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Sunday 2 January 2022: Second Sunday of Christmas

New Year’s Inspirations

John 1:1-18

By Janet Wootton

Retired Congregational minister; Executive President of the Hymn Society of Britain and Ireland; co-Chair of the International Congregational Theological Commission; author and hymn writer

Context: a morning service, with an all-age element, preceded by an online conversation

Aim: to share faith and hope at the start of the year

[During the pandemic, we have been developing some of our services in conversation with the congregation. We have a WhatsApp group, which we use once a month alongside email/phone, to open up a topic over the fortnight before our service. The request is usually for something specific, as here, and the service, and sermon, grow out of the responses. The advantage of the WhatsApp group is that everyone sees all the responses, and it becomes a multi-voiced conversation, which builds in momentum. Here, I have drawn on responses to one of these requests to our own congregation.]

[Request to WhatsApp and email/phone groups: ‘Choose a hymn/song to inspire you through 2022 – your New Year’s Inspiration.’]


Happy New Year, everyone! And thank you if you shared your New Year Inspirations, in the shape of hymns or songs to inspire you through 2022. What a year to be starting! The world is still gripped by the pandemic, that has utterly changed our lives, in a space of time that has seemed on one hand incredibly short to wreak so much havoc, and on the other, interminable.

I guess, over the last year, all of us will have known some sense of bereavement, through the loss of family members or friends, or perhaps jobs, businesses, hopes, ambitions.

It feels as though the darkness has deepened all around us. People have experienced isolation, anxiety and depression. Online, there has been an increase in fraud, often targeting older, more vulnerable people, who may be cut off from their normal networks of support. At home, domestic abuse has increased. More broadly, inequalities have hardened. Globally, conflicts have claimed more lives, and atrocities have come to light.

In some ways it’s as if our eyes have been opened. Without the glare of constant activity, we have become accustomed to the dark, and we can see more detail. We have begun to discern the legacy of slavery. We can see the corruption and inequality in a world in which ‘none of us is safe until we are all safe’. Maybe we’re on the brink of irreversible climate change. How do Christians respond to these challenges?

The promise of this glorious passage from John’s Gospel is that the light shines in the darkness, this darkness where we live. The Word of God becomes flesh, this flesh, that has proved so vulnerable.

So what is our New Year Inspiration for 2022?

[At this point, invite people to tell their stories, and share their hymn/song choices, either in groups or buzz groups, or from the front.]

We have chosen hymns of hope and challenge: ‘Love is come again (Now the green blade rises)’; ‘Make me a channel of your peace’; ‘Shine Jesus shine’. Or older hymns: ‘O thou who camest from above’ with its challenge, ‘to work, and speak, and think for thee’; ‘For the beauty of the earth’ (and ‘the joy of human love’). From the children have come, ‘This little light of mine,’ and ‘The Harvest Samba.’ And there are many others.

And with the hymns and songs have come our faith stories. ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ is not a Christmas soundbite, but a real lived experience in our own lives. Our stories show that the light of Christ truly ‘shines in the darkness’, no matter how dimly we may feel that our own lamp burns. Each of us can kindle the flame of God’s love in another, and each can warm our hearts at the hearth of another’s faith.

This conversation will continue through our online community as we respond to our time together today. We will uphold each other in prayer, and share our inspiration through this coming year, trusting God’s Word in our midst, and the light that the darkness can never comprehend, let alone overcome!

We sing our New Year Inspiration in one of our chosen hymns, very appropriate in the darkness of a January morning: Bernadette Farrell’s ‘Christ, be our light’, which starts ‘Longing for light, we wait in darkness. Longing for truth, we turn to you’, and then breaks into the chorus: ‘Christ, be our light! Shine in our hearts. Shine through the darkness. Christ, be our light! Shine in your Church gathered today.’

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