Date: December 31, 2021
Festival: New Year’s Eve
Text: Romans 8:31b-39
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI
Sermon Hymn: LSB #899 Across the Sky the Shades of Night
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
There are many uncertainties in this life. All of us have probably faced the uncertainties of finances, living from paycheck to paycheck wondering if we can afford this month’s bills and groceries. Or uncertainties about the future, such as the beginning or end of a vocation, whether personal or professional. At the birth of a newborn, we wonder, “Will I be a good father or mother?” As our children leave the nest or grow old, we wonder, “Was I a good father or mother?” Or when we get a new job, “How long will I work here? Will I make enough money?” Or at the end of a job, “Did I make an impact? Have I made a difference? What’s next?” Or if we’re in college, “What am I going to study? Can I afford it? What will I do after college?”
Or the uncertainty of waiting for a medical diagnosis more than the diagnosis itself, “If it’s life-threatening or terminal, what do I do? If it’s not life-threatening, what must I do to prevent cancer, or diabetes,” or whatever it is? “What are the next steps to recover from Covid? Will they even recover? When will Covid finally come to an end and things return to normal? How many more variations before we run out of letters in the Greek alphabet?”
Or the uncertainty of loneliness and isolation, “Will I be alone for the rest of my life? Will anybody ever love me? Does anybody love me?” Or the uncertainty of the death of a loved one, “How can I live without them?” Or the uncertainty of guilt from past and present sins, “How could God forgive me for that sin? I keep falling back into this sin, how could He ever forgive me? What can I do to be better?”
Amidst these uncertainties, St. Paul writes of a guaranteed certainty. The certainty you have is not the self-certainty of what you can do to be better, because you can’t ever be good enough. Our New Year’s Resolutions serve well to remind us of the harrowing fact that we can never be good enough. No matter the standards you set for yourself, and no matter how arduously you strive to meet God’s standards, you always fall short. As Paul wrote earlier, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” [3:22b-23].
Your certainty is not in yourself—not in the fickle emotions of the moment. Neither is your certainty in your favourite sports team, or your political ideology, or the CDC. Your certainty is not your doing or any other person’s doing—not in Joe Biden, not in Trump, or scientists, your favourite quarterback, or whoever distracts you from Christ. It’s not that these people don’t have their uses in their proper places, but they cannot keep their promises for you. Your certainty, writes St. Paul, is God’s promise sealed by the premise of His love.
Paul asks the rhetorical question, “Who can separate us from the love of Christ?” [v. 35]. There is no accusation, condemnation, tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, destitution, danger, sword, nor anything in death or life, nor any angel or ruler, no present or future thing, no power, nothing above or below us—nothing in all creation—that can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus your Lord. Yet what is this love of God in Jesus?
As we learnt at the Christmas Eve service from 1 John 4[:7-16], the love of God has been manifested in the sending of His Son in His birth and on the cross for the atonement—for the forgiveness—of your sins. In other words, the love of God is your salvation—your justification. That the love of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has justified you means God has put you in the right—He has declared you innocent and blameless, cleared of all charges.
So then, who can accuse you? Who can condemn you? No one. Not even Satan himself, whose very name in Hebrew means “Accuser,” can accuse and condemn you in God’s court. This does not mean you can commit whatever sins you want, for as Paul says earlier in chapter 6, you would be squandering the life of Christ given to you in your Baptism. Such licentiousness would be no different than hedonism or nihilism. No, the point is that nothing can take this certainty—this love of God, this justification—away from you.
This is the love of God that does not desert you in the valley of the shadow of death [Psalm 23:4], does not abandon you when pestilence stalks in the darkness [Psalm 91:6], nor forsakes you in isolation, nor renounces you when your sins flood your mind upon your death bed or anywhere else on this earth, nor deserts you when your loved ones die. Some people put their hope in the vague certainty of the new year to bring new and better things to their lives, an end to Covid, and so on. But 2022 is only a number that will change in 365 days. Their hope is no more certain than the same false certainty they hoped for in 2021 that didn’t bring an end to Covid either, or their insecurities, or guilt, or loneliness, or whatever it might be. They face the same old disappointment year after year because the new year is not a person. It cannot make or fulfil promises.
But you and I have the certain hope and promise in Jesus Christ, who is “the same yesterday and today and forever” [Hebrews 13:8]. God does not change; this is why His promises always come true. By faith in Christ, God has promised you life and justification in His Son, who is interceding for you—or praying for you—at this very moment, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. How do you know God is for you and nothing will ever defeat you? Because God did not spare His own Son.
