January 5, 2020

Sermon for Christmas Two, Sunday after New Years

Preacher:
Passage: Revelation 1:17-18
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Sermon for Sunday after New Years
Calvary/Marquette ● Soli Deo Gloria

Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

On this Sunday after the New Year, we meditate upon the words of the risen and glorified Lord Jesus as recorded in the last book of the Bible, Revelation, chapter one, verses 17-18:

Revelation 1:17-18 (NKJV)
17 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. 18 I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.

In the Name of the Lord Jesus,
Dear Fellow Redeemed in His Blood –

Glückliches neues jahr
(Glook-lik-ez Neues Yahr)

Feliz año nuevo
(Feliz anyo Nuevo)

Happy New Year!

What do we mean when we say, “Happy New Year?” It’s a greeting similar to others, but not exactly the same. There are other greetings that begin with Happy, like: “Happy Birthday!” and “Happy Anniversary!” These are all personal greetings expressing our hope or sincere desire that their birthday or anniversary be a happy one, right?

Is that what we mean when we say, “Happy New Year?” Are we simply saying: “Hey, I just want you to know that I hope you have 365 days of happiness this year!”

Why don’t we say, “Happy New Year…I personally guarantee it.” We don’t because we can’t personally guarantee the future. We make plans for the day, for the month, for the year and even for years to come but we really don’t know what is going to happen an hour from now. We make plans, but we always say, “If the LORD wills it, we will do this or that.” We recognize (unlike much of our world) that we are NOT the masters of our own destiny.

“Happy New Year” is a kind expression, whose full meaning depends on the person who speaks it. But, ultimately, it’s a personal wish, because we don’t say, “I pray that God would bless you in the New Year (whether we man that or not).”

Do we really expect that the year 2020 is going to be all joy and happiness? Now that the ball has dropped in Times Square in New York and we’ve all flipped the calendar over to January does anyone really think…

 All wars will cease? Happy New Year, Israel and Palestine are going to lay down their arms and embrace each other and ISIS is going to stop killing people and start selling flowers? Do we expect human hatred to end in 2020? No.

 All disease will be healed? Happy New Year…this year…no more families will be fractured by Cancer, Heart Disease, Ebola or AIDS. Do we expect human frailty to go away in 2020? No.

If the absence of these things means happiness in 2020…then we would be foolish to expect a happy new year. We can always hope, but we don’t really expect these problems to go away in the New Year.

Well, maybe this is the year that we gain control of our emotions, our thoughts and our mouths! After all, we’ve had another year of experience with ourselves; maybe this is the year….

 We stop letting things outside of our control bother us. Finally, this year, instead of dwelling on the negative and worrying about what might happen, we will focus on the positive and do what we can and leave the rest in the hands of the Almighty. This is the year…

 We stop purposely saying things meant to hurt. We know what buttons to push, especially when it comes to spouse and family, those we know the best, so this is the year we’ll stop pushing those buttons. This is the year we stop running down the reputation of others. This is the year...

 We stop being self-centered and proud. We will look for ways to help and serve others, especially by gently warning them when they put themselves at odds with God by continuing in sin. This year we will put the needs of others before our own. This is the year when we think before we open our mouths and truly make every effort to see things from other people’s point of view. Yes, and this is the year…
 We stop getting angry at other people. It’s a choice, after all. No one makes us angry, we choose to be, and this year we will choose instead to forgive and forget. This year…

 We will see the signs of temptation and turn away. This is the year we are careful about what we see and hear, about what goes into our hearts and minds. When the TV and Movie program picture things that run contrary to God’s will, we will turn it off. This is the year that we don’t participate in off color jokes. We will completely turn over a new leaf and everything will be different from last year.

We’d like everything to be new and holy in the coming year…but it won’t be. We may promise and resolve to make changes in our lives, but we are fighting a losing battle. We are corrupt human beings, who live in a corrupt world and daily face temptations to sin designed by a fallen angel with superior intellect and understanding. In many respects, the New Year won’t be new at all; it will be more of the same, rotten stuff.

“Wow, Pastor Schaller, you sure have a pessimistic,almost defeatist attitude.”

“Shouldn’t we be optimistic entering a New Year?”

Please don’t misunderstand me…I am optimistic. I am certain that our gracious God will continue to bless us with our daily bread, providing what we need to live and flourish on this earth. I am certain that our gracious God will continue to comfort us poor sinners by reassuring us of His promise to forgive…in both His Word and in the Sacrament of the Altar. I know that God will even make the difficult and painful work out for our good. If in the coming year the Lord Jesus calls a family member from this world of pain and sorrow to the joy of heaven…that He will also comfort and reassure us of His love through His Word.

It will be a Happy New Year, but not because of changes we promise to make, but because our God is faithful to His promises and loving and true. There will be changes in 2020, but it’s foolish to think WE are going to change or correct our sinful flaws. There is a part of us (the new man) that wants to make changes, but we also have a rotten part (the old man) that fights every step of the way. For every step forward, we take two back.

It’s not pessimism; it’s the very real reason things don’t change in our lives. We want to do the right thing, but because of our sinful natures we do exactly the opposite!
The Apostle Paul fought the same battle and the Holy Spirit moved him to write about it in the letter to the Romans (7:18-25, ESV):

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

 There will be changes in the New Year. We will grow older. We will face new challenges. We will be tempted in different ways.

 There will be some things that do not change in the New Year. We will lose control over our mouths and emotions. We will purposely say things to hurt others. We will be self-centered and proud. We will be tempted and will sin.

I’m not revealing something you don’t already know. I’m not justifying sin or minimizing it. It’s not OK to sin or somehow less reprehensible simply because other people do it or because we’ve done it before. It is important that we be real with ourselves about who we are and understand what we really deserve.

When we do, we might even say, “Another new year…so what?”

Still, we have reason to expect a Happy New Year – because of the One who is the First and the Last. There will be changes in the New Year…but there will be one constant in 2020 and beyond, the unchanging one, who once comforted the Apostle John and still comforts us with these words:

17 And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. 18 I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.

We will sin in the New Year…despite our best intentions…but we need not fear sin’s eternal consequences because of the one who is here called the first and the last; Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God made flesh. He lived without sin as our human substitute, perfectly keeping God’s Holy Law; and His perfect record is credited to our accounts by faith. He died to atone for our every sin, past present and future. It is because our great debt of sin has been forgiven that we also freely forgive those who sin against us.

We will face temptation to sin in the New Year…but the same Jesus is always present to help. He was Himself in all points tempted as we are but without sin. He comes to the aid of those who by faith call upon Him in prayer.

We will – perhaps in the coming year -- come face to face with death. We may watch helplessly as a loved one passes from this life. We may close our eyes in death. We need not fear, because the same Jesus is the Living One, who arose from the dead the third day …and holds the power over – the keys of death and the grave. Death has no power over Him…or those who belong to Him.

We set out into a New Year of God’s Grace. We may be nervous, even a little afraid; like I imagine Simon Peter was when He stepped out of the boat to walk to Jesus on the water.

If we look around at this world – at the unrest, wars and disease; into our own sinful hearts and minds – we will find no reason for joy or optimism.

If we today and every day, keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the one who designed and completed our rescue, we will have reason to be confident and joyful every step of the way. We will also have real reason to declare with all confidence:

It will be a happy new year!
Amen.