New Year’s Day
January 1, 2023
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Gospel from St. Luke.
Well, it’s that time of year: a time to turn over a new leaf, to start exercising, to learn a new skill, to find a new job, and whatever else you’ve resolved to do. Every January 1st people all over the world resolve to drop bad habits, pick up good ones, and become new men and women. There’s nothing wrong with resolutions; if you want to promise yourself to do something in the new year, go for it! Some resolutions are kept, some are broken, sometimes it’s your fault, sometimes it’s not. Life can get in the way, and no matter how many resolutions you make, the new year is a mystery. So, while self-improvement and dropping bad habits are always good ideas, it’s better yet to enter the new year with faith, not resolutions.
Resolutions are laudable, but what if you resolve to lose weight, exercise more, take up a hobby, and you’re thrown a curveball. What if you resolve to save enough money to take a vacation and there’s a hitch in your life? Only God knows what the future specifically holds; we can only guess, although God does give us a pretty good indication of possibilities. Paul says in the Epistle: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” I think we can be sure that Paul mentions these because they’re a real possibility. There’s also the likelihood of other painful and terrible events: some will get sick, others injured, still others will die. Some will have a relationship end, others may lose their job, and others will have a constant thorn in the side like Saint Paul. You know as well as I do that Sin doesn’t care about our plans or desires, and resolutions won’t be much help if 2023 is filled with crosses and trials. The only way to enter the new year is by faith. The only way to face the future without fear and trembling is to trust that the next year is in God’s hands. Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on…And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
This sounds easy enough: “Just don’t worry.” But why? Why shouldn’t we worry? Jesus tells us why: the Father knows we need these things, and He wants us to trust Him because He cares for us. In Psalm 40 King David writes, “As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God!” King David knew his troubles just like you do. He also knew who would help Him, and God who helped David, helps you. God who stood by His faithful prophet Daniel in the lion’s den, stands in your lion’s den with you. God who spoke words of peace to His frightened disciples, speaks them to you!
The new year is a mystery, we don’t know what it holds, but imagine how much more uncertain it would be without faith? If you resolve to muscle through problems or to handle them with your own self-discipline, you’re going to come up short every time. I don’t care who you are, when you’re sick or laying in a hospital bed or grieving or struggling with an addiction, you need the gracious Lord and Savior who knows your pain. You need the love of Christ which cannot be taken away from you! As David says, “Cast your burden on the LORD, and He will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved” (Psalm 55:22).
There’s another reason to enter the new year in faith – and it’s unpleasant to think about, let alone talk about – but the reality of death. We want to ignore the truth that Death’s sharp sickle can cut you down at any time. James, the brother of Jesus, says: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:13-14). These words are a little unsettling; they’re also true.
In the Gospel, Jesus is talking about His second coming and the need to be prepared. His words can also be applied to our lives because at our death we will see Christ, in a way that will be His second coming for us. Jesus says, “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.” As almost all of you know, death is sad, it leaves an empty hole in the middle of our chests. We fear our own death and we fear the death of others because lives are irreversibly changed when death comes. However, as hard is it can be to accept, death for the Christian isn’t bad thing. Now listen, grief and pain are perfectly natural when someone we love dies. How can it not hurt? But we do not grieve as others do who have no hope! When a Christian dies they enter the presence of God, where they see the Crucified and Risen Christ. Everything bad is over and done with! Sin is gone, death is gone, pain is gone. All that’s left is an eternity with our Lord and Savior. To enter the new year in faith means that no matter what this year brings – even death – we know that God will preserve us and bring us to Himself.
No matter what resolutions you make, you’re probably not going to keep them all, especially if you resolve to stop sinning. To stop taking the Lord’s name in vain or to stop tearing others down or looking at pornography or praying more or worshiping more are certainly God-pleasing resolutions, and by His power and grace, you can work toward keeping these. But sin is ever present in your life and you’re going to fail in the new year just like you did in the old year, and all the years before that.
To enter the new year in faith is to know that all the sins of 2022 are forgiven and forgotten. The Lord says through Isaiah: “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25). God who knows all things and sees all things has forgotten your sins! Isn’t that amazing! The blood of Jesus washes your sins completely, totally, forever away! Leave the sins of 2022 where they belong, on Jesus, and with faith move into 2023, when that same blood of Jesus washes your sins again completely, totally, forever away! Every time you fail, every time you sin, you’ll find Christ standing there, showing you that He forgives your sins. Even the ones you resolve to put behind you and yet keep finding in front of you!
Faith in God leads to repentance and new life. This isn’t a resolution to live a new life, it’s a change brought about by God. It’s a change produced by the Holy Spirit in your baptism where the old sinner is drowned and a new saint emerges every, single day. This can be hard and sometimes you might wonder if you have the faith needed. Let me assure you that you do! A weak or struggling faith is still faith and it’s one that brings God’s promises of strength and hope. As He says in Isaiah: “A bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3). In other words, He’s not going to throw you to the side when you struggle. He’s going to hold you, just like He does all those who believe in Him. And if you struggle to enter the new year in faith, if you struggle to live in the new year in faith, God’s promises are still true, for He has resolved to save you and this is one that He will keep forever.
In his second letter to the Thessalonian congregations, Paul wrote: “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of His calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by His power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 1:11-12). Resolutions are popular and most will be broken eventually. Resolutions about faith and how we live out our faith will be broken at times as well, but as you turn back to God, you’ll find a God who has resolved to forgive all your sins. No matter what happens this year, joy or sorrow, birth or death, know you’re not alone and you don’t have to just push through by your own power. As you enter the new year in faith, trust that God knows what the new year holds and He has resolved to take you through it, and God never breaks a resolution.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen