New Year’s Eve
December 31, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
What shall we say to 2016? A lot of people are ready to say sayonara. Merriam-Webster Dictionary reports that the most searched word in 2016 is “surreal.” It’s a word that well describes the past year, and not because there was a spike of interest in Salvador Dali paintings of melting watches. The definition given in the dictionary is something “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream.”
The surreality is attributed to things ranging from the election of Donald Trump as president—even if he was your guy, you probably didn’t see this coming a year ago today and the election was certainly a strange one—to the deaths of so many celebrities. And it was a year marked with terror as well. Brussels, Nice, Syria, Orlando among others, and most recently, Berlin. Surreal indeed.
What shall we say to these things? Looking back, it really seems that 2016 was against us. Like some cosmic forces were conspiring—not to completely destroy us, but to make us think, “What’s going on?” Just when you think you have the world figured out.
2016 was bad business for atheists. If there was no God, and the cosmos was ruled by indifferent laws and random chance, then you’d expect to be able to find some rational explanations for why these things happened, or see some sort of balance of the reality. But as it stand, we are several standard deviations away from normal. If we can even say what normal is, anymore.
But while 2016 was bad business for atheists, business boomed for agnostics. The events of the last 366 days (remember this year was also a leap year) suggest that there are some spiritual forces at work, some god or gods out there that are bigger than these, some transcendence that we cannot perceive. Perhaps even one god who has the ability and desire to influence the events of history. But we have no idea what his or her or its disposition is toward us. That’s agnosticism.
While we all may be ready to say “So long,” to 2016, the events that made it so surreal may forbode an even more messed up 2017. Trump’s election may be the great American Renaissance that many hope for, and then again, it just might be a dumpster fire. The celebrity deaths may start to snowball, but even worse, 2017 may be the final year for people less famous, but more dear to you. And what if the world can’t get a handle on this terrorism thing? Is there any public place you can go and feel safe?
What shall we say to 2016? It’s provided some really good evidence that there is something or someone working against us to separate us from the love of God.
Yet here we are in the closing hours of 2016. We made it. And what’s more, we’re here in church. God speaks to us. Not stern words of judgment, but comforting words of hope. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who indeed did not spare His own Son, but handed Him over on behalf of all of you, how will He not also with Him grace us with all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the One who justifies. Who is the One who condemns? Christ is the One who died, but more than that, He rose, who is also at the right hand of God, who is also interceding for us. Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction, or trouble, or persecution, or hunger, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? Just as it is written, “On account of You, we are put to death the whole day; we are considered as sheep for slaughter.” But in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (vv 31-37).
What shall we say to 2016?
Because of Christ’s Death and Resurrection, We More Than Conquer This Year and Every Year
There’s a great word used here by St. Paul. ‘Yπερνικῶμεν. Literally, “hyper-victors.” Nika is the Greek word for victory (any of you who have any Nike apparel, that’s what it means). And the prefix hyper- means over and above, more than, excessively. It’s not just that we are victors and conquerors, but that the battle isn’t even close. It’s not a cosmic struggle of good versus bad where either good or bad gets the upper hand from time to time. No, the battle has already been won. And the victory is decisive. Like a 128-3 blowout in the Superbowl. Does that field goal even really matter?
But the thing is, being a hyper-victor is nothing like being a victor. Psalm 44 is quoted here: we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. But the Psalm begins, Not by their sword did they take the land, nor did their arms win the victory. No, Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your face did it, because You were kind to them (Ps 44:3 AAT). The victory is completely the work of God and it doesn’t come by sword or strength. The Right Hand of God accomplishes the victory, and coincidentally (or not), that is precisely where the Son of God is seated.
From God’s right hand, Jesus intercedes for us lambs-for-slaughter. “No, do not shed their blood,” pleads Jesus, “I have already shed mine.” Christ has already died for the elect, so any charge against us must first go through Him. Who condemns? Not you. Not the devil. Not the world. Only God can condemn, because it is God who justifies. He did so by the death of Jesus. But it wasn’t the victory of death over death. It was more than that victory. Christ also rose. The victory—which we also share—is the victory of life over death.
But if God was gracious to give up His one and only Son for the sake of the world, how could He abandon us in our times of trial? It is precisely for those times of trial that He came. He graces us in all things, and especially in our times of trial. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?
So, come what may in the last hours of this year or next year or the next, it will not be able to overcome the hyper-victory that has already been won for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus. For I have been convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers nor things in the present nor things about to happen nor powers nor heights nor depths nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv 38-39).
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard