Summary: Isaiah invites us to look back on a year of God’s grace drawing to a close and to look ahead to another year of God’s grace that is just beginning.
In the ancient calendar used by the Romans, from which our calendar was created, the name of each month had a meaning. For example the month of February was so named because that was the time of the year for a feast called Februa. Some of the months were named for the false gods that the Romans worshiped. March was named after Mars, the god of war. May was probably derived from the goddess Maia. June was named after the goddess Juno. The months July and August were named, respectively, after Julius Caesar and his successor, Caesar Augustus. September, October, November, and December were named for the numbers seven, eight, nine, and ten in the Latin language. That was the order in which those months fell in the Roman calendar.
One month in the ancient Roman calendar that had an especially descriptive name was January. The Latin word janua means a door or window from which a person may look both ways, in other words, in and out--forward and back. Historians say that January is also derived from the name Janus, a common household god among the Romans. He was often depicted facing in two directions. Basically, he was looking forward and back. As we stand at the doorway to the month of January and a new year we naturally look back over the way we have come. We also naturally look ahead to the new year and where we are going. As we celebrate this new year’s eve we look at the year that has past and the year that lies ahead. May we through the Word of God we share this evening also be moved to:
CELEBRATE GOD’S GRACE
I. Look back on it in appreciation
II. Look ahead to it with anticipation
Background: Our text comes from the end of Isaiah’s prophecy. Isaiah had described the changes the Messiah—the promised Savior, would bring to God’s people in the chapters before our text. Here he went on to describe the effect His preaching would have on those in Israel who were faithful to God. He introduces the final section of his prophecy by using the prayer of someone who recognizes all that the Lord has done for his people. Let me read that prayer again. “I will tell of the kindnesses of the LORD, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the LORD has done for us yes, the many good things he has done for the house of Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses. He said, "Surely they are my people, sons who will not be false to me"; and so he became their Savior. In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old." To this prayer we would all say, “Amen.” It reminds us that the Lord has been kind to us. Tonight we will tell of his kindnesses and deeds for which he is to be praised. This prayer from Isaiah’s prophecy reminds us to look back in appreciation of God’s grace in 2001 and to look ahead with anticipation for more of God’s grace in 2002.
We don’t have to look very far back in the year that is ending to be reminded of God’s undeserved love. In fact we really only have to look back one week. A week ago tonight was Christmas Eve. We were reminded that Christ was born to live the holy life we have not lived and to die under the just punishment for our sins. That is the clearest and most complete reminder of God’s kindness and love for us. We rejoice that we have had the privilege to once again celebrate his birthday and speak about his great love for us.
But obviously our spiritual blessings for 2001 weren’t confined to Christmas. For the last 52 Sundays our God has fed us with his Word when we gathered for worship. We followed Jesus to the cross, we shouted, “He is risen!” We listened to the words and works of our Savior God. In Bible class, and Sunday school, and through our personal time in God’s Word we have found healing and hope. We have felt God’s presence and been reassured of his love when we sinned. As we celebrate God’s grace tonight we look back in appreciation of a whole year of enjoying the Word of God and all that it has brought to us.
In 2001 we also often received the pledge that we are forgiven children of God as we received the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. There Jesus invited us to eat and drink the proof that full payment for our sins has been made. At His table we were reminded that we will eat and drink with him in the Kingdom of heaven. Although we have many things to be thankful for this New Year’s eve we are most thankful for these Means of Grace that God has given us--His Word and Sacraments.