Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Sermon -- New Year's Eve (December 31, 2019)



In the name + of Jesus.

     The Romans had a god in their pantheon who had two faces.  One face looked forward to the future, the other looked backward to the past.  The god's name was Janus, from which we get the name of our first month, January.  On the threshold of January, we do what the Roman god Janus mythically did—we look back on the past year and we look forward to the next. 
     If you recall abundant or unexpected blessings this past year, you might be sad to see 2019 pass away.  If 2019 was marked by bitterness or sadness, you are eager to say, “Good riddance!”  God blessed each person, each family, differently this past year.  Our prayers for 2020, however, are the same—for blessings and happiness, but we don't know how God will bless us in the year to come.  Perhaps the cross you bear will become lighter.  Perhaps it will be heavier.  You can't know what 2020 will bring—no matter what kind of vision Janus claims to have.  But what God has revealed to you should be enough.  In fact, it is everything.  This is what the Lord says: His love for you is steadfast.  It was true in 2019, and it will be true in 2020.
     The Psalm we are considering this evening mainly looks back.  Its look back goes much further than a year.  In fact, it considers God's faithfulness all the way back to creation.  “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever... to him who alone does great wonders, … who by understanding made the heavens, … who spread out the earth above the waters, … who made the great lights, … the sun to rule over the day, … the moon and stars to rule over the night...” (Psalm 136:1,4-9)  He who created the heavens and the earth has faithfully maintained them.  He has provided for you again this year with abundance and variety.  Even those who despise the Lord were clothed and well fed.  The Lord has not been fickle or petty in his concern for the world.  You can mark each and every year with the same tag line: His love for you is steadfast.
     But Psalm 136 gets much more specific about God's love and concern.  It reviews God's acts of salvation for Israel.  Israel was God's chosen people.  And when you hear the phrase “God's chosen people,” your follow up question should always be the same: “Chosen for what?”  They were chosen to be the people through whom the Savior would come.  God would fulfill his promise of salvation through Israel.  And not oppression, not slavery, not the armies of Pharaoh, not the depths of the Red Sea could prevent God from being faithful to his promises.  Not the wandering in the desert, not the lack of food and water, and not warfare with Sihon and Og would keep God from bringing his people to the Promised Land.  Nothing can subvert the promises of God.  Each and every act of God is punctuated the same way: “His steadfast love endures forever.” 
     What is striking about Psalm 136 is not only that it details the faithful acts of God for the benefit of his people, but also that it omits the faithlessness of the people of Israel.  The Lord was steadfast in his love, but the people of Israel surely were not.  They grumbled that the Lord led them through the wilderness, even wishing they could be back feasting in Egypt.  “Oh, that we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.” (Numbers 11:4-5)  They complained about the Lord's anointed leaders.  They were convinced they were smarter, could accomplish greater things, and would enjoy more success—if only the Lord got out of the way.  They were convinced that human designs would serve them better than divine direction.  Sound familiar?
     This was the reasoning back in the Garden of Eden.  This was the life-style before Noah entered the ark.  This was the refrain for Israel's 40 years in the wilderness.  This was the complaint of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Was it also repeated in your home in 2019?  Did you have better plans than the Lord?  Would God have served you better if he had gotten out of the way?  Did you dismiss God's word to find your own way to increase your wealth, gratify your desires, and chase after your happiness?  If you look back at 2019, do you feel that God failed you?  The devil may convince you he had, which is also how the devil convinces you to exalt your own way, your own will, and your own wisdom.  When Adam and Eve did this, they lost Paradise.  When the people in Noah's day did it, they perished in the Flood.  When the Israelites did it, they died in the desert.  When the Pharisees and Sadducees did it, it resulted in the destruction of the Temple and the slaughter of Jerusalem.  Do we deserve better?  By no means.  Repent.
     Remarkably, the refrain in Psalm 136 never fades out, because neither God's love nor his promises are conditioned by the people to whom he gives them.  The sins of people, generation after generation, have never caused God to revoke his love or to repeal his promises.  Our Lord desires the salvation of all mankind.  Therefore, God acted to uphold his promise, to demonstrate his love, and to accomplish our salvation.  His love for you is steadfast.
     “It is he who remembered us in our low estate, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:23)  The Lord Jesus Christ came as God had promised.  Jesus did not despise us.  He took up our cause despite our sinful condition and our offenses against him.  Though we have questioned God's wisdom, challenged his word, and abandoned his will for our own, Jesus answered for our sins with his faithfulness to the word.  He did not question God's love for those who gratified their baser desires, challenge God's compassion for those who betrayed or abused him, or refuse to suffer for sins which were committed against him.  Jesus followed God's will even when it meant suffering injustice, submitting to blows from those who hated him, and dying to the sounds of his enemies who mocked him and of silence from his Father who had forsaken him.  His love for you is steadfast. 
     “It is he who remembered us in our low estate, … and rescued us from our foes, for his steadfast love endures forever...” (Psalm 136:23-24)  Jesus remembered your lowly estate and delivered you out of your sins by his death.  More than that, he exalted your humanity so that you, too, will rise from the dead as he did.  Just as he dwells in the presence of God the Father, so shall you.  Just as Jesus is the Son of God, so now in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (Galatians 3:26)  He has sealed his promise to you in your baptism, and he remains faithful to his promise.  And he strengthens and keeps you in his promise by his holy Supper.  The body and blood which were given into death for your sins are here for you for the forgiveness of sins.  The body and blood which live and reign forever are here for you for everlasting life.  His love for you is steadfast.
     “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:1)  The effects of sin may have filled your eyes with tears and pain and angst in 2019.  But the Lord's face did not stop smiling upon you; not even once.  His love for you is steadfast.  “Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever.  Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever...” (Psalm 136:2-3)  If 2019 meant blessings and joys, then give thanks to the Lord who was pleased to entrust you with temporal gifts.  But let not your joy rest on what is temporal; let your joy rest on what is eternal and you will never be disappointed.  “His steadfast love endures forever...”   
     Like Janus, we look back.  No matter what you saw or felt or experienced last year, you can still confess the refrain, “His steadfast love endures forever...”  As for 2020, Janus is blind.  January and each successive month is still blank.  Your history will be written as each day goes forth.  And who knows whether you will inscribe fortunes or frustrations?  But whatever happens, his love for you is steadfast.  Every year, every day, and every hour are punctuated the same.  For the Lord is faithful in all he does.  Fear not.  Rejoice!  “Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:26)

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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