New Year’s Eve
December 31, 2020
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Do you have any words to describe 2020? You know, I should qualify that question – Do you have any words that we can use in church to describe 2020?
What a year!! Recently someone told me that they now have a great hatred for the term, “The new normal.” Others say they cringe when they hear phrases like “Social Distancing” and “Distance Learning”.
I have a phrase to use about all this and it became my sermon title. It is, “Good Riddance.” I have always taken that phrase to be one that expresses disgust. You tire of someone or something and just want them, or it, to be gone. You want it or them to be as far away from you as possible. You’re done with them. You don’t what it to be a part of your life. Good Riddance!!
This year has robbed us of the celebrations that we enjoy – weddings, graduations, confirmations, retirement parties. This year I had my first ZOOM wedding, baptism and funeral – they were unique but I think I’d prefer to have it the old way. When speaking to Les Young’s family following his death they wanted to know the restrictions that we have to follow as we plan his funeral service. They said, “Our dad knew everybody and everybody knew him – your church would have been packed.” 2020 underperformed. It disappointed us. On this last day of 2020 I say “Good Riddance!!
There are very few people who have not been impacted with the events of 2020. For some it has been physically, others emotionally or financially, and for some in their relationships with others. As a pastor I wonder how you have fared spiritually? Do you come out of this year battered and injured? Did the events of this year have an impact on your soul? Do you pray as you should? Do you grow in the truth of God’s Word by reading it and engaging in study with others? Are you spiritually well? Or is the soul dry and empty?
Using the words from the greatest chapter in the Bible (according to my friend, Pastor David Langewisch from Bethlehem Lutheran in Lakewood), I want us to say “Good Riddance” to more than just this past year.
- Good Riddance to thinking we have to fight these battles alone.
- Good Riddance to endless discouraging accusations.
- Good Riddance to doubting God’s love and care for us.
Romans 8:31 begins, “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Who or what can be against us? A bunch of stuff. Fears, uncertainties, confusion, other people – sometimes folks we considered friends, others we know to be enemies – they all can be against us. In verse 33 Paul asks a good question. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” And he gives a list of those things that are pretty powerful, “Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” His answer is that nothing can put a wedge between us and God’s faithful care of us.
Good Riddance to thinking that we are alone in all of this. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” And He is for us!! How do I know? God sent Jesus as our substitute. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:33)
Wouldn’t that be just the dumbest thing that we ever did – trying to fight all these battles alone? The problems facing us right now are a little bigger than us. Our sin and its damning effect on us is too big. So, let God be God. Let Jesus be Jesus. Psalm 27 begins, “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” Good Riddance to thinking that we have to fight all these battles alone!!
Good Riddance to endless discouraging accusations. Some folks are just brow beaten by others, or by self, or by the accusations of the devil. Enough. Good riddance to them all. In a word that is pure gospel Paul says, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?” (Romans 8:33-34a) People can be a pain. They can take delight in reminding you of how you have failed or sinned or messed up. And we can be awful to ourselves – never letting ourselves be recipients of mercy and forgiveness. And the devil never tires of bringing us down. So I say – Good Riddance to endless discouraging accusations. End this year in grace. End this year in the forgiving hands of Jesus.
Romans 8, the greatest chapter in the Bible, remember, begins, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Verses 1-2) Isaiah, known for his prophecies about Jesus, had a word about the work of Jesus. “Who then will bring any charges against me? Let us face each other. Who is my accuser? Let him confront me! It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me. Who is he that will condemn me?” (Isaiah 50:8b-9a)
There is one who calls us righteous. It is God. “It is God who justifies.” Good Riddance to everyone and everything that brings us down, who accuses us of sin and will not lift us up and restore us. It is time for us to join with Jesus when we face the devil to say, “Away from me, Satan.” (Matthew 4:10a) Faith in Jesus is empowering because of where our heart finds its strength. Listen to this, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” (Romans 1:16-17) Good Riddance to condemnation; Welcome justification by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.
Good Riddance to doubting God’s care and love for us. It can be expected that when we go through difficulty after difficulty for long periods of time that we enter into the darkness of doubt. Where is God? Does He care? Why has He been so slow in helping us and coming to our side? Some people when they suffer greatly can lose their faith. Paul is an advocate for keeping faith in God. So am I. This is what he says, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
During the opening weeks of the pandemic I changed the church sign at the corner of Windermere and Caley frequently. My creative mind was working one week and I was going to add a few words each day to the sign until I had the meaning behind this passage on the sign. I found out that people really do read our sign. (Which is good!!) The first day a single word, “Nothing” went up. A neighbor e-mailed saying that they were upset with a Christian Church having such a negative word up there. Two of our members called and wanted to know why I didn’t have some word of hope or faith on the sign. I told them to be patient and check the sign the next day and in the coming days. Each day a little more was added to the sign. Nothing. Can Separate. Us. From God’s Love. Nothing.
We are ready to start 2021. Is there anything you need to get rid of as we leave this year and enter a new one? Are you looking forward to leaving behind some sin or some bad way of living? Are you looking for something better or being someone better? Start this New Year with repentance, the guarantee of a new start, and the power of God’s promise and His Holy Spirit.
2020 – Good Riddance. Don’t come back!! Don’t let the door hit you on your butt on your way out!! And Good Riddance to a life that would ever consider that we face our struggles alone. Good Riddance to the pointing finger. Good Riddance to doubts of God’s tender mercy and abundant love.
Welcome, 2021. Welcome, faith. Welcome, hope. Welcome, Jesus. We commit all that we are and have to You this coming year and all that lies ahead. Amen!!