Presented on The Lutheran Hour on December 28, 2014 By Rev. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour (A Happy New Year?) Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Romans 8:37-39
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! As we stand ready to enter a New Year, we are all aware there may be dark days ahead; that monsters may lurk in our tomorrows. May we also know that nothing in creation can separate us from God's love which we have in Jesus. May God grant such confidence to us all. Amen.
The seven-year-old girl was very much afraid of the dark. She was afraid there were things lurking out there, waiting for her to make a foolish move so they could pounce. That is why she was very much disturbed when her mother asked her to fetch the broom from the dark, back porch. "I can't," she said, "the dark frightens me." The little girl's mother, loving and understanding, took time out to explain, "Honey, Jesus is out there, so there's nothing to be frightened of. Jesus is everywhere, He'll protect you." "Are you sure Jesus is out there," the little girl asked as she tried to gain courage. "Of course, I'm sure." The girl opened the door a crack and said into the darkness, "Jesus would You please hand me the broom?"
I think on this New Year's week, as we stand and look at all the possible forces which might come against us in 2015, like that little girl, we might find ourselves afraid of the monsters who lurk in the dark. It was a good number of years ago I came across a product called "The Life Clock." The Life Clock was a device which was sold by The Sharper Image. Though it ticked off hours and minutes, it was no ordinary timepiece. Triangular in shape, with a digital display, it had a unique feature whereby the owner of the clock would enter his or her date of birth. A computer chip would then calculate, based on actuary tables, how much time the average owner might expect to live. That meant you could literally watch the seconds of your life tick down towards zero.
I probably don't have to tell you The Life Clock is no longer being sold by The Shaper Image. That's not surprising, the product never really was a big seller. It seems very few people are willing to pay good money so they can see the seconds, minutes, hours, and days of their lives forever disappear. This past week I came across a free website which does the same thing as The Life Clock. I visited that sight, entered my birthday, and it told me how much time I was supposed to have left. And, no, I'm not going to share what it told me. I'm not sharing because not even a computer REALLY knows how long I'm going to live.
And that unknown factor is what can make us, like that little girl, be afraid of the dark. Looking at an entire year, 365 dark and unknown tomorrows, we just might find ourselves a bit intimidated by the unknown monsters who are ready, willing, and able to jump out of nowhere, grab us, and mess us up. On Wednesday night, if you stay awake long enough, you will be treated to the visual feast of millions of people, from coast to coast, welcoming in the New Year. Some of them will be very silly; many of them will be very loud, and more than a few will be very drunk.
Sociologists tell me that many cultures throw New Year's parties because they believe the power of positive thinking just might influence what will happen to them in the next year. That, at least in part, explains why in Holland they eat doughnuts and in Japan they slurp up Soba noodles. The Germans consume marzipan pigs and in Italy they eat sausage. In Spain they devour 12 grapes, one consumed with each strike of the midnight clock. The Norwegians put their trust in rice pudding which has a single, lucky almond tucked inside and the Greeks eat St. Basil's cake which has a coin hidden away. Always these good-luck foods are eaten in the company of friends and family, and always with the hope that what happens on the first day of the year will carry through to the last.
Of course there are many reasons to party on New Year's. Some folks have a great desire to begin the New Year with a clean slate, a tablet on which is written none of the pains and problems of the past. No matter what your motivation to celebrate the New Year, there is always the knowledge, always the fear, that out there, in the dark, waiting to ruin everything, are the monsters. No doubt, in years past, you have seen some of them. There are financial monsters who, even when times are good, make us question whether they will stay that way. They make us ask, "Will I keep my job; is my retirement fund enough; how can I manage my debt."
There are monsters which make us fearful about relationships. Is my marriage healthy? What is going wrong with my children? When will I find a real, lasting, and trustworthy friend? And then, often coming out of nowhere, when things are seemingly peaceful and comfortable, is the unwanted, unwelcomed monster we call grief.
