New Year’s, 2021
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s”
If you are a news or history junkie, you probably enjoy this time of year when it seems like most of the major news publications put out their “2020 Year in Review” lists, where they recap the major news stories from this past year. For years, when I was younger, I would watch the NBC Nightly News on Dec. 31 with my family because they would devote the last 8 minutes or so to a video of news highlights from the previous year. It was always interesting to see the stuff I had forgotten. For this year, while your mind might automatically be drawn to the coronavirus or the politics of the recent elections, there were many other noteworthy stories in 2020 as well. (And we have talked about that, the murder hornets and the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash and Harry and Meghan quitting on the royal family.)
What events do you remember from 2020? The events you remember may not be things that made headlines. Maybe you remember a wedding, or the birth of a child or grandchild. Maybe you remember your business finishing the year “in the black” . . . or not. Because let’s face it: although there are happy memories from last year, there are also unhappy ones. Perhaps you remember the loss of a family member, friend or pet. Perhaps you experienced broken families, broken marriages, the loss of a job. I will always remember 2020 as the year of the many eye surgeries, which is ironic since this was the year 20-20. And maybe you remember a sin, a sin you did or a sin that was done to you. Or both.
In spite of COVID-19, there was still revelry last Thursday night. There were smiling faces, the sound of cheers and party favors, and confetti here and there. People all over the world rejoiced in getting rid of 2020 in the hope that the coming year would be better. And I assume we are all praying that 2021 will be better…
But what if your heart is not filled with joy? What if the COVID-19 numbers, which are still really high, are bringing you down. Or the talk of the slow vaccine roll-out or the mutated COVID strains. Maybe the talk of political and American unity but the lack of actual behavioral unity has you down. Maybe you are still feeling guilty about something you did in 2020. After all, to remember the sins of the past year can lead to regret and sorrow, guilt and shame, especially when you remember what the Ten Commandments say. Maybe you made your spouse mad. Maybe there is a lie you told that went badly. Maybe you did something sixth commandment wise that hurt the people you love. No resolution for the new year can undo the sin that has been done to you; no resolution for the new year can erase the harm you’ve done to others.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, although it is the work of God’s Law to elbow your conscience and reveal your sin (second use of the law), it is the work of Satan (Rev 12:10) to stir up guilt. Satan wants you to doubt God’s love for you—or question whether He could love you at all. Satan wants you to replay the sins of your life in your mind so you might doubt God’s promise that your sins are truly removed from you as far as the east is from the west (Ps 103:12).
When the sins of your past trouble you, do not be anxious, but instead remember that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy, and the God of peace will be with you (Phil 4:6–9). Today, I invite you to specifically think about the Word of the Lord that was spoken through King David in Psalm 103: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (vv 1–5).
If you are feeling down, if 2020 wore you out, if you have the post-holiday blues, remember all that the Lord has done for you. He has given you your body and soul, eyes, ears, and all your members, your reason and all your senses, and still takes care of them (Small Catechism, First Article), which is to say, not only has God given your body and life, but He also grants you daily health (v 3) and strength (v 5). If this were not enough, He also gives you every good and perfect gift like faith, forgiveness and eternal life (v 5; James 1:17). Everything that you have ever needed, the Lord has provided. He has provided for your needs abundantly, giving far more than any sinner deserves (103:10).
But above all else when your heart is weighed down by the sins of the past, David invites you to remember that your sin is forgiven by Jesus’ death and resurrection: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity” (vv 2–3).
The work of Jesus frees you from your sin. But there is more! Because you are baptized and received the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection, you are also freed from guilt and shame. You are given a good conscience (Heb 10:22; 1 Pet 3:21), a restful heart, and the peace that Jesus Christ brought with Him from the grave and gave to his disciples, even as He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (Jn 14:27). You have been washed in Christ’s forgiveness and purified from all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1:9). Therefore, you now have peace with God and have received His good will (Lk 2:14). In Jesus, God remembers your sin no longer; He will not accuse you or act upon it in any way.
When Satan uses the memory of your past sin to accuse you and make you feel bad, you may take comfort in your Baptism, where Jesus blots out the accusations levied against you. You may take comfort in the supper of Jesus Christ’s body and blood, given for the forgiveness of your sin, which you do in remembrance of Jesus and because of the forgiveness it brings. Though Satan is a powerful, devious, and relentless enemy, Jesus is even more powerful. Jesus absolves, liberates, and saves you by defeating the old evil foe, not only on the cross, but also in your very life, granting you peace and hope through His Word, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
A couple of days ago, we turned the calendar page from 2020 to 2021, and there was much rejoicing! We all know how 2020 was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year (if you are a kid), or to put it another way, 2020 was a pessimal (the least favorable environmental condition under which an organism can survive, a fancy adjective for “worst”), catastrophic, putid (rotten, worthless) AND putrid, nefandous (unfit to be spoken of) excrementitious year. We have all talked about how this last year was the pits, and we are all praying 2021 is much better for all of us.
But here is the thing: you will be the same person in 2021 as you were in 2020: “a poor, miserable sinner.” But remember that you are more: You Are and Will Continue to Be Loved and Treasured by God: Baptized, Forgiven and Saved.
So as 2020 goes away and 2021 begins (can we all agree: “So far, so good”?) remember. Remember not your sins or accusations against you, but remember the grace of God. Live in repentance, in Jesus’ forgiveness, and in His infinite, consistent love for you. God’s grace blessed you throughout this past year, and it will surely bless you in this one. For the love of our eternal Lord is yours forever. His presence in your life is forever.
Remember. Remember what God has done for you, is doing for you, and will continue to do for you. Remember what David said: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (Ps 103:1).
In the Name of Jesus.