SERMON FOR NEW YEAR’S EVE 2019
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WISCONSIN
Rev. Michael Larson
Dear Christians, there is no better way to begin the new year than by receiving the forgiveness of sins. This is what you received again tonight. God sent you a pastor. To get his hands on you. To trace the holy cross on your forehead and to speak those words: In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
We Lutherans call this holy absolution. Absolve is a fancy word that means to wash or cleanse. So if you’re in the cleaning aisle at the store you’ll buy a solvent to clean the kitchen floor. That’s what absolution is – same word. You can hear. Therefore, this absolution, it is a cleansing, a holy bath, a blood-bought scouring in which all sins are washed away. That you would be clean, presentable – spotless to God in heaven.
So of all the places to be tonight, on New Year’s Eve, Christ’s holy church is a good place to be. To begin the new year with a good conscience – a conscience free from sin.
Jesus tells us tonight, “Be dressed for action.” To have our lamps burning. To open the door of our hearts to Him and to be ready when He comes.
Ready for what? Jesus gives it to us straight on, that in our Gospel tonight: “Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.”
We are ready, therefore, lamps burning, doors open, when we recognize and see the one serving. Christ in our midst.
You see, it’s Christ who dressed Himself for service. Remember on Maundy Thursday when our Lord stripped down, took the form of a slave, and wrapped a towel around His waist. He hit the deck, got on His knees with a bucket of water, absolving, cleansing, forgiving sinners.
Folks, this wasn’t just some stunning thing our Lord did 2000 years ago. No, He was teaching us all about what He would do among us – here in His church. In a greater and more wonderful way after His Ascension and the giving of His Spirit at Pentecost.
Don’t marvel that Jesus got on His hands and knees to forgive the apostles 2000 years ago. Marvel that He does you one better tonight. Bringing His blood-bought cleansing to you this New Year’s Eve. He gets His hands on you. Up close and personal. Our Lord doesn’t keep you at arms’ length. He’s not afraid to get His hands dirty, you see. That’s not the sort of God you have.
He didn’t hesitate to take all your filthy sins upon Himself at the cross. He bore them all. He buried them in death. He rose for your justification. And up from the grave, He now extends words of absolution. Cleansing and purifying words, that you too might stand up in the resurrection. Purified, cleansed, and forgiven.
This is why we call worship “the Divine Service.” The 16th-century Lutherans called it “Gottesdienst,” literally, God’s Service. We recognize that Christ is among us as the one who serves. It is he absolving. It is he preaching – it is the Risen Christ reaching out to you His life-giving sacrament – His body – and sacred blood from that chalice.
Newcomers to our church are often confused, bewildered, or even annoyed by worship here. They just are. They may not even be totally aware of why things might seem strange, but this is ultimately what it is. That everything we do emphasizes and reinforces the fact that it is the same body born of Mary and laid in the manger, the same body nailed to the tree outside of Jerusalem. The same flesh and blood ascended to God in heaven is the same flesh and blood that is received here. The Risen and Ascended Lord Christ – He reigns on the altar. That’s what His Word reveals.
Some humility, some awe, fear, and reverence are called for here. Folks sometimes aren’t ready for all that. But ultimately it’s sheer joy that overshadows all. Because Christ is risen from the grave, ascended and yet here among us, inviting the whole world, every poor sinner to a holy life through repentance and the forgiveness of sins.
On the eve of this New Year, who knows what 2020 will bring? Only God knows. So we are right to call this new year 2020 AD or Anno Domini. That’s simply Latin for “the year of our Lord.” Because that’s exactly what it is. Another year of our Lord – where He rules with kindness – forgiveness – and undeserved love.
Tonight, we should remember that our lives, our hearts and souls are in His safekeeping. This new year belongs to Him. It is anno domini – what a comfort! That means we can cheerfully and boldly meet with trial, sadness, and joy, knowing that He works all things together for good for those who love Him. So we will commend this last year to God, and look forward to His grace in the year to come.
Of all the New Year’s resolutions, make a simple one tonight. Resolve to spend another year at the foot of the cross, and near His altar, where Christ has promised to be. Of all the places to be on New Year’s Eve – what better place to be than the celebration of the Sacrament? We can depart in joy – tipsy – inebriated by the love of God that fills us. And wake up tomorrow morning cheerful, eager to serve Him with a good and clean conscience. So cheers and Happy New Year! In the name of Jesus. Amen.