New Year’s Eve| Rev. Rolf Preus| December 31, 2004
The voice said, “Cry out!” And he said, “What shall I cry?” “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, because the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:4-6)
Another year has come and gone. Time passes so quickly. Even as we complain about the length of the winter, before you know it the grass will be green and the spring flowers will be blooming. Here in the northland where summers are short and mild the grass often remains green until the first snowfall. I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. The green grass down there doesn’t last nearly so long. Despite the liberal use of lawn sprinklers, the heat of the summer is just too intense for even the heartiest grass to remain green. The grass turns brown long before the arrival of winter. You can see the grass dying. The spring flowers are long gone before the winter snows. Those who first heard these words recorded by Isaiah were familiar with winds that blew from the east during the month of May that would, in a matter of hours, turn green grass brown and kill all of the flowers of the field.
All flesh is as the grass. Think of all the money people spend on cosmetic surgery designed to disguise the aging process. But it is all to no avail. Time as an ever-rolling stream bears all its sons away. So wrote the hymnist. So we see with our own eyes. And so God says, “Cry out!” It must be said. It must be preached. The crier or preacher is not important. The message is. The passing of time teaches us the vanity of human beauty, glory, and prestige. It is fast fading away. It fact, it is falling even while it is rising. Whatever temporary glory it has contains the seeds of its ultimate and inevitable demise.
This is not to say that humanity has no future and that there is no hope. When you consider how folks celebrate the New Year holiday it seems that many subscribe to the ancient creed of the Greeks: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!” There’s not much hope in such a celebration. In fact, it’s a rather morbid concept of celebration, isn’t it? Take whatever sensual pleasure you can take from this world because it won’t last forever and you might as well get what you can get while you can get it.
Come to think of it, this sounds a lot like the creed of present day America, doesn’t it? Yes, we know! All human glory is fading. Yes, we know. The prophet is right. The voice is true. All our glory is as the grass of the field. Yes, we know. So why not live for today since tomorrow may never come?
But tomorrow will come! That’s the whole point! Tomorrow will come but we in our fallen and sinful flesh will not have the strength to face it. Time isn’t the cause of our troubles. Why does the grass wither and the flower fade? Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it, that’s why. It is not the mere passing of time that brings death, as if our death is a natural event that God has worked into the natural order of things. Far from it! In the beginning, God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life and Adam became a living soul. His breath was the source of life. But in our text for this evening we see God’s breath as the source of death. The same God and the same breath bring both life and death.
The word “breath” can also be translated “spirit.” The Holy Spirit is the breath of God. He speaks God’s word. This makes the Bible the word of God since the Holy Spirit is the Author of the Bible. He directed the biblical writers to write down exactly what He wanted them to write down. This also makes a Christian sermon that is drawn from and based on the Holy Scriptures the word of God. The written word of God is the standard by which we judge all the preaching that takes place. When God tells the voice to cry out, He insists that that voice cry out according to the standard of teaching that God has already caused to be recorded in the Holy Scriptures.
The Bible is the word of God. The biblical preaching is the word of God. And there is another Word that is neither written nor preached, yet He is the golden thread that keeps the Bible together and He is the substance of all Christian preaching. He is the Word made flesh. He is the eternal Wisdom from on high. He is the image of the invisible God. He is the Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. He is the Child born of Mary. Of Him St. John wrote: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
The breath of God is a hot blowing wind that scorches the grass and browns it. Its lush green softness that once comforted the bare feet becomes brittle – even sharp – and only the thorns on the flowers remain. Who would even want to walk over it, hardened as it has become by the constant blowing of the hot wind that doesn’t even let up at night? The rain doesn’t fall but the hot wind blows. God’s judgment stands. Nations fall from power. Monuments to human achievement are torn down – not by mobs of revolutionaries – but by apathy, ignorance, and forgetfulness. Who knows? Who cares? Time passes. The hot wind blows. Only God’s truth remains constant because God is immutable. The glory of human achievement fades away from sight and from memory and disappears as if it never was.
But wait. There is human achievement. There is human glory. There is human beauty, greatness, and power. We just need to know where to look. There is human success that cannot be denied or gainsaid. It is very appropriate that we celebrate the birth of Christ as we also celebrate the birth of a new calendar year. For the birth of Christ changes everything. It changes our past and our future.
Consider the life you lived during 2004. What did you set out to do and failed to do? Or what did you never seriously even attempt to do that you should have done? What regrets do you have? What besetting sins took you down and brought pain to you and those you love? Consider your failure in the year gone by. Then look at the life Jesus lived. What did He set out to do that He failed to do? What good did He never try and did He ever try and fail? Could He look at His life during any of the thirty-three years of service here on this earth and find Himself a sinner? No.
Now listen to the word of God that stands forever. Hear the voice of God that cries out even as all human glory fades away. Jesus Christ lived your life for you this past year. All that God required of you and that you failed to do Jesus did for you and God has reckoned to you the full credit for what Jesus did. Did you break your promises? Jesus kept your promises. Did you give up on a good cause because you were too lazy to keep on keeping on? Jesus did that work for you and His didn’t slack or quit or give up. Everything you needed to do was done for you and Jesus did it. This is the gospel. God gives you the credit for what Jesus did. St. Paul states this gospel so simply in Romans 5:19, “By the obedience of the one, the many shall be made righteous.” The year that is fast becoming history is not a history of your failure. It is a history of Christ’s success. His success is yours because by His obedience you are made righteous. This is the gospel that blows upon your parched soul creating and sustaining and strengthening new life within you. The Holy Spirit, who is the Lord and giver of Life, keeps on giving eternal life to you as He keeps on proclaiming the gospel to you.
Everything changes. Think of the terrible tragedy that an earthquake in the Indian Ocean has caused. More than 100,000 people are dead and the death toll keeps rising. How may lives have been devastated? The world witnesses catastrophic change. And we witness more gradual change. Time marches on and the hot wind blows. A brilliant philosophy takes the world by storm and captures the imaginations of the brightest and best educated. It then loses its novelty and is finally rejected, much like out of fashion clothes are stuffed away in a closet somewhere for the children to wear as Halloween costumes. Bodies grow old. Eyes dim. Memory fades. Everything that charms us and pleases us and seems so very inviting undergoes change. Except for the word of God.
It is the word of God. It is the word of our God. The “our” makes all the difference because He has joined Himself to us. When the Word became flesh God joined us. Whatever God has is ours because He is our God. His word and will and holy purposes are all ours. His cause is our cause. We can watch the decay and destruction of anything in this world and still know that our eternal future is secured. It is secured just as surely as God joined us on Christmas and has remained God with us ever since. The hot wind of God’s judgment will blow and blow and reap destruction on this world. But we will never be destroyed. Our lives belong to God and His eternal word guarantees our future. So we can wish one another a merry Christmas and a happy New Year, knowing that God in heaven became our brother here on earth to bring us eternal joy in heaven. Amen.