Every year since humankind first fell into sin, grief has visited us. This past year I have seen grief come to a young widower who is now trying to raise his three children alone. I have seen grief call on a man who is so filled with uncertainty and confusion that he has lashed out at his wife, the person who is nearest and closest to him, and maybe the one person in the entire world who actually believes in and loves him. I have seen the mother who makes a daily visit to a nearby cemetery. There, before a small grave, she stands quietly alone before she begins the tasks of the day. When she leaves the cemetery, it is always with the painful knowledge that part of her, her child, is buried there. Grief is the sadness which comes a hundred times a day to the widower who keeps catching himself as he speaks to a life's partner who is no longer there. Grief is the emptiness that comes to the widow who eats alone after having eaten with another for so many years. Both widow and widower talk about the grief which comes as they try to teach themselves to go to bed without saying good night to the spouse who has died.
In many different ways and in many different forms grief can come. No matter what form it takes, it always helps us wish things were different even though we know they are not and never will be again. Grief is a whole cluster of adjustments, apprehensions, and uncertainties that strike at us as we move in time. And they will be there in 2015.
Which is why as we stand only a few days from the New Year's arrival, it is right that we hear St. Paul who boldly states: 'nothing, no darkness, no monster,' real or imagined, 'can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.' Make no mistake about it, there are monsters out there. Writing to the church in Rome, Paul gave a partial list of those monsters. Let's see: there was tribulation, distress, famine, nakedness, perils, and violent persecution. Enough? Not hardly. Paul continues as he mentions powers and principalities, things both present and things to come. All these, the Apostle says, will do their best to separate you from the love of God which comes in Jesus Christ our Savior.
You do know Jesus, don't you? Humanity first heard of His coming shortly after they had disobeyed the Lord and unleashed the monsters of darkness into this world. Seeing our helplessness in that all-enveloping darkness, the Lord promised to send Light into this world. His Son would be that Light and He would change things. That was the promise God made; and Jesus is that promise fulfilled. It has only been a week since we celebrated His birth in Bethlehem. On April 3rd His followers will remember His life and how, for the world's salvation, He fulfilled the laws sinners have broken; we will recall how Jesus resisted every seductive suggestion Satan whispered, and we will mourn as we remember how, for all His efforts, the darkness-loving world, crucified and killed Him.
That day, the darkest of days this world has ever seen, God's Son gave Himself as the Ransom which would forgive the world's sins and grant salvation to all who would be brought to faith in Him. The success of what Jesus did during His 33 years of life was shown three days later when, in spite of every natural law we know, He rose from the dead. He rose and showed Himself again and again to those who eventually were to be His witnesses to a doubting world. It was His resurrection which put the powers of darkness, the monsters which haunt our minds and hearts, into their proper place. It was His resurrection which emboldened Paul to write, "Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus." It was his way of saying, like the mother at the beginning of this message said, "Don't be afraid of the monsters or the dark. Don't be afraid of the things which are coming. Jesus will be there. Jesus is everywhere."
And it is at this point that people in every age have said, "Pastor, now just you hold on and wait a minute. That was easy for Paul to say way back in his day. Things were easier back then. He didn't have to deal with taxes, and problems, and wars, and morality questions, and social diseases like we do. He didn't have to face unknown monsters like we who live in the 21st century. Saint Paul just doesn't understand our problems. Our monsters are big; they are fearsome; and they can't be waved away.
Dear friends, nowadays, when someone is baptized, we often have sponsors stand up and make statements on behalf of that individual. Do you know where the idea of sponsors began? At that very church that Paul was writing to in our text ...the church at Rome. Why did they need sponsors? Back then no one knew if a father or mother would come home from work, no one knew if their house would be broken into and various members of the family carted away, only to be seen one last time in the arena, or covered with tar and pitch as they became living torches in the emperor's garden. Sponsors were a necessity. Today sponsors are picked to give honor to someone, or because we want to return a past favor, or because they are a relative. In Paul's day sponsors were picked from the Christian community because there were a great many orphans in Rome, and it was necessary to have a spare set of parents around who would raise children in the love of Jesus. Which parent among us has had such a thought when they selected Godparents for their baby? Yes, Paul's Roman Christians faced some frightening monsters of their own. They, too, had a right to be afraid of the dark.
