In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When we are young, we try on everything, experience things with all our senses. Infants and toddlers try on different sounds with their lips; they try on their world with their fingers and mouths, not even knowing whether something is good or bad for them. Then they try on movement and steps, words and sentences. Later, children try on their parents’ clothes; they try on their imaginations. They try on different jobs and different skills. We grow and try on different relationships, different friends. We try on different identities, some to be like everyone else, and others to be different from everyone else. Some fit and some don’t; some things we keep, and some we discard. Each of us is an individual who is unique in his or her family, responsibilities, job, skills, and gifts. And when we come to the end of one year and the beginning of another, those unique vocations and experiences color what we remember from the past, and what we expect of the future. But none of us knows what, exactly, will happen this coming year. How quickly things can change! There is no guarantee about 2016, whether it will be better or worse, easier or more difficult, full of sickness or generally good health—even, whether we will live or die. There are good wishes for a happy new year, but they are just that: wishes blown into the wind, about as guaranteed to bring prosperity and luck as a fortune cookie or wishes made over birthday candles.
How unfulfilling and unsatisfying it must be to pass year after year hoping for better things to come. Perhaps that is why the world can only engage in frantic and frenetic partying and celebration tonight. It has no idea what the future will bring, which is almost the same as having no future at all. Because there is no guaranteed future, it is the best that one can hope for to get as much as possible now, here, at this very moment. We have an amazing ability to ignore the fact that passing time means that the end of the world—and our end— is coming. Eat, drink, party, because we are here today and gone tomorrow.
But, of course, that is exactly the opposite of why we’re here. We have what the world claims to want: a future and a certain hope. But only those who know a joyous Christmas can know a happy new year. Christmas, for us, is not at the end of something—a year—but at the beginning of everything. Jesus, our Lord and God, is born—not once a year, but once for all years. Probably we cannot avoid the feelings that accompany the changing of the secular year: the idea that something is ending and something else beginning. The newness and sense of promise that comes with writing 2016 instead of 2015. But we do know how to put that change into its proper perspective.
Eight days after His birth, Mary’s baby boy receives His Name, and is circumcised. All of history, stretching backward and forward, are encompassed in that single verse from Luke 2. He was circumcised, fulfilling and opening up the promise and covenant given to Abraham; and He was named, pointing to who He is: Yah-shua, Yahweh’s Salvation. His Name is who He is, and He is what He will do. There is no unfulfilled potential, no disappointed expectations. He did the entire will of the Father, without remainder. And He did all things well. The covenant with Abraham, marked by circumcision, was full of human failure and sin, full of apostasy and rebellion. The children of Adam did not do the will of the Father, and had no desire to do anything but their own will. The circumcised children of the covenant, and their children after them, only broke promises and left empty good intentions everywhere they went. The covenant in the flesh could not be kept by an adulterous people. The Law, which should have described God’s people, became that which accused them and kept their sin from overwhelming the whole world.
So when the fullness of God’s time came, He sent forth a Son born of woman and born under the same Law, in order to make slaves of sin into free sons of God. How did He do this? By being born into the people God had chosen from the moment He called Abraham, by being marked with the physical sign given to Abraham, by fulfilling in His own flesh the covenant promise of God. You children of Adam, you children of a broken covenant; you have your broken promises, your empty good intentions, your failed resolutions; and I have mine. We cannot keep the covenant in the flesh. So to all the children of Adam, to all the children of Abraham according to the flesh, to all the Gentiles: to you this Child is born; to you this Son is given. And His flesh, with the covenant cut into it, now saves you: because “in him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God,who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:11-12). As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have been clothed with Him. You, the sinner, have been clothed with Christ, the righteous. You, the covenant-breaker, have been clothed with Christ, the covenant-keeper. He is giving you—even tonight—the life that squeezes the death out of you. If you are of Christ, then Abraham’s promise applies to you: reckoned righteous because you believe His death and resurrection are for you, even if you cannot see it. But the promise is far more certain than what we think we can hold in our hands. Life is more certain than death, because you are in Christ: “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (1 Corinthians 15:54).
Whatever you wear as your individuality, your uniqueness, it still applies for the world in your vocation; male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free are markers of life in this creation. Indeed, God has made us male and female, put us in particular nations, and we find ourselves in better or worse positions as far as this world counts freedom. But none of that counted before God when you were outside the covenant, and none of it counts before God when He considers your righteousness; the only thing that counts for life and righteousness and hope and peace is Christ. You are all one in Christ Jesus: one Body of the one Lord, in the one faith, in the one baptism.
So the Church fears nothing from the change of the clock or the change of the calendar. She does not celebrate at midnight that, somehow, we made it through another year. Her midnight cries are different as she keeps vigil: Christ is born! Christ is risen! Christ will will come again! “Now then, all of you who believe in God’s Word, let your watchword for entering this new year be this: ‘I am baptized!’ Although the world may laugh at this comfort, the enthusiasts vex its confidence…nevertheless, abandon any other dearly held pledges and speak only throughout the entire year to come, in all terrors of conscience and necessity through sin and death: ‘I am baptized! I am baptized! Hallelujah!’ And you shall prevail! In every time of need, you will find comfort in your Baptism; on account of it Satan will flee from your faith and confession; and in death you will see heaven opened and will finally come into the joy of your Lord to celebrate a great year of jubilee, a year of praise, with all the angels forever and ever” (C.F.W. Walther, quoted in TDP, writing for Jan. 1 ). Tonight, we begin another year, but it is this year, as always, another year in Christ, another year wrapped up in the salvation of Yahweh. Another year of peace as we go about the work that God has given us to do, no matter what awaits us: because we are clothed with Christ, and Christ’s future is absolutely certain. If you are in Christ, you are made the heir of all God’s promises. The cross is yours, but so is the resurrection. The death is yours, but so is the life. Time is yours, but so is eternity. All because you are Christ’s. Body and soul, you are Christ’s. Time and eternity, you are Christ’s. He is the resurrection and the life, and tonight, at the cusp of the world’s year, He does what He has promised to do day in and day out, year in and year out: be with you flesh and blood, soul and divinity, all the days until the year and the month and the day when we see this age completed. Then will begin the age of knowing as we are known, fully grown into the mature manhood of Christ, when we will receive the full life of Christ in every sense. We have nothing to fear from this coming year: we are clothed with Christ, and He is alive, never to die again. We are baptized into Christ! Hallelujah!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/30/15