Since He has done the greatest thing anyone could ever do, then it follows that He will also graciously give you everything He has given His Son in His resurrection and ascension, most of all, eternal life. Even though death took His son, it couldn’t bind Him forever, for He subverted death in His resurrection. Therefore, since God gave His Son over to death and subsequently rose Him from the dead, what can death—or anything else, for that matter—do to you who have received the life of Christ? Nothing. It may take your life here on earth, but it cannot take your eternal life in Christ Jesus.
Therefore, let us go down the list. What significance do the accusations laying against you have? Who accuses you? A bully? Somebody who hates you? Your conscience? The devil? God’s Law? And who condemns you? The same things or people? They are nothing. When these things accuse and condemn us, we should all take Luther’s advice, “So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is, there I shall be also!”
These uncertainties surround us like like enemy soldiers closing in, whether they’re tribulation or destitution or danger or whatever it is. But you are more than a conqueror through Jesus Christ. Notice that this is not a future promise; Paul purposefully uses the present tense. You are already more than a conqueror through Jesus Christ. Whatever troubles besiege you going into the new year, these things cannot win; Christ has already won the victory for you 2,000 years ago!
How can you be victorious when the war is not already won? Imagine it’s like watching a superhero or action movie. The enemy has surrounded the protagonist. Defeat is certain and hope uncertain. But you know, as the audience, that there would be no movie if the hero loses. There’s still 30 minutes left in the movie, so clearly, he or she survives. Or maybe you’ve seen the movie already, so you know they win. Then, suddenly, someone comes crashing in, saving the protagonist. We know they would be victorious and survive; it was only a matter of time.
So it is with Christ. Although we may be surrounded by many threats and enemies, your victory is already won; it is only a matter of time. Reading Christ’s birth and passion narratives is like rewatching a movie. We already know how it ends for Him and for us. Jesus wins and rises victoriously from death, and so do we. At the end of the service, we will be commemorating those who have died this year. And although we will be saying their names with some sorrow, we will also be saying them with the certainty that we shall see them again in the resurrection because they, too, are more than conquerors in Jesus Christ.
The pandemic is one such enemy that has taken some of our loved ones, and it still threatens us on all sides. It started out with COVID-19, then the Delta variant, then the Omicron variant. And who knows? Maybe the new year will bring us a Gamma variant, or Epsilon, or Iota, or whatever. But what do these have against you when you are in Christ, who healed sicknesses and diseases, who conquered death with His life?
Humanity has seen plagues before, and these couldn’t stop the mission of God in Jesus Christ. The Black Death, which killed 60% of Europe (about 50 million people), had nothing against Christ. Luther and all the Lutheran reformers lived through this, and Christ’s church prevailed. It was during this plague that Luther wrote the hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, based on Psalm 46. Consider stanza 3, “Though hordes of devils fill the land / All threat’ning to devour us, / We tremble not, unmoved we stand; / They cannot overpow’r us. / Let this world’s tyrant rage; / In battle we’ll engage. / His might is doomed to fail; / God’s judgement must prevail! / One little word subdues him.”
Likewise, in the U.S. we have gone through several pandemics: smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, scarlet fever, typhoid fever, several flue pandemics, polio, the measles, the whooping cough two times, HIV, and AIDS. Even these had and have nothing on Christ; His church has prevailed and she still prevails. Therefore, what can Covid or anything else in all creation do against Christ that the gates of Hell haven’t already tried and failed? Nothing.
Or if it’s not Covid, maybe you have some sin that haunts your conscience on this eve of the new year. Is it sexual immorality? Wrath? Pride? Lust? Greed? Is it so bad that the devil accuses you of being unforgivable or unworthy of God’s love? Those are lies. God has manifested His love for you when He sent His own Son to be born and to die as the propitiation for your sins. A propitiation is a thing that appeases, or satisfies. Christ’s sacrifice—the outpouring of His blood—appeased God for the sacrifice once for all to atone for your sins from now and into eternity [Romans 6:10].
Therefore, whenever you see the infant Jesus or look upon His torn body on the cross, you are looking at the evidence of God’s love for you and His gracious forgiveness. This remains unchanged going into the new year. There is no sin that Christ’s blood does not cover. Your sin may surround your conscience on all sides, but the victory is already yours through Him who has loved you. Jesus loves you to death and back, and it is His love that has given you victory over sin, death, and the devil.
To conclude, I would like to close with a poem I wrote a while back when I was contemplating on these verses. It’s called, “More than Survivors”:
We call ourselves "survivors" when we come out of a tragedy. In Christ, we are victors despite all our misery. We do not merely survive but overcome all adversity; for when Christ arrives, we'll conquer every catastrophe.