New Year’s Day January 1, 2023
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ +
119, 110, 123, Worship Supplement 2000 #725
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://anchor.fm/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: Lord God, heavenly Father, because You sent us our only-begotten Son for our salvation and gave Him the name of Jesus, grant that we may begin the New Year trusting in His saving name and live all our days in His service and praise to the glory of His holy name; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Great God, we sing that mighty hand
By which supported still we stand.
The opening year Thy mercy shows;
Let mercy crown it till it close.
With grateful hearts the past we own;
The future, all to us unknown,
We to Thy guardian care commit
And peaceful, leave before Thy feet. Amen.
(TLH #119:1 & 3)
Dear fellow pilgrim partners, fellow redeemed in Christ Jesus,
New Year’s is all about…what? How would you finish that sentence? When your friends asked why you were going to church on New Year Eve, rather than coming to their dinner party, what reason did you give them?
Today we are going to consider how New Year’s is a time to think about our MORTALITY. That might not sound very exciting New Year’s sermon, but it is very important. You and I are dust and ashes and we don’t know when our last hour will be. Wise King Solomon reminds us, “Better to go to the house of mourning Than to go to the house of feasting, For (death) is the end of all men; And the living will take it to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2)
Our theme is: “a Pilgrim’s Prayer for the New Year.” Now, when you hear “pilgrim” don’t think of the people that wore funny black hats and clothes at the first Thanksgiving. A pilgrim is simply a traveler on a journey who is going to a sacred place. And that’s what the Bible calls all believers in Christ—we are all pilgrims. You and me, we are just passing through this life on earth. We are strangers living in a strange land. God has called us to faith and made us citizens of heaven. By His great grace, heaven is now our home.
As we prepare to enter 2019, the Word of God I would lay on your hearts is a psalm of David, Psalm 39. We’ll be focusing on verses 4 through 7, and verse 12.
“LORD, make me to know my end, And what is the measure of my days, That I may know how frail I am. Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, And my age is as nothing before You; Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor. Selah Surely every man walks about like a shadow; Surely they busy themselves in vain; He heaps up riches, And does not know who will gather them. And now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You.
“Hear my prayer, O LORD, And give ear to my cry; Do not be silent at my tears; For I am a stranger with You, A sojourner, as all my fathers were.” (NKJV)
So far the Word of God. O LORD, Your Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. May the light of your holy Word lead us as we enter this new year. Amen.
Usually around this time of year news programs and magazines like to recount some of the famous names that died in the last calendar year. 2022 included names like Bob Saget and Naomi Judd. Some death’s caught us by surprise. Other deaths were somewhat expected because of age or disease.
Regardless of age or circumstance, how many of those who died in 2022 do you think celebrated last New Year’s thinking about their mortality? And what about all those surprise deaths in 2022? Do you think they celebrated last New Year’s thinking this would be their last New Year’s? How many people in the Ukraine celebrated on December 31, 2021 thinking that their apartment building might be demolished by Russian missiles a few months later? Furthermore, how many of them woke up that morning thinking this could be their last day of their life? If they had known that they were going to die this year or on that day, do you think they would approached life a little differently.
What the psalmist says in our text showed itself to be true once again in 2022, just as it has ever since sin and death entered the world. “Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor. Surely every man walks about like a shadow.” Like a shadow passing by our bedroom window or like the steam from a hot shower that is there one minute and gone the next, so is the life of every man. Man is here one minute and gone the next.
While we know this is true, we need to be reminded of it again and again. David writes in verse 4, “LORD, make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am.” We are indeed very frail. The word “frail” here can mean to “cease” or to be “transient” or “fleeting.” One minute we are walking around fine, then with one slip our hip is broken. One day we are the picture of health, the next day we are diagnosed with terminal cancer. We are physically very frail, and our strength is fleeting.
But our frailty goes beyond our bodies. We are also spiritually frail. Born dead in our trespasses and sins, we were spiritually incapable of coming to faith in Jesus for salvation. Once in that faith, we easily wander far and wide and find ourselves into all sorts of spiritual trouble. We are indeed frail.
Knowing our end and how frail we are, changes how we look at our daily life and our faith. It not only helps us to appreciate what God has given us today, but it changes our outlook on tomorrow and the New Year that lies ahead of us. Thus, our prayer for the New Year begins by asking God to make us know how frail we are.
Our prayer continues in verse 7, “And now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You.” Hope in this world is very uncertain. We HOPE that important package arrives today, but we’re not sure if it will because any number of things could affect the delivery—bad weather, bad driving, or bad directions. Our hope in this world is uncertain because this world and the people of this world are uncertain.
Not so with the Lord God. He is a Rock—that is, He is solid, He is reliable. He is also unchangeable—He is the same yesterday, today and forever. As He was reliable and unchangeable in 2022, so He will be in 2023. He keeps every single one of His promises. Paul writes, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13) Even if we can’t keep our promises, that doesn’t change who God is and His faithfulness. He said our Savior would be born of a Virgin, and on Christmas Christ was born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus said He would be killed and rise again the third day. On Easter Sunday the tomb was empty because Christ had arisen, just as He said He would.
The only hope for the frail believer entering a new day or a new year, is to look to the unchangeable God with His unchangeable promises. Just think of the amazing grace of our unchangeable God. Knowing our frailty, God Himself became one of us to take our frailty on Himself. He became Immanuel—“God with us.” Jesus was physically frail just like us. He became hungry and tired. When He was slapped and beaten, it hurt. Like everyone in the 2022 obituaries, Jesus also breathed His last and died.
God tasted our physical frailty because He knew how spiritually frail we were. He knew we could not free ourselves from our own sins, so He came to take our sins on Himself. On the cross He took on Himself the full wrath of God on account of our sins. And in this great exchange, God gave us what we lacked—righteousness. (God) made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
God also tasted our physical frailty to free us from the fear that comes to mind when we see the obituary section of the newspaper. Hebrews 2, verse 14 and 15, “Therefore, since the children share flesh and blood, he also shared the same flesh and blood, so that through death he could destroy the one who had the power of death (that is, the Devil) and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death.” (EHV) Jesus took our frailty on Himself and died. Having done that, He rose from the dead on the third day. Jesus, who became frail just like us, now rules over death.
As we enter 2023, let this be the One you hope in. Let us hope in the promises of the One who became one of us. Because Christ rose from the dead on Easter, we can be certain that not even death stops Him from keeping His promises. In our frailty, let us take His promises with us into 2023. Promises like John 3:16, that whoever believes in Him shall NOT perish, but have everlasting life. Promises like, “Because I live, you will live also.” (John 14:19) Promises like the one made to weeping Martha at Lazarus’ tomb, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:26-27) Or Hebrews 13:15, He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Knowing our spiritual frailty, let us also hope in God for strength in 2023. God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a guide to our path, showing us the way through the unknowns which lie ahead of us in 2023. Through His Word, the Holy Spirit feeds our faith and strengthens it. Knowing our spiritual frailty, let us abide in His Word. With the Sacrament of Lord’s Supper, Jesus Himself comes to us and feeds our faith with Himself—His own body and blood. Confessing our sinful frailty, let us feed on Him for strength. Let us continue to hope in the LORD.
Might 2023 be your last year? Maybe. It could be the last year for this entire creation, we just don’t know. Our time is in the LORD’s hands. Remembering that we are pilgrims who are passing through, let us pray that the LORD would make us to know how frail we are that we might wholly rely on Him as our hope. May His sure and certain promises fill you with hope in the New Year to come. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The Holy Bible, Evangelical Heritage Version® (EHV ®) © 2019 The Wartburg Project. All rights reserved. Used by permission.