Happy New Year!
By the way, have you unpacked all your Christmas gifts yet? I am not asking the kids because I know they couldn’t wait to open their gift on Christmas eve. However, I know some adults don’t unwrap all of their gifts because they tend to get distracted by many other things.
There is a story about a man who died and went to heaven. An angel gave him a tour around the heavenly hometown, and he enjoyed seeing so many breathtaking architectures of beautiful homes and mansions.
Suddenly, he discovered a series of huge boxy buildings and inquired the angel about them. The angel said, “Oh, they are warehouses,” and he took him to one of them, opened the door, and showed him inside.
He saw rows and rows of shelves with piles and piles of packages. The angel explained, “These are packages people asked for. Often, people prayed and asked for what they desired, but when we sent them the answers to their prayers, they didn’t bother to claim them. So, they ended up here.”
This story is about people who pray but get distracted or never expect the fulfillment of their wishes. Would it be a shame if we got up there and found out we had a bunch of packages in our names unclaimed? I don’t mind the small packages, but what if there were some big ones that could have completely altered our lives?
What do you want for this New Year, especially after two years of the prolonged pandemic? Trying times like this makes us think deeper and desire more profound things than prosperity, possessions, and prestige.
Many of us are looking for the essentials to help us cope with this stormy sea of suffering. Maybe the pandemic has made us more ready than ever to unpack the gifts God has given us in Jesus Christ.
We exchange gifts during this season because God has first given us the greatest gift ever 2000 years ago, but many people have never unpacked it fully because they get distracted by other things.
Jesus is like a big box of gifts containing many small boxes inside. Each of them has the most desirable gift that you need for living your life to the fullest. Jesus said that he came so that we would have life and have it to the fullest. The secret of living life to the fullest is revealed in these gifts.
Today, I want to open three important gifts that contain the essentials to make this New Year the best year ever. If you want to make 2022 the best year ever, you must unpack these gifts and put them to use. Let’s unpack it.
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone—the Lightkeeper! You are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you, and you are satisfied in God.]
The scripture lesson for today is from the Gospel According to John 1:10-18. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. (John 1:10–18)
[This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!]
Unlike other Gospels, John described Jesus in a more mystical language. John’s first chapter is probably the most profound chapter in the Bible. It reads like Laozi’s Dao De Jing, yet it puts flesh on the spirit—it reveals the physics of the metaphysics and turns the abstract into substance. Let’s unpack the first one I think is the most important of all!
1 – Unpack the Gift of God’s Presence
The presence of God is precious, especially through tough times like this. Even though we try to hope for the best in 2022, there is a sense of fear and doubt in many people because we see the pandemic has surged to all-time high as of today. What does God’s presence mean to us at times like this?
I remember the day after 9-11, I ran into Elder Emil Brandes, and he said, “I don’t know how other people are handling it, but we are so fortunate that we have the Lord’s shoulder to lean on at times like this.” That’s what having God’s presence means. You can lean on him through tough times like this.
Even in the darkest moment, we can find comfort and joy because He is there with us and walking with us until we see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, God’s presence is not just for the dark times but also for the bright shining days. GK Chesterton said,
“The worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has no one to thank.” ~ GK Chesterton
God’s presence makes us cry deeper, laugh louder, and live to the fullest. We know He understands our emotions, whether it’s up or down, forward or backward, success or failure, because He created us. The passage begins by saying,
“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.” (John 1:10).
It says Jesus came to the world he had created, meaning his presence is God’s presence. Just like Geppetto knows Pinocchio more than Pinochio know Geppetto. The verse said that we don’t even know him because we’ve never seen him. John said,
No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. (John 1:18).
John also said that Jesus is God in flesh. Today, he continues to be with us through the Holy Spirit. The Bible says one of his nicknames is Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” Quoting Isaiah, Matthew recorded,
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:23).
So to invite Jesus into your life means to have God’s presence with you. Now you have a companion through the darkest tunnels and a dance partner for the joyous moments. Most importantly, God’s presence is where the ultimate happiness is. King David said,
“In your presence, there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Ps. 16:11b)
No success in our lives can bring us the kind of pleasure equal to God’s presence. No setback can take us down if we have His presence. So, welcome Jesus into your life to experience God’s presence and live your life to the fullest.
2 – Unpack the Gift of God’s Peace
Everyone wants peace because peace is the foundation of true happiness. The Asians define happiness more in terms of peace. The Jewish greeting of “shalom” also implies peace being essential to the quality of life.