And did I hear someone mention taxes? It's true, taxes can become monstrous and oppressive. Did the Christians of Rome have to deal with that? Well, actually they didn't. It's true. In the city of Rome, Christians did not have to pay taxes. That may sound wonderful until you hear the reason why those believers didn't pay taxes. They didn't pay taxes because Christians were not allowed to own businesses. If you were a business owner and wanted to remain a Christian, you ran a terrible risk. If the government found out about you, they would take everything. You would be left penniless. Forget social security, or help for dependent children, or welfare, or electronic food stamp cards. There was none of that for the folks of the church in Rome. If the owner of a business was caught, he could be sold into slavery. Forget unemployment compensation. His life was forfeit. What 21st century Christian professionals, laborers, farmers have ever had to deal with that? Paul's Christians faced many monsters back then; they had a right to be afraid of the dark.
As we approach the New Year, as we stand before the dark and the monsters of 2015, it is my duty and joy to tell you that the words of St. Paul, first written to the church of Rome, do apply to us. When Paul, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, writes that we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us; when he says that neither the demons nor death, neither powers, the past or future can separate us from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus, he is speaking to us. If God's love is large enough to conquer the problems of the Roman Christians, it is possible for that same love to conquer our lesser but equally disturbing difficulties.
Please understand, Paul does not say, "you haven't got any problems." Nor is he is saying, "Forget about those hideous monsters which are lurking in your tomorrows." Paul is not promoting the power of positive or wishful thinking; he is not saying, 'look at the bright side of things' or 'find the silver lining which surrounds every dark cloud." St. Paul is not a fool; the people he wrote to were not ignorant, superstitious, gullible country bumpkins. They, like you, had very real problems, difficulties, pains, and hurts.
What Paul wants Christians in every generation to know is this: GOD IS FOR YOU. That same God, who was willing to give His only Son to die for our salvation on a despised cross, is not about to leave us alone and forsaken. If He was willing to perform this tremendous act of love to save our souls from damnation; if He was willing to offer us the greatest Gift of all, in the Person of His Son, He certainly is not going to desert us in our 2015 needs. Saint Paul is saying, "Don't be afraid of the 2015 dark. Jesus is there. Jesus is everywhere. Jesus will help you."
And Jesus, your loving Savior, will do exactly that... if you see this year with eyes of faith. That is what the early Christians did when they saw fangs of the lions ready to devour, that is what they did when they saw the hooves of the maddened bull ready to trample. Stephen used eyes of faith to see past the stones which were being thrown to murder him and instead looked to the opening heavens and saw the Christ coming for him. It is with eyes of faith that Christians saw past their chains, past the dark mines in which they were imprisoned as slaves. With the eyes of faith they knew that God was in charge, and the sufferings of this present time were not to be compared to the glory which they would soon know. They knew that Jesus was there in the dark, loving them, caring, and comforting them.
That is what God wants you to know as you prepare to enter this New Year. He wants you to see Him with eyes of faith, to trust in Him, to rely on Him, to cling to Him. He is not about to guarantee that 2015 will not have dark days or monsters jumping out. They will be there and they will come. It is quite possible that there are those who are listening to this message who will not be around on Wednesday when the New Year rings in; there will be others who will leave us before the 2016 calendar is posted. Still, with eyes of faith, you can see Jesus is in charge.
Jesus will not leave us alone. Indeed, our ultimate future, our eternal destiny, is not in the hands of Islamic terrorists or an international banking consortium. Our employer does not control our ultimate fortune. By God's grace, with Holy Spirit-given faith, we can be at peace in the hands of God. We can be at peace because we know, because of Christ, we will live our days as more than conquerors.
Years ago, when I was young, I had a friend who loved to build sand castles. Goodness, his hands worked wonders as they built whole cities. It was beautiful, until, one day, some new kids showed up. One held my friend while the others stamped his sandcastles. Although the bullies eventually lost interest in my friend, they loved to stomp on the stuff he had so painstakingly made.
That changed the day my friend did something different. When he was done, his work was just as beautiful as before... and seemingly just as vulnerable to the kicks of his enemies. Yes, so it seemed. It was only when the bullies took their first bare-footed kick they discovered my friend had placed cinder blocks and chunks of concrete under his castle. The boys kicked, but their toes had met their match. My friends, Jesus is the solid rock under the shifting sand of your life. Jesus is the One who will stop anybody from kicking your days apart. In this New Year, with monsters lurking in our dark tomorrows, believe on the Savior who changes everything.
