New Year’s Day 2023

I don’t intend to take much time with this morning’s scribbling. I’m functioning on very little sleep, and I think I’d rather sit, drink coffee, and rework the sermon I’ve already prepared. I mean, why not. With the New Year comes new thoughts, new intentions, new perspectives—all aimed at doing what one can to get things right, to shore up the previous year’s holes.

Lots of folks humbug the usual New Year sentiment of self-betterment. They mock resolution makers, chuckling at the exercise equipment boxes leaning against trash cans at the curb. Their chuckling becomes full-throated laughter when they see the equipment that arrived in those boxes at the same curb a few months later. Still, I won’t slight anyone willing to try. I’m glad for people who want to do better, who walk in hopeful stride alongside the starry-eyed poets who wrote, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” In other words, they know that it’s never too late to start a new course, be healthier, have a brighter spirit, and see each moment as an opportunity for fresh beginnings.

Christians own the corner market on these things. How could we not? Every time we fail, our Lord lifts us by His Gospel, reminding us that He succeeded in all things in our place. He drenches us in this forgiveness. All year long, he continues to wipe our slates clean, continually announcing He remembers our wickedness no longer (Hebrews 8:12). I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard a struggling Christian end a moment of sorrowful reflection with the phrase, “And yet, every day is a new day in the Lord.” To say this is nothing short of reciting the divine comforts leveled in Lamentations 3:22-23 and 2 Corinthians 4:16. Indeed, “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Indeed, “we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”

Praise God for this! As I preached in last night’s New Year’s Eve sermon, we’ll need this divine love every day of the oncoming year.

Aware of this love, there’s something else to keep in mind.

For starters, I don’t know too many genuine Christians who are comfortable with their sins. Christians want to do better. They want to be faithful. This means they want to exchange faithfulness to “self” with a better alignment to Christ’s will. Of course, they will struggle to accomplish this, having trouble jettisoning certain behaviors that haunt them, finding themselves in a perpetual wrestling match with these ever-stalking ghouls. Still, they’ll be honest about it, craving Word and Sacrament gifts of Gospel love that strengthen them for the bout. They know that only by the gifts God gives can they rise from the previous day’s struggles and say, “Every day is a new day in the Lord.” This is the voice of faith. This is proof of the Holy Spirit alive within them. This is evidence that they know what Saint Paul meant when he said, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17). Aware of this dynamic, Christians make conscious commitments to fight.

I say, get fighting. Take advantage of the New Year tradition of resoluteness and go to war against these things. Start the New Year reenergized for doing so. Commit to waking each day, remembering that in Christ, “every day is the best day in the year” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

God bless and keep you for this. Trust Him. He certainly is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).

By the way, if you find yourself struggling with this assurance, find a crucifix and take a long hard stare. In fact, I recommend putting one where you’ll see it first thing every morning. The reality symbolized by that gruesome scene is the “power at work within us.” Christ’s death has freed you from Sin, Death, and Satan’s power. Every day of each oncoming year that can be pitched against the events of Calvary will be a new day bolstered by the Lord’s marvelous love.

Again, God bless and keep you for this. It’s my prayer for you this New Year’s Day.

New Year’s Eve 2022

I wanted to take a quick moment to invite you to the New Year’s Eve Divine Service occurring here at Our Savior in Hartland at 4:30 pm. Although a strange time of day for a worship service, its selection is purposeful, allowing a brief intermission in your day before venturing out to whatever New Year’s Eve plans you may have. Although, whatever those plans might be, don’t forget about the New Year’s Day Divine Service tomorrow (Sunday) at 9:30 am.

Gathering in the Lord’s house on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day is good. Actually, the Church doesn’t necessarily refer to the gatherings using the titles of New Year’s Eve or Day. January 1 has long been celebrated as the “Feast of the Circumcision of Christ” because, according to the Law, a newborn male was required to be circumcised on the eighth day. For Jesus, according to our current Gregorian calendar, that would be January 1. Naturally, the night before was referred to as the “Eve of the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ.” A little further into history, the titles changed a bit. On many church calendars, the dates are referred to as the “Circumcision and Name of Jesus.” This is due to what’s written about the event in Luke 2:21, which reads: “And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”

No matter what you call the event, again, it’s good to be in the Lord’s house on New Year’s Eve. Tonight, we understand ourselves as pitched against a brand new year. Christians are inclined to go into it having first visited with Christ.

But why?

Because anything could happen. All things considered, we already know we couldn’t have made it through the previous year without Him, and we know far too well that we won’t survive the coming year apart from Him. He must be our point of origin and destination in all things all year long, all at the same time.

The Lord’s circumcision is a hint to this. His name is, too.

Christ, the perfect Son of God, could never be found accused by God’s Holy Law. And yet, as we are beneath it, He shows His willing submission to it—to bear its heavy burden perfectly—when He sheds His first few drops of blood through circumcision. Moreover, the announcement of His name—a name that literally means “the Lord saves”—testifies to who He is and what His trajectory will be relative to the Law. Indeed, He will keep it perfectly. Moreover, He will die as the perfect sacrifice measured against it. He’ll do this for us, not for Himself. He will be our substitute. And when He accomplishes it, He will give the merits of the victory to us.

Evelyn and I listen to music every day to and from school. One of the bands we’ve been singing along with lately has a particular lyric that reminds me a little bit of what New Year’s Eve holds in its back pocket. It’s a short lyric, but it’s memorable: “We walk the plank on a sinking ship.”

This is true.

The world is sinking. If you feel differently, then you’re not paying attention. Moreover, the crew—the Devil, the world, and the sinful flesh—has a sword in the back of humanity, pressing it to the edge of the ship’s plank.

In a sense, when we celebrate the “Circumcision and Name of Jesus,” Christians realize two things. Firstly, we’re reminded that Christ shed His blood so that the plank’s end would not be the final word for any of us. Regardless of how the crew might accuse us, we are innocent. Christ saw to that. We can go into every new year, walking any of life’s planks along the way, with this promise in our pocket.

Secondly, we’re reminded of just what it means to do these things relative to the Lord’s name. For anyone attuned to the biblical promises associated with God’s name, it’s likely baptism will be one of the first things that comes to mind. It certainly did for Saint Peter. In Acts 2:38, Peter announces the essentiality of being baptized into the name of Jesus, which is to be baptized according to the mandate Jesus prescribed in Matthew 28:19—that is “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Among the many glorious benefits, part of the point here is that God puts His name on you in the waters of Holy Baptism, and God has long promised that He will dwell where He puts His name.

Walking the plank on a sinking ship isn’t so bad when I know these things. For one, the plunge at the end of the plank becomes an opportunity to remember no matter the waters I’m entering, I’ve already been through the best waters there are. I’m bearing God’s name now. He loves me. He gave me everything that belongs to Christ. He said as much. He said that all who’ve been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-4). And if this is true, then, what comes at the end of any plank is of no concern. God said this, too. Death holds no mastery over me because it holds no mastery over Christ, the one who has clothed me with His righteousness (Galatians 3:27).

Remembering and celebrating these things is an excellent way to begin a new year. I encourage you to begin yours this way. Join other Christians who gather to receive this Gospel. The oncoming year promises a regular need for it. Christ promises to be there to give it.

I suppose I should conclude that if this message finds its way to a Christian whose church does not offer New Year’s Eve or Day services, then may I humbly urge you to go and find one that does? If anything, my guess is you’ll sense a level of spiritual awareness communicated by those services, a sense that proves their relevance for this troubled world. That alone makes it well worth your while.