In the modern West, we tend to define happiness as some fleshy flamboyant fun. I am sure our founding fathers defined it more biblically than we do. America is the land of opportunity for the “pursuit of happiness,” but if we define happiness wrong, we will never find it.
I have watched a TV documentary on happiness. It interviewed many people about what happiness means to them, and it was a big mess. Everyone defines it differently. No wonder they couldn’t find it.
Do you know that, according to WHO, America is the third most depressed country in the world? Our founding fathers would weep to find us in such a state on this land of the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Anyway, deep down inside us, we all want peace more than anything else because it is the foundation for happiness. The question is, how do we obtain peace? First, let’s look at why we don’t have peace.
Some people don’t have peace because they carry the guilts from the past. Some people don’t find peace because they fear the future. Still, some people cannot find peace because they are burdened by the present anxieties.
So peace means freedom from the past guilts, future fears, and present worries. You have peace if you can reconcile with your past, secure your future, and walk with God in the present.
The good news is, Jesus is also known as the Prince of Peace. It means when you receive him, you also receive peace. How does he give you peace? It’s through his grace. John said,
“From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:16-17).
The law makes us guilty, but grace gives us forgiveness. We receive from him grace upon grace means everything is forgiven. No matter how deep you have messed up in the past, you are forgiven through is grace.
I understand we all have regrets for the things we did or said in the past, and some of us could never forgive ourselves and continue to live with that burden for the rest of our lives. That kills peace in our hearts because it is like “a thorn in our flesh,” as Paul put it.
If you want peace, receive his grace. If one grace is not enough, claim it over and over again. He has more grace than you would need. As Paul said, his grace is sufficient for you. Don’t live with the guilts. Accept his forgiveness and live life to the fullest.
His grace also sets you free from the fears of the future. He has secured eternal life for you by dying for you on the cross and showing you a resurrected life. That’s the life you will have for eternity. There is nothing to fear about the future because even death cannot overcome you. Your future is secured, so don’t let fear steal your peace.
His grace also sets you free from the present anxiety because he walks with you every moment. It goes back to the gift of God’s presence. If you welcome his presence, nothing can disturb you. Only peace is with you. You can even have a feast in front of your enemies. King David wrote in his famous Psalm 23,
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Ps 23:5).
He is talking about God as his Shepherd. Sheep tend to get anxiety attacks by the nuisance of the flies flying over their heads. It’s a metaphor for our heads being bogged down by worries and anxieties.
The shepherd anoints the sheep’s head with oil that repels the flies. It’s like filling our heads with God’s words of grace that repels the annoyances and anxieties so that we have peace.
So, unpack the gifts of God’s peace and let your life overflow with his grace upon grace in this New Year and beyond.
3 – Unpack the Gift of God’s Power
We live in a world where everything is sucking our energy. Of course, the prolonged pandemic is draining our power physically, mentally, and spiritually. We are like our smartphones, always running out of juice!
One of the best-selling electronic devices these days is the external power pack for your phones. John said,
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13).
Notice it says that “he gave power” to those who receive him. If you receive Jesus Christ, not only do you receive the joy of God’s presence and the freedom of God’s peace, but also the power to become God’s children, born of God. John later explained it as being “born from above.”
What does it mean? It means you will be like a smartphone permanently plugged into an unlimited power source that will never run out of juice. It means you can accomplish the missions impossible in your life. Angel Gabrial told Mary,
“For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37).
If nothing is impossible with God, neither is it for God’s children. Through the power of God, Jesus had performed amazing miracles and endured excruciating pains and still had the stamina to ask his Father to forgive the perpetrators even when he was suffering on the cross. Paul also said,
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Php 4:13).
In this context, Paul talked about what he had endured through the thicks and thins. He was able to handle plenty as well as poverty, abundance as well as hunger. Nothing could drain his power. Even now in prison, he was able to write a large part of the New Testament that has benefited the believers for thousands of years.
Jesus also expects you to do greater things than he did. He said,
“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12).
That’s a great expectation, but God does not just give you the mission without the power to accomplish it. Jesus went to the Father with the promise to send you the Holy Spirit to empower you to fulfill the mission. He said,
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8).
What do you witness? You witness his presence, his peace, and his power that you experienced in your life. If you try to witness without proof, it’s called the false witness. Jesus said, “be my witness.” It means you don’t just talk about him but become a witness of him by personal experience.
So, let’s intentionally live these gifts as our New Year resolution. Let’s make this New Year the best year ever by welcoming Jesus into your life and unpacking the gifts of God’s presence, peace, and power, and living life to the fullest.
That’s it for today, and I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I love receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound happiness.
Amen! And Happy New Year again!