And, if you need to know more about this living Lord; if you need someone to help you with your monsters, I say this: please, call us at The Lutheran Hour and let us help. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for December 28, 2014 Topic: A Happy New Year?
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Ken Klaus responds to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer.
KLAUS: Hi, Mark. And a Happy Almost-New Year to you.
ANNOUNCER: And a Happy Almost-New Year, to you, as well. Actually, Happy New Year is the topic for today. You could call it maybe "Happy New Year" with a question mark.
KLAUS: This sounds like fun. What does our listener have to say?
ANNOUNCER: She writes: "Although we wish people a Happy New Year, the truth is, the way things are going, I'm not so sure it's going to be all that happy. Things are getting so bad in the world, I am convinced that in the not-so-distant future, Jesus will return and it'll be the end of the world as we know it. Do you think Judgment Day is right around the corner?"
KLAUS: Interesting question. I have to begin by saying, "I'm a pastor... not a prophet." There are others who claim to have that ability.
ANNOUNCER: And how are they doing with predicting the future?
KLAUS: Actually, this past week I looked up some of the prophecies psychics had made for this year which is now almost past. They came up with some pretty interesting prognostications.
ANNOUNCER: Really? Such as?
KLAUS: Well, one leading psychic said, 'Science will discover that diseases can be transmitted from one location to another by thoughts.' Another said the Pope would appoint the first woman Cardinal to the Vatican. Another psychic said "the Empire State Building in New York would start to lean over and there would be a worldwide power blackout." All-in-all, it was a pretty impressive list... and worthy of a chuckle or two.
ANNOUNCER: I'm wondering; do they have any predictions for 2015?
KLAUS: Absolutely... and they will probably have the same terrible results as they have in the past.
ANNOUNCER: Even so, our listener wants to know how we can really wish each other a "Happy" New Year.
KLAUS: Mark, almost 75 years ago, Walt Disney had Jiminy Cricket sing a song about wishing. That song won an Academy Award. The first verse of that song says, "When you wish upon a star/ Makes no difference who you are/ Anything your heart desires Will come to you."
ANNOUNCER: And if that's really how things are, I suppose we could wish for anything our heart desires and no wish would be too extreme! But, I don't think that really gets at what our listener is asking.
KLAUS: No, she was asking about the end of the world and whether it's just around the bend.
ANNOUNCER: Do you have an answer for her?
KLAUS: I do, and that answer is, "I don't know." In fact I'll even go further out on the limb and say, "Nobody knows."
ANNOUNCER: That's really not so far out on the limb. In Mark 13:32, Jesus, Himself, said: "Concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
KLAUS: That's absolutely true. I don't know. Yes, some of the things Jesus said about the last times are being fulfilled right now, but the same thing could be said in every generation. That's why, in this New Year, the best advice I can give is, "Be ready." Jesus may return... maybe for the world as a whole or for you as an individual. Either way, Jesus is coming back someday and 2015 is one year closer to His return than was 2014.
ANNOUNCER: And how about wishing each other a "Happy New Year"?
KLAUS: Mark, the truth is I've always had a hard time wishing somebody a happy New Year. Happiness is an emotion that comes from within us, and often it's a very fleeting thing. Along with that, we should note, God doesn't make any promises to His people when they wish.
ANNOUNCER: By that, I'm assuming you have an alternative expression, maybe, that could take the place of "Happy New Year"?
KLAUS: I do. It's what I used to say to the members of my congregations in the years when I was in the parish.
ANNOUNCER: And what did you say?
KLAUS: I would tell them either something like, "May you be given a blessed New Year" or "I'm praying the Lord will grant you a New Year filled with His blessings." Both of those sentences, they acknowledge that the Lord is in charge of time and our lives; that He is the Giver of every good and every perfect gift. And, Mark, this year will be blessed. How could it be otherwise? No matter what 2015 may bring, Jesus' redeemed people are entering another year knowing that their sins are forgiven and that the Savior is by their side.
ANNOUNCER: And with Jesus, 2015 will be blessed, indeed. Thank you, Pastor Klaus. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Our God, Our Help in Ages Past" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
"Almighty God, Your Word Is Cast" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
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