Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
Invocation: In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1. Tonight, the year 2007 draws to a close. In just a few short hours it will be history. This year, as always, the year ends with a burst of activity. The end of November brought Thanksgiving and then Advent and it's Christmas preparations. The end of December brought Christmas and all its celebrations. Now, barely a week after Christmas comes New Year's Eve, and tomorrow, a brand new year. With all the excitement of all these holidays with their decorations and company at our homes and vacations and parties and so many presents to enjoy--with all this going on, it's easy at times to lose sight of the Word of God in our lives.
2. During Isaiah's lifetime, the people of Jerusalem and Judah had lost sight of God's word in their lives. And not just at the busy, hectic times of year, but all the time. So God sent Isaiah a message for his people. A message, by the way, that God sends to us tonight, as well.
Go now, write it on a tablet for them, inscribe it on a scroll, that for the days to come it may be an everlasting witness. these are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the LORD's instruction. they say to the seers, "See no more visions!" and to the prophets, "Give us no more visions of what is right. Tell us pleasing things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel.
3. We, too are a rebellious people. We are deceitful children of God, unwilling to listen his instruction. We don't want to see the truth of the visions given to God's seers. We don't long for the words of the prophets which tell us the things that are right in the eyes of God. Together, with Judah and all Jerusalem, we say instead,
Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. . . stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel.
4. It's a difficult thing, to be confronted with our sinfulness by the Holy One of Israel. Especially on a night like tonight, when so many, maybe even some of us here tonight, will revel in the filth of sin, using the end of the year as an excuse to get drunk or act on sinful lusts and passions or ignore responsibilities to family and loved ones. On a large scale that will indeed happen tonight; that and even more which cannot be named in a holy place such as this. But maybe that's not your plan. Maybe you prefer to stay home, and sit secure in your spiritual superiority over all the sinful swine out causing havoc this evening. Whatever our plans for this evening, God has a word for us sinners.
Therefore, this is what the Holy One of Israel says: Because you have rejected this message, relied on oppression and depended on deceit, this sin will become for you like a high wall, cracked and bulging, that collapses suddenly, in an instant. It will break in pieces like potter shattered so mercilessly that among its pieces not a fragment will be ground for taking coals from a heart or scooping water out of a cistern.
5. In our sinfulness, we do reject the message to fear, love and trust in God so that we lead holy lives. Our sin builds and builds. It becomes a high wall, cracked and bulging, threatening to fall down upon us all the time. It will not hold up forever. A life of partying will eventually crash down around you. A life of haughty spiritual superiority will finally come crumbling down as well. Maybe not tonight, maybe not even next year, but our sinful lives will all turn to dust. One day, we will die, and even our bodies will turn to dust. Dust from which nothing can be salvaged. Once the wall of death has come crashing down, there is indeed no way to gather up all the pieces and put everything back together again.
6. We cannot live our lives in sin, whether it's New Year's Eve or any other "special" day. Instead, we must listen to the message of the LORD and learn from his instruction. We must do what we're doing here tonight, gathered around the Word of God, and in so doing, we will hear God's plan for us this evening, and for every evening of our lives.
This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel says: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength."
It's the same message God sends through King David who declares in Psalm 62:
My soul finds rest in God alone, my salvation comes from him.
Your rest cannot be found in a party or a bottle or a bed with a member of the opposite sex. Your salvation will not be present in thoughts of superiority because you do not party. Neither rest nor salvation can be found in a life surrounded by walls of sin and sinful behaviour. And so God calls on us to repent; to come to him in quietness and trust and confess our sins. To enter into his presence and lay our sins at the feet of Jesus, the true source of our rest and salvation. As we come before Jesus in quietness and trust, we will find rest and salvation for our bodies and souls. Because in Jesus, and only in Jesus is there forgiveness for our sins. As the angel told St. Joseph,
[St. Matthew 1:21b]
. . . you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
7. Jesus saves us from our rebellion against God. Jesus saves us from our deceitful dealings with other people. Jesus saves us from our sinful losing sight of God during these hectic, but holy times of year. Jesus gives us rest from the building up walls of sin around us; walls the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh would love to have us build. Jesus saves us from all that. Jesus rescues us from all that sin and brings us close to his side. So close, that St. Paul can say,
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
8. Held so close to Christ, knowing he is our Immanuel, our God who is with us all the time, we cannot live a life of revelry in sin as the godless pagans among us do. Rather, as God's redeemed people, made holy by the precious blood of our Saviour shed on the cross, we live a life of watchfulness, instead. Tonight, we watch for the coming of the New Year, but more importantly, we watch for the coming of the Lord. We live dressed and ready for service for our Saviour, like men waiting for their master to return form a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks we can immediately open the door for him. Because we know it will be good for us when the master comes and finds us ready, even if he does come in the second or third watch of the night. We watch, and prepare ourselves by heartfelt listening to the words of the seers and the prophets of God. We dare not lose our focus on the Word of God, at this time of year or any other. So we take to heart the message of the Holy One of Israel, even when his words confront us with our sins. By doing so, the Holy Spirit leads us to repentance, and a return to the Lord our God in consecrated quietness and trust. So tonight, instead of partying until the break of dawn, we watch in quietness and trusting strength, confident that through repentance and the refreshing rest of God, we will see our salvation in Jesus Christ. In his name. Amen.
Blessing: The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Keith R. Weise
December 29, 2007
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