Readings: Numbers 6:22-27, Galatians 3:23-29, Luke 2:21
Hymns: 375, 897, 733, 898, 390
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
One year ago on this very evening when you sat in this church, ending the old year—and the old decade—hearing God’s Word, singing His praises, and receiving the Supper, did you ever think things would go the way they did this year? So much has changed. Social distancing and social gatherings and quarantines were not on our radar screen. Now we rarely go a day without hearing about these things. The pandemic that quickly changed the world around us is still sickening and killing people. With vaccines now being administered, many are hopeful that this will be God’s way of reducing the severity of this pandemic, maybe even eliminating it. Let’s continue to pray that God will bring a quick end to the pandemic.
But our attention should not be so focused on one issue. Much has gone well this year. In our area, the crops grew well. Despite the spike in unemployment, most people retained their jobs. The markets have recovered. There are more programs out there to receive food and assistance than there were last year at this time. Water, sewer, gas, and electricity still work. We still have our homes. And above all, God is still our same loving, merciful, saving God. He is still present among us. He is still blessing us with His Word and the Sacraments. He has preserved this congregation for the past 100 years and will continue to do so.
We are gathered here in His house to end this year well, thank God for His blessings, receive Holy Communion, and ask for God’s continued love and blessings into the New Year. Our God who is ever faithful will do so. For He remains in charge of all things. Just as He causes things to grow and flourish, so also He will continue to bless His people with saving faith who grow and flourish in Christian wisdom. Of course, He does this through His Word and Sacrament.
We are still in the Christmas season. This is a time in which God reminds us that He keeps His promises, He is truly merciful, He desires to be in our presence, and He certainly uses all things for His purpose.
God fulfilled His promise to send the Messiah to save us from our sins. He is merciful in that He did not leave us to die in our sin, but sent His only-begotten Son to pay for our sins on the cross. By sending Jesus into the flesh and reconciling us to the Father, this demonstrates how much our perfect God wants to be in the presence of us sinners. And just as God saw to it that the efficient Roman roads would be built and the Greek language was learned by vast amounts of people in preparation for the coming of Christ so that the Gospel could spread easily, and just as God disrupted the lives of many when He guided Caesar Augustus to register everyone by forcing them to return to their hometowns causing Mary to give birth in Bethlehem, so also God has a plan today for what is taking place.
When Joseph learned that his betrothed was pregnant, he wanted to do away with Mary. But God had a plan. For Mary was not pregnant by cheating on Joseph; instead, this conception took place by the Holy Spirit. The Son of God was becoming Man to save the world from her many sins.
When things aren’t going the way we prefer, we are often like Joseph and try to devise our own plans and make them work our way. But then God intervenes. He does not promise to speak to us in a dream like He did to Joseph informing him to stick with his plans to be married to Mary. Yet, God has His ways to accomplish His will in our lives. Know that God does have a plan in all the messes we experienced in 2020. This next year could get worse if the Lord sees us fit to experience greater hardship. Or it could be drastically better. We leave that up to God. If things are worse, we remember “whom the Lord loves, He chastens” (Heb. 12:6) and we remember that God uses all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
If God should choose to make things better in the coming year, we must remember to give the glory to God, thank and praise Him for it, and not use the better times as an excuse to fast from God’s Word or withdraw from His holy name.
On this night, the world celebrates as the old year comes to a close and the new year begins. That’s fine, but the Church sees something about this time of the year in a much grander perspective. For when our Lord Jesus Christ was only a week old, He was circumcised in accordance with the Old Testament ceremonial Law, and He was given the name Jesus, which means He will save His people from their sins. It’s been a week since we celebrated our Lord’s birth. It is at this time in His life when Jesus underwent the shedding of His first drops of blood, and He was given a name which describes His work among His people.
The name Jesus means “The Lord Saves.” He’s also called Messiah or Christ, which both mean “Anointed One” or “Chosen One.” He is called Immanuel which means “God with us.” He’s our Lord and Master and Teacher. There are many other names for Jesus but these are the ones we hear the most.
God even places His name upon us. We heard the Benediction of Aaron in our Old Testament reading. God’s name, “The Lord” is placed upon God’s people three times in this benediction, just as God Himself is Triune—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Whenever we place our name on things, it means we approve of those things. If someone writes a letter on our behalf and we sign it, it means we approve of the letter and the letter now has the same status as if we ourselves wrote it. If we sign a contract, it means we approve of the terms of that contract. If we are ashamed of our home, we probably would avoid placing our name on the entry door, but if we are proud of our residence, we are much more likely to place our last name on the door. When women marry, they take up their husbands’ last names. She approves of being in his household. He approves of having her.
Of course, this approval of husband and wife goes far deeper; it is rooted in love. In the same token, God places His name upon us. He did so in Baptism. And He continues to do so in the Invocation and Benediction in the Divine Service. Even though we are sinners, He is stating that He approves of us, for Jesus has taken our sin away. He loves us unconditionally. He grants us sinners the same status as Jesus Himself, who is the Son of God. Our Father in Heaven is not ashamed of us, but in Christ, He is well pleased with us.
Of course, we do not deserve this blessing. We have done everything imaginable that should cause God to turn His back on us and withdraw from placing His name upon us. We have feared the pandemic more than the wrath of God. We have tested God’s patience as we have avoided the hearing of God’s Word and reception of the Sacrament. We have spoken poorly of others. We have coveted other people’s possessions—even their jobs, spouses, churches, or pastors. We have had lustful thoughts, been gluttonous, and sought ways to obtain things that don’t belong to us. We seek the praise and glory of men. We use our God-given tongues which are intended to repeat the great works of God to instead hurt the reputations of others—even curse and condemn those whom Christ has redeemed and whom He placed His name upon.
Clearly, we do not deserve to have God’s name spoken in our midst or placed upon us.
Yet, God does not deal with us according to what we deserve. If He did, He would bring plagues and pestilences upon us so frequently that this pandemic would seem like it is nothing. We would suffer an early death and eternal condemnation. Instead, God grants us grace and every blessing. He showers us with His love. He cancels our sins out through our Savior, Jesus, who died in our place on the cross. He keeps on placing His name upon us. And He comforts us with the promise of His continued presence, the gift of everlasting life and salvation.
These blessings belong to you. And when you see how wonderful they are, you will know that this year—and even this past year—is a good year, despite any challenges that may come. For God has blessed us with redemption and salvation. He has blessed us with the revelation of His Son, and He has placed His name upon us. What more could we ask? And so we respond to His love with praise and thanksgiving, trust and joyfulness. We go to the altar with boldness, knowing that He is feeding us the Body and Blood of Christ for our forgiveness.
God bless you as you close this year and begin this new year with Christ Jesus. His majestic name is placed upon you. Have a blessed New Year. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen