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In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“The times, they are a-changin’,” Bob Dylan sang. The thing I like about that lyric, and the song, is that no matter who you are or the time in which you’re living, the song makes sense. You could be a Baby Boomer hippie in 1964, you could be Gen X, Y, or Z, a Millennial—it doesn’t matter. You can sing those lyrics and it makes sense. Because even though it took a particular form in a particular context, in an era of Civil Rights demonstrations and folk music protest songs, it’s a simple matter of the progression of one minute, hour, day, month, or year after another: “The line it is drawn/The curse it is cast/The slow one now/Will later be fast/As the present now/Will later be past/The order is rapidly fadin’/And the first one now will later be last/For the times, they are a-changin’.” As far as human times go, nothing is more certain than change.
And that goes not only for times, but also for the people in those times. The people are a-changin’. Or at least, we try. Isn’t that one of the things we like about the change from one year to another? It seems like a natural moment to change something, or to change everything. Isn’t that the basis for a new year’s resolution? We want to do something that we haven’t done yet, so we resolve to do it this year. We don’t like this or that about ourselves or about what happened in the last year, so we resolve to change it or make it better. Sure, years—or time, in general—haven’t always been counted in the way they are now, but that doesn’t change the fact that we now count years this way. Whatever we think about the utility or benefit of new years’ resolutions, there’s something powerful about the idea of starting something new with a new year or changing something from the last year. On the other hand, last week would also have been a good time to change things we don’t like—or a month from now, or in July, or September. The times and the people, they are a-changin’.
But as we, the Church of God in Jesus Christ, and the Church in this place, stand on the verge of another year as we count time, it’s good for us to take stock of things and consider them according to the Word of God. And it happens that the way that our world counts time coincides with the celebration of the Church’s calendar. This new year for everyone isn’t the beginning of a new calendar for the Church; that was back on December 1, the first Sunday in Advent. We begin our Church calendar with a renewal of the prayer for Jesus to come in glory and be revealed to the whole earth, for which we have been waiting a long time.
About as long, or a little longer, as the years we have counted up to this point. Because whether the world says AD or CE—Common Era—the fact is that—willingly or unwillingly—the entire world counts time according to the birth of Jesus. AD means “anno Domini,” the year of our Lord. Some people don’t want the counting of the years to have a religious basis, so they hide it by calling it the “common era.” But they weren’t as thorough as they were in the French Revolution. We didn’t reset the entire calendar. People can call it whatever they want, I suppose, but it’s still 2020, according to the same numbering, and that numbering was calculated by a monk based on when he figured Jesus must have been born. Without computers, around the year 525, a man named Dionysius Exiguus calculated that Jesus had been born 525 years before him. He may have been off by 3 or 4 years, but that’s a pretty good margin of error in the 6th century.
So tonight, the beginning of the eighth day of Christmas, we welcome in the year of our Lord, two thousand and twenty. And whatever happens, whatever changes there may be in times or generations or governments, the time fundamentally changed roughly 2,020 years ago. When the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son to be born of a woman and born under the law, which was our guardian until the promise and coming faith were revealed. That Son, born in flesh, came to buy back those under the law—to buy you back by His own blood and cross—and now you are all sons of God through the faith in Christ Jesus. So while generations change and change again, there was a singular and unique change that remains forever, and catches up everything in its path. He through whom time was made entered time in the same flesh and blood in which we pass through the years. He caught you up and changed you once and for all. For whoever has been baptized into Christ has been wrapped up in Christ like a brand new piece of clothing.
It’s a piece of clothing that has been washed white in the blood of the Lamb, from the infant lamb marked with the sign of Abraham’s covenant, to the blood of thorns and nails. His Name is tied to the shedding of blood as He enters the covenant to fulfill it in His own flesh. You have been wrapped up in that cross, baptized into that man, so fully and completely that Paul can say in Colossians that you are, in fact, saved by Jesus’ circumcision. No male of Israel ever kept fully the covenant that God made with Abraham, until this male of Israel was born, and then named and circumcised on the eighth day. By baptism, you enter that full and complete and sealed covenant. And then to you Jesus says, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood.” Take and drink it; receive the forgiveness of My birth, and My name, and My salvation, and My blood. His Name is Jesus, because He has saved His people from their sins—the sins of last year, and this year, and all the years.
The times are indeed a-changin’. We can mark the changes in life or death; we can mark the changes in new things or things that have been around a long time; we can count the changes in elected leaders and governments and authorities; we can count the changes however we want. But there’s only one change that matters eternally for you: that Christ was born into this changing world to redeem you and time itself. He brought you into that redeemed time when He buried you with Himself in baptism, so that the old will go forever away and the new will remain into eternity. That is the change that cannot be changed, and the time of the Lord remains forever. He who claimed you for His own and put His own holy Name on you is the same yesterday, today, and forever. You can trust Him who is crucified and resurrected, knowing that neither time nor life nor death can change His promise to you. The blessing of His Name upon you was true in 2019 and it will remain true in 2020 and into however many years the Lord grants you until your death, and however many years He grants this creation until the resurrection of the flesh. It’s not a desire or a wish or an uncertain hope; it’s the physical and fleshly fact grounded in Jesus’ own flesh and blood: Yahweh bless you and keep you; Yahweh make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; Yahweh lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace, this year and forever.
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, 12/31/19