues, 'high heaven that heard that solemn vow that vow renewed shall daily hear' – solemn and joyful are not opposites!
I began with a quotation from the First Letter of Peter, which I have yet to mention. It's one of many promises in the Scriptures. I wanted to remind everyone that while we often think of Covenant Service as making promises to God the focus is more properly on our claiming the promises that God has made to us. We cannot claim God's promises if we do not know them – which is an important part of studying the Bible together. To know, to claim, to experience God’s promises – that's the joy of the Christian faith – church without it is hollow, lifeless, loveless, joyless and barely Christian!