In 2007, the movie “The Bucket List” was released. It starred Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson as two men, both with terminal illnesses, who go on a quest to accomplish a list of all the things that they wanted to do before they “kicked the bucket.” This list was called a “Bucket List” and the movie popularized that term within our culture. (To watch a clip of the movie where Morgan and Jack explain what a Bucket List is, click here.)
Have you ever crossed something off of your bucket list? You may not have an actual bucket list, but sometimes we experience things where we might think to ourselves later, “If I had a bucket list, that would be on it and now I get to cross that item off of my bucket list.” Has that every happened to you?
Here is why Bucket List items are important. They are once in a lifetime events that bring us Joy. And we need to have Joy in our lives. We need to have those transcendent experiences that lift us up and out of the mundane drudgery of our everyday life. We need some kind of relief from the grief and sorrow that overwhelms us at times. We need a glimmer of light in the midst of the darkness. And so, whether we are aware of it or not, we human beings need joy, and we tend to pursue joy. And our bucket list items tell us what we look to for joy.
But the problem that causes many of us to stumble is that we tend to pursue counterfeit joy. There are countless sources that promise us the Joy that we seek, but most of them lie to us. Every drug dealer, every porn site, every illicit relationship, every addiction, whether it is heroin, food or screen time, is promising us Joy. And in the midst of giving ourselves to those things we may even say, “How could anything be wrong, when it feels so right?” But when we play things out to the end of the movie, we see that each of these counterfeit joys lead to us to something that is much different from what we expect. That initial rush of our first-time experience becomes harder and harder to replicate. Our addiction requires more and more of our time, energy and resources until it takes over our lives. And pursuing counterfeit joy always leads to some kind of death: the death of a relationship, the diminishment of our health and vitality, or even physical death.
So the items on our Bucket List are very, very important because they reveal where we go for Joy. And my goal here today, whether you are here for the very first time or not, is to point you towards the source of true Joy, the kind of Joy that will bring you life and sustain you through the difficult times in your life.
Now it may surprise you to learn that Bucket Lists are not a new thing. In fact, there was someone in the Bible who had a Bucket List more than 2,000 years ago. I invite you to join with me in reading from Luke, chapter 2, starting at verse 22.
22 The time came for Joseph and Mary to perform the ceremony of purification, as the Law of Moses commanded. So they took the child to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, 23 as it is written in the law of the Lord: “Every first-born male is to be dedicated to the Lord.” 24 They also went to offer a sacrifice of a pair of doves or two young pigeons, as required by the law of the Lord.
25 At that time there was a man named Simeon living in Jerusalem. He was a good, God-fearing man and was waiting for Israel to be saved. The Holy Spirit was with him 26 and had assured him that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s promised Messiah. 27 Led by the Spirit, Simeon went into the Temple. When the parents brought the child Jesus into the Temple to do for him what the Law required, 28 Simeon took the child in his arms and gave thanks to God:
29 “Now, Lord, you have kept your promise,
and you may let your servant go in peace.
30 With my own eyes I have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples:
32 A light to reveal your will to the Gentiles
and bring glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:22-32 GNT)
So in this passage we meet Simeon, a man who had a Bucket List. And on his Bucket List was only one item: to see the Lord’s promised Messiah. So who is the Lord’s promised Messiah and why would seeing him be on Simeon’s bucket list?
The Messiah is the Promised One sent by God to bring true and lasting Joy to the whole world. Simeon wanted to see the Messiah because that little baby would prove that God was keeping his promises and that, with the birth of this baby, a new age had begun which would end in the renewal and restoration of all things. At this time of year, we wish each other Happy New Year. But with the arrival of this baby named Jesus, we can wish each other Happy New Creation, because that is what Jesus began with his arrival here on earth.
God wants you to have joy. But the kind of joy that God gives is not like the counterfeit joy that is promised to us by those who want us to buy their products or watch their movies or TV shows. The kind of joy that God wants to give you is a joy that will give you life and hope. The joy that God wants to give you will blossom in the future into something that will far beyond anything that you could ask or imagine. And that joy comes to you through a faith relationship with Jesus.
Before he became a baby, Jesus was God the Son, and he enjoyed all the glorious joys of heaven. And yet, because he loves you, Jesus laid all of that aside and became a helpless little baby in the womb of Mary. Jesus was still God, and yet he came to this earth to become one of us. He was circumcised just like all other Jewish boy babies. There were sacrifices offered on his behalf, just like there were for all other first-born sons. Jesus did not need those things done for him, and yet they were because he was like us in every way, except without sin. Jesus knows what it is like to struggle with temptation, Jesus knows what it is likes to lose a loved one, and Jesus knows what it is like to suffer.
Jesus came to save us from sin, death and the dangers of counterfeit joy. Jesus came to give us a relationship with him. And we were made for relationship with God. When God made each one of us, he made us in his image. Like a coin is stamped with a die to form an image on the coin, so also God stamped his image on us. Like the coin and the die fit together, so each one of us was made to fit together with God. And it is only when we are fit together with God that we have the true and lasting joy that we need and desire and that God wants to give us.
And Jesus wants to give us a foretaste of that joy right now. For Jesus has taken our guilt and our shame away from us and made us beloved, forgiven children of God through the waters of Holy Baptism. Most of the worry and anxiousness that settles in our souls would disappear if we could only hold onto this one truth: Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. We would have peace in our hearts, and that peace would free us up to see Jesus at work in and around us, and that is what gives us joy in this life. Imagine, the great high King of the Universe, the Creator of the sun, moon and stars and all that exists, has made it a priority to be concerned about and involved in the everyday matters of your life and mine!
But the joy gets even better! For the things that Jesus is doing in your life and mine are leading to something far, far greater. Jesus is going to come back to this world one day to make everything right including us. Jesus is going to overturn every injustice, he is going heal all degradation in all of creation, he is going establish his perfect peace, and he is going to renew and restore all things. And the things that Jesus is doing in our lives right now will somehow show up in the new heaven and earth that is to come, and those things will last forever. And the joy we experience in that time will never end.
Today is December 31, a time of year when people are thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. I am asking you to ask Jesus to help you to make two very special New Year’s Resolutions. And the answers will come when you ask Jesus these two questions:
- First, ask him, “What habit do I need to break because it is pulling me away from you?”
- Second, ask him, “What habit do I need to make so I can be drawn closer to you?”
When Jesus answers your question, write his answers down and put them where you can see them and to remind yourself of the commitment that you are making. When you are thinking about habits to make, I encourage you to think about starting one of our Bible reading plans tomorrow. You can ask Jesus what he thinks about that and see what he says.
And whether you write out a bucket list or not, remember that you and I, all of us, are just like Simeon. Our ultimate joy will come when we see Jesus. We see him now through the eyes of faith, but a day will come when we will see him with our own eyes. That will be a joyous day!
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on Dec 31/17.)
(Note: For 2018, we are encouraging people to consider following one of two Bible reading plans: The Discipleship Journal 5x5x5 Bible Reading Plan or the Riverside Church Two Year Bible Reading Plan – Volume 2. You can subscribe to either plan through the YouVersion Bible app.)