Friday, January 3, 2014

The name strong enough to hold the past and the future. . .

Sermon for the Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus, New Year's Eve, preached on December 31, 2013.

    New Year's Eve seems an odd time to come to church.  The world's attention is more on parties, resolutions, regrets, and TV.  But you are here so I guess I owe you something.  Though most of the world calls this New Year's Eve, in the church we call it the eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus.  On the eighth day after His birth, Jesus was given His name and circumcised into the covenant people of God.  These events may seem incidental but nothing in the story of Christ is incidental.
    His name was not the result of a family search through the generations to see who of our dead relatives will live on in the name given to a child.  Mary and Joseph consulted none of those popular books of names parents peruse before they choose the name that will forever mar their children's lives and identities.  God gave the name through the angel – not to Mary but to Joseph, Joseph who is not even blood related to Jesus!
    But that is the point.  The name that Jesus wears is not for Him but for us.  The name in Hebrew is Jeshua.  The Jews chose names that meant something.  Abraham means father of many, Delilah means dark as night, Jesus means "he will save his people."  God chose a name that meant something; Jesus, His people's hope, the long promised One, to restore the lost again.
    His name means salvation.  This is a name that does not say anything but does everything.  Jesus is the flesh and blood fulfillment of the promise first issued in Eden and kept alive through the prophets.  Jesus is the God embodied for us and for our salvation.  The child born of Mary is the second person of the Trinity, the Word of the Lord through whom all things came into being.  Only now He is also the Word that saves His people from their sins and from death.
    We end 2013 in the name of Jesus.  All that this year was, is His.  His to forgive the sins we committed in it.  His to resolve the lingering problems of our fallen and broken world.  His to reason out what is hard to understand and hard to accept.  His to rescue us from our messes.  His to heal our wounds. All that 2013 was, its shining successes and its dismal failures, we give to Him whose name reveals His saving power and purpose.  And it is gone.  The sins.  The failures.  The disappointments.  Even the mountain tops.  All of it is swallowed up by His name so we are free.
    We begin 2014 in the name of Jesus.  All that this year will be – its greatest accomplishments and its predictable disappointments – they all belong to the name of Jesus.  All its uncertainties and all that lingers from the year past that we seem doomed to carry with us in the year to come — it all belongs to Jesus.  The sins we haven't yet committed but know we will, the sins we havn't committed and falsely think we won't – they all belong to His saving name.
    That is why we are here.  We do not sing for Auld Lang Sine.  We are not the sorrowful people who lament what was or what never was in our yesterdays.  We are not the fearful who live in terror over what tomorrow will bring. Jesus is the name strong enough not only to carry our yesterdays but strong enough to carry the burden of all our tomorrows.
    And there is more.  It might be quite enough to have a Savior to forgive the past and hold the future, but we have a Savior who carries us in joy through the journey of time.  The name of Jesus is our source of joy.  We know Him as our Emmanuel, with us in trouble and in ease.  He brings us His joy – not the kind of momentary pleasure that life offers too infrequently but the kind of joy that we carry right through our sorrows and hold on to amid our troubles.  We are a people of holy joy because we know the name above all names in which salvation, forgiveness, and life is found.
    The night is young and far spent at one and the same time. Night is young because the future is waiting to unfold.  It is far spent because it will be predictably like our past.  It cycles the same redemptive grace of repentance, absolution, and restoration.  We sin the same old sins.  We fear the same old enemies. We fight the same old battles.  It would all be hopeless and the most cruel of jokes were it not for the name that continues to deliver its promise of hope, life, and salvation.  The night is young because we are not on an aimless journey but living toward the eternal destiny Christ has prepared for us.  The night is far spent because we are nearer today than yesterday to His return in glory.  That is why we are here.  There is a name that binds up our fears and calms our hearts.  There is a name to seal us in joy.  That is the name of Jesus.
    Here is the name that washes clean the dirty, that declares holy what is unclean, and that feeds the hungry.  We are here for the name that once delivered on the promise of that name on Calvary and continues to deliver to us His salvation.  It is the strong name, sturdy enough to hold all our disappointments and it is a powerful name, effective for all our anxieties.
    The year past can only end if Christ ends it.  And that He has done.  Its sins, its disappointments, and its trials.  Its shining moments and greatest good.  They met their end in Jesus.  The new year can only come if Christ is there to bring it to us, to sustain us through it, and to point us toward time’s appointed destiny.  The only future we need is the future that is dependent upon Christ and has Christ as its end.  This is what it means to live out our lives as the children of God.  And tonight that is exactly what we do. 
    We leave the ruins of yesterday to the Name of Christ for forgiveness and we commend the uncertainties of tomorrow to the same saving Name.  We do this not with resignation but with joy, not because we have no choice but because this is right and true, not because we despair but because we have hope.  Amen.

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