New Year’s Eve, 2015 – Isaiah 40 and Romans 8
In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
As one year draws to a close, and a new one approaches – how in the world is it already 2015 – we are gathered here together in God’s house to worship, to hear His Word, to confess our sins of the past, and receive His Supper for strength for the year to come. And in our Gospel lesson we hear the injunction that we are to watch, to be ready – for we are still assuming a 2015 – we don’t know when Christ will return – He might beat the ball drop tonight. Or He might not. Either way, we are to watch, we are to wait, we are to be prepared. But how? What does watching and waiting look like? What does the being awake pointed to in our Gospel text actually mean? To get the answer for that question, we are going to pay special attention to our Old Testament lesson and our Epistle this night, and hear them in light of our Lord’s call for us to be awake.
Why? Well, the Gospel sounds scary at first blush – “But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Like a thief in the night. However, this is not in reality a call from God for us to be scared or worried or panicked or anything like that. Just to be aware, to have our eyes open to what is really going on, to understanding who is really in charge. And this is pointed out in our Old Testament lesson – “For thus says the LORD God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’” It’s not a call to panic, it’s not a call to terror – rather be calm, relax, remember in all times and in all places that God is in control and in charge, and that whether we live or whether we die, we live and die to the Lord. In Him it is all good. This is truth. Yet, what so often is the reaction of our flesh? “But you were unwilling, and you said, ‘No! We will flee upon horses’; therefore you shall flee away, and ‘We will ride upon swift steeds’; therefore your pursuers shall be swift. A thousand shall flee at the sight of one; at the threat of five you shall flee, till you are left like a flag staff on the top of a mountain, like a signal on a hill.” All too often, throughout the Old Testament, when Jerusalem and Israel were besieged and surrounded by foes, rather than remaining calm and trusting in God, they panicked, they freaked out. They fled at the drop of a pin. If you’ve got the enemy outnumbered 1000 to one, you’ve got no reason to run. But Israel looked to their own weaknesses, saw the strength of others – when all along they should have been considering God and His strength.
So then, what will you see this year? Now, I have no idea about the specifics – and I’m sure some of it will be good and joyous, but some of it will probably be bad and sad and horrific. That’s just how life goes in this fallen world. I love the last of the 20 Questions that Luther wrote up for those preparing to go to the Supper – “But what should you do if you are not aware of this need and have no hunger and thirst for the Sacrament? To such a person no better advice should be given than this: first, he should touch his body to see if he still has flesh and blood. Then he should believe what the Scripture say of it in Galatians 5 and Romans 7. Second, he should still look around to see whether he is still in the world, and remember that there will be no lack of sin and trouble, as the Scriptures say in John 15-16 and 1 John 2 and 5. Third, he will certainly have the devil also around him, who with his lying and murdering day and night will let him have no peace within or without, as the Scriptures picture him in John 8 and 16, 1 Peter 5; Ephesians 6; and 2 Timothy 2.” Well, there’s Martin’s Luther description of what we’ll see in any and every year until our Lord comes. But what is our reaction to be, how do we respond to all this? Not with panic, not with fear, but by resting in Christ, trusting in Him, fleeing to His Word and to the Sacrament of the Altar, remembering that we are baptized and belong to Him, because it is in His strength that we have security and hope, it is in Him that we are prepared for anything.
This is the point that Paul makes in our Epistle lesson tonight from Romans 8. “What then shall we say to these things?” That is what shall we say to any of the crazy or terrible or horrible things we see, the events, the guilt and shame of our own sin? What shall we say to them, what shall our response be? “If God is for us, who can be against us.” Yes, these things, they are big and strong – but God is greater and stronger than anything we face, and He has said that He is for us, and so we have confidence and hope in Him. But what if Satan slinks up, what if that sly serpent should come and accuse you, tell you that God is not for you? “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the One who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” The Father sent Christ Jesus to the Cross to die for you, to save you – He’s not going to change His mind. He’s not going to back out now. In fact, Christ Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, risen again, constantly proclaiming your forgiveness – God is the One who justifies you, who declares you forgiven and nothing can trump that.
Indeed, you get Paul at his rhetorical best – he calls out Satan. Says, as Luther would put it, that Satan may still scowl fierce as he will, but he can harm us none. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Even if 2015 goes to utter pot – if the crops fail and the stock market crashes and the banks close, and the cops and communities both riot and Putin has Russia invade and the ravaging hordes of ISIS swarm over our borders and slaughter us left and right… so what? Christ Jesus has still died for you and risen for you, and so in all these things we are more than conquerors. We will still be gathered into His House to hear His Word, to receive His forgiveness, to proclaim His death and resurrection in His most Holy Supper. “For I am certain that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing changes the fact that Christ Jesus has died for you, that He has risen for you, that He has baptized you and claimed you as His own. You are forgiven by Him, this is reality, this is truth.
Do you see what this means? “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast.” You belong to Christ, He is your master. You are dressed, your robes white, having been washed in the blood of the Lamb – the lamps, the candles of His church still burn, and He shall return for you. This is who you are. Rest securely in Christ, for He has won you the victory, and He shall be your Lord and Master in the upcoming year, even until the Last Day. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King + Amen.