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New Year's Promise

December 31, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this New Year’s Eve comes from our Old Testament text, where YHWH tells Isaiah, And now, go, write it before them on a tablet and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come as a witness forever. For they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the Lord… Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Do you have your New Year’s resolutions plotted out yet? Quit smoking, lose weight and get fit, get more sleep, attend worship more frequently, spend more time with family, get out of debt? All admirable, all more or less attainable, but if you’re anything like me (and I’d wager you are), some of these goals will fall by the wayside within the first couple of weeks of Anno Domine 2020. Something will happen, you’ll get side-tracked, and boom, you’ve slid back to where you were in 2019 and are often worse for the wear because now you’re discouraged by your steps back. I don’t say this to discourage you from making such resolutions and striving to attain them – indeed, I encourage you to do so – but I felt it needed to be said because, like it or not, it is the truth.

That’s the thing about the truth: sometimes it’s welcome, but often it’s disquieting, uncomfortable, even offensive. It’s disquieting to hear about all the violent and lawless deeds that have been going on throughout our country. It’s uncomfortable to hear about all the violent and senseless crime that we’ve seen here in our community over the past few days. It’s the truth of what’s been going on, but Lord knows it’s disturbing. Sometimes, people would rather live in ignorance, to bury their heads in the sand and pretend things are perfectly fine, and we are not exempt from this. The history of God’s people throughout time has been a history of people not wanting to hear the truth, and we see it very clearly tonight in our Old Testament text.

The people of Judah, like their northern kingdom counterparts, had been called by God to live in a manner reflective of their special designation as the Messianic people. The Savior of the whole world would come from them and that meant they needed to live differently than the peoples around them. Needless to say, they did not. To quote one of Isaiah’s contemporaries, Amos, Judah had rejected the law of the Lord, and have not kept his statutes, but their lies have led them astray, those after which their fathers walked. These were a people who had abandoned the true God for a lie, who preferred to be kept comfortable in their sin rather than be convicted and repent. YHWH describes them vividly to Isaiah, saying that they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the Lord; who say to the seers, “Do not see,” and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.” They were a people who despised God’s Word. They sought political alliances with enemy nations, thinking this would save them. They relied on themselves, on their own reason and power, not on their God.

You can see that this is not going to end well for Judah. Isaiah delivers to them this Word from YHWH, Because you despise this word and trust in oppression and perverseness and rely on them, therefore this iniquity shall be to you like a breach in a high wall, bulging out and about to collapse, whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant; and its breaking is like that of a potter's vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a shard is found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern. Judah’s destruction for her unrepentant ways was assured, and no foreign nation would be able to save them from the coming wrath.

I know this is sort of a disquieting text for New Year’s and the Christmas season – it’s not exactly joyful or hopeful in its content or tone. But it is the truth, and the truth is that God cannot abide sin, especially not among His people. Sin needs atoning for, and without that atonement, there can be no peace between God and His sinful people – and that does include us. We are no better than the sinful Judahites to whom Isaiah first wrote; any sin that’s named among them, we are equally guilty of, even despising God’s Word. This pronouncement of judgment upon faithless Israel and Judah could certainly be spoken over us. For our faithless thoughts, words, and deeds, we deserve nothing less than total annihilation. That is the truth.

That’s what we deserve, but thankfully, the truth is that it’s not what we get. YHWH is not like other gods (who aren’t actually gods at all). Even when He disciplined Judah for her sin, He was also willing to show mercy. Isaiah concludes this word from YHWH by saying to faithless Judah, Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. Damnation is what they and we deserve, but God shows us mercy. He takes no pleasure in the destruction and death of any sinner, but desires that all would turn and live. He wants to show mercy in the midst of His justice, which makes what we celebrated a week ago all the more profound. In sending of His only-begotten Son into our flesh to bear our sin and be our Savior, God showed that He would spare no expense to secure for us the forgiveness of our sins. Paul says it well in his letter to the Roman Christians, God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. YHWH our God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

That was always God’s plan: to be the One who pays sin’s penalty. Even as Judah wallowed in sinful self-assurance and the arrogance of self-dependence, YHWH knew how He would right their wrongs … and ours. Jesus paid the penalty for your sin and mine; because of His death, your sins are forgiven and you have peace with God, and because He rose again, we have the promise of eternal life with Him. That is the truth, my friends – not a New Year’s resolution, but a New Year’s promise, from God to His faithful people. The truth of this promise has sustained God’s people since the Fall. It sustained us through Anno Domine 2019, and it will certainly see us through 2020. A continued merry Christmas, and a blessed New Year to you all.

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.