I turned 60 last year, so I can really identify with these quips about the New Year:
-Youth is when you’re allowed to stay up late on New Year’s Eve. Middle age is when you’re forced to.
-Santa Claus and the dropping of the ball on Times Square have a lot in common. I’m not awake to see either one of them.
-Author Robert Paul wrote, “I’m a little bit older, a little bit wider, a little bit rounder, but still none the wiser.”
The New Year, of course, is the traditional time to adopt resolutions. The most popular resolutions include living healthier, saving more money, spending more time with family and friends, and enjoying life to the fullest. Yes, it’s that time of the year when we say, “Out with the old and in with the new!” But consider that God may be saying to us, “In with the old!”
Jeremiah urged his people to consider the old ways. He was a prophet who lived about 600 years before Christ, a man who had the subtlety of a fire alarm. Jeremiah preached loud and long, blasting idolatry, greed, complacent living and crooked priests. He was called the “Weeping Prophet” because he grieved over the impending judgment of his nation. He cried out, “I wish that my eyes were fountains of tears, so I could weep day and night for my people.” Jeremiah not only preached God’s message, he embodied God’s message; he physically demonstrated God’s anguish over the waywardness of Judah.
In Jeremiah 6:16, the prophet makes a last-ditch effort to turn his people from their sins. He imagines a fork in the road. He turns to the crowd behind him and says, “Which path will you take?” Then Jeremiah gives guidance:
First he says, “Stand at the crossroads and look.” The Hebrew word for “stand” means to stop, tarry or delay. “Look” doesn’t mean a passing glance, but a long, thoughtful gaze. It means to regard, observe or consider. Jeremiah is saying, “Take the time to think about your choice. Don’t just rush along with the crowd, take the convenient path, or go down the wide road just because everybody else is doing it.” Sound familiar? In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to live, and there are few who find it.”
Jeremiah then urges the crowd to “ask for the old paths.” The word “ask” means to diligently enquire, seek, even beg. Are we hungry for the way that our spiritual ancestors trod? Are we longing for the path of righteousness that they took, often for the sake of their safety and convenience? Do we yearn to walk in the steps of Jesus? Or are we going our own way, too busy to consider the timeless path, too preoccupied with work and sports and shopping and the million other transient things of our lives to think deeply about the road God wants us to take?
The day before the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, a group of German soldiers parachuted in behind Allied lines. They spoke fluent English, dressed in U.S. uniforms and drove captured American jeeps. They changed road signs and gave false directions. Because of their deception, the Germans almost won this decisive battle.
So many today are being misled in the same way. The signs are everywhere: buy this and you’ll be content. Adopt this philosophy and you will be fulfilled. Go down this road you will find health, wealth and happiness. The market is flooded with surefire formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your free time.
But there are no shortcuts to God. It is a trail that has been blazed with the blood, sweat and tears of Jesus, the disciples, the church fathers and mothers, the saints of old. Yes, it sounds boring and old-fashioned for those on the fast track. Why dig into the Sermon on the Mount when you can thrill to the latest celebrity antics in a trashy magazine? Why pray the Psalms when you can pray for your own wants to be met? Why serve in a soup kitchen or go on a mission trip when you can serve your own interests by staying home or going to a movie or mall? But the Bible promises that the ancient way can provide rest for our souls.
Sadly, the people did not follow Jeremiah’s counsel to go down the old path. Their words are tragic: “We will not walk in it. We will not listen.” In a similar scene, just before His crucifixion, Jesus sat on a brow of a hill and lamented, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
I wonder if God says that about us today? “How often do I want to reveal myself to you! How often do I want to speak into your heart? How I long to have a relationship with you, but you’re too busy making a buck, watching TV, thinking about yourself, playing church instead of being the church in a dark, dying world?”
But this year can be different. We can choose a new path, which is the old path. And in going down that old path, we will find new treasures and fresh insights. We will discover respite in prayer; inspiration from the Scriptures; happiness in serving; remembrance from Holy Communion; power from worship. Unlike the people who answered Jeremiah, we can say to God, “We will walk in your footsteps. We will listen to your word.”
So while the world keeps changing the signs one more time to point to a broad road that offers more distractions, more gimmicks, more fads — we can keep trodding the way that God laid out from the beginning, a path that leads straight to His heart, now and forever.
(Forest path picture courtesy of SplitShire via Pixabay)