New Year's Sermon

Rev. Birkholz
Sunday, January 1, 2012

Numbers 6:22–27 (NIV84) — 22 The Lord said to Moses, 23 “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: 24 “ ‘ “The Lord bless you and keep you; 25 the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26 the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” ’ 27 “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” 



Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,  (New Year’s Eve/Day 2011/12)
            Think of how many people say, “Happy New Year.” We also have other greetings; “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Easter” or even “Happy Birthday”.  Nice greetings, a wish, a prayer but in reality none of us are really able to give or make it possible for a person to have a happy year or a merry Christmas or a happy Easter.  The Lord is the exception.  When he extends a blessing he is able to make it possible.  The benediction is not simply empty words that fall from the lips of a pastor.   They are not simply his words.  These are words God wanted to be shared with his people.  As we enter a New Year we will consider “God’s blessings for the New Year.” 
            In 1986 there was an interesting discovery made in a burial site in the Valley of Hinnon. Two little amulets were found in the grave.  These were dated at the time of 9th century B.C. The first part of the benediction we still use were engraved on the amulets.  It shows how this blessing became so significant at the time of death.  Could it be that it ceases to be so important in our own worship life??  Can it happen we are not focusing on the words?   At the close of the service we are so accustomed to the pastor raising his arms and speak these words.  This is exactly how Jesus closed his ministry here on earth.   Luke 24:50 (NIV84) — 50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. We are not told what words he used.   But the words we use in church are specifically commanded by the Lord.  “This is how you are to bless the Israelites.” 
            To help us understand the concept of blessing, look at just the opposite.   If God curses something, what is the result?   Genesis 3:14 (NIV84) — 14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. Genesis 3:17 (NIV84) — 17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Mark 11:21 (NIV84) — 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”  Just think if everything people cursed would be cursed!  Could we imagine hearing someone wish a person damned and in an instant that person was in hell!   We can be extremely thankful that the Lord does not curse what other curse.  We still have to understand the curse we are under.  Galatians 3:10 (NIV84) — 10 All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.Galatians 3:13 (NIV84) — 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” If God curses someone, they are in trouble.  At the same time when God blesses someone, they are blessed.
            Now what is included in a blessing?  As we look at this blessing, we first are drawn to the three-fold mention of the Lord.   Just like the New Testament blessing: 2 Corinthians 13:14 (NIV84) — 14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. So we are reminded of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in bringing the blessing.   The Lord then is the Triune God, in particular in the Old Testament, this is how God revealed his covenant, gospel promises to the people.  There is something special as we look at the first line is three words, the next line has five words and the third line has seven words.  Not only a poetic picture but this is also implying an increase of the blessing. 
            As we turn to the blessing, we hear those familiar words: “The Lord bless you and keep you.”            When we think of blessings, the first would be material, physical blessings.   Luther captured the thought in food, clothing, house home, health and strength.  All these things are blessings from the Lord.   The Psalmist reminds us, Psalm 127:1 (NIV84) — 1 Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.   The children of Israel were reminded of all that they had in the wilderness.  The clothing did not wear out, the manna fed them every day.   But the profound truth was, Deuteronomy 8:3 (NIV84) — 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.   What a reminder of the blessings in the benediction. 
At times God’s people wonder if they are really blessed, because the physical health, the physical possessions are not there.   They wonder why the godless are more blessed than me.  Paul reminds us there are blessings far beyond health and things.  Ephesians 1:3 (NIV84) — 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. What do we gain if we have things of this world, but lose our own souls?   So the greatest blessings we experience make an eternal difference in our lives.   Only in Christ do we find those blessings of grace, mercy and peace.   What a way to go home from church with all that.  Keep You.  When the Lord gives us blessing, we find him also protecting and preserving the very gifts he has given us.   He also works in our lives so that his final goal is to keep us to eternal life. 
            “The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.”  This brings us into the very presence of the Lord.   This concept is terrifying for those who do contrary to the holy will of the Lord.   The Psalmist proclaims: Psalm 34:16 (NIV84) — 16 the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.  We might reflect on do we really deserved to be blessed?   Knowing what we have done and failed to do, are we not faced with awe as the Lord would consider blessing us!  Rather than terror, the Lord promises that his face would shine upon us.   Do you remember those days when it is cloudy and rainy day after day?  We had a stretch last year that the days just dragged out.   Then all of a sudden the sun broke through.   Everybody’s spirit was lifted up and people commenting how wonderful it felt to have the sun shining on our face. Psalm 80:3 (NIV84) — 3 Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.
This brings us to the concept of “be gracious to you.”  Grace transports us to the foot of the cross where we are reminded of our forgiveness.   Think of it this way, it is the last reminder before you go home, that you go with the undeserved love and forgiveness of the Lord.   He doesn’t want you to leave with guilt, shame or despair.   Rather as we are permitted to get into our cars and head out on the highways we have the Lord watching over and loving us all the way, wherever we go.  
26 The Lord turn his face toward you (look on you with favor) and give you peace.”  When I first learned the benediction, we said, “the Lord lift up his countenance upon you.”  You have heard people have a pouting face, or sad face, and that is described as they have a long face.  Genesis 4:5 (NIV84) — 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. What a difference when the Lord smiles on us and gives us peace.
Shalom, our church name, Salem, Peace is more than a greeting.   Peace is the result of that personal relationship with the Lord.   Peace is a theme running throughout Scripture.  John 14:27 (NIV84) — 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. Year after year we have had wars and rumors of war.   This New Year is no different.   Nations, communities, neighborhoods are at war.   The angels at Christmas had announced “Peace on Earth”.   Simeon who held the baby Jesus said, “Lord, you are letting your servant depart in peace.”  The words and promises of the Lord give his people because God lets them know where they stand with him.  So with Simeon of old who held the baby Jesus, we can leave the service in peace.
Our text has one more reminder: “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”  Have you ever thought of the flow of our service?   When a worshiper comes into the service we begin with the invocation, “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Those words are a reminder of when God’s name was placed on us in holy Baptism.   We were made a child of God.  As we leave church then, again we find our Lord’s name being placed on us.   We go home as people blessed by God.

As we head home then with the blessing of the Lord, may we be what God wants of us that is to be a blessing.   We now have something to share with all those God brings into our lives.   We can be blessings in our homes, church and community.   We have been blessed to be a blessing.  Amen.