One more time we have the opportunity to mark a new beginning in our service to the Lord. It is notable because the numbers seem to form a significant pattern. 2020. Aside from echoing the name of a once-great, now kind of sad, news program, it seems to mark a new decade. It doesn’t actually mark a new decade since the decade begins with year one and not with year ten, but many people get that confused and get all excited about it.
It is still a new opportunity to serve God by living in and living out the faith which we have and confess. We can set aside our failures of 2019 and set the course of our lives one more time to faithful confession by word and deed of our forgiveness and the hope of salvation to which we cling. We can gather in worship and Bible Study to discuss what that might look like in our personal situations, and proceed out into the world to put those plans into action among our neighbors and workmates.
The church year began in December with Advent. This is merely the beginning of a calendar year – a year in the accounting of the world around us but not necessarily within the Church. Even so, beginnings are important to mark. The world likes to mark the new year with resolutions. They are something like repentance on a secular stage. The world sees where it may have gotten off track over the past twelve months and resolves to do better. Such resolutions are famous for fading away in the next few weeks, but they are at least admissions that something needs fixing.
Christians recognize that repentance is a daily affair. We bow our heads each day and acknowledge our sin and shortcomings, seek the grace of our Lord, and set off with a resolution to amend our sinful lives with the help of the Holy Spirit. We don’t make a resolution once a year and let it fizzle away. We continually update our resolve with prayer and repentance and the on-going intention to amend our lives by God’s grace so that we may more closely resemble the child of God He has called us to be and declared us to be in our Baptism.
The new year reminds us how close we have come to the end of the world. The events of the world, troubling political developments and frightening weather and ecological activities, fulfill the signs of Jesus that the kingdom of heaven has drawn near and the end of all things is at hand. While these signs frighten the world around us, they should be comforting to us. Jesus said, “But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28)
Not only is the end coming for us, of course, but the end is also coming for the rest of the world. The signs of the end are also indicators of the need for us to show the world and to tell our neighbors about the great love of God and the salvation He has worked on our behalf. How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard?, Paul asks in Romans 10:14.
2020 gives us another opportunity to share the good news of salvation. We can do that by speaking the gospel when we are asked about our faith or when we are asked how we handle the various challenges of life; sorrows, fears, disappointments, or whatever. We can also share the good news by simply living out what we believe about sin, about forgiveness, about helping those in need, about the power of God in our lives when we face sickness or sorrow.
We are the hands and legs and lips of God in the world around us. Just as the faithful preacher is the voice of God in our church and the hands of God in serving us the gifts of the Sacraments. We are what one wise man referred to as “God with skin on” for our unbelieving neighbors. If they are to see Christ or hear His Word, it will be through us. If they are to know the truth that Jesus said will set us free, they must hear about it from you and be led to the Word in which we all must abide to know the truth by you who know the truth and who trust in the Lord.
Only you can invite them to church services. Only you can invite them to Bible Studies. Only you can invite them to call the pastor when they have a question you cannot answer. Only you can do it because sometimes you are the only one they will ask, and sometimes only you are the person they will actually listen to or trust in their moment of need.
Sometimes the need is urgent and immediate, and if you are there, you are the tool of God in that place and He has given you that task to perform. On other occasions, the need is not immediate, urgent, or desperate in their minds, but it is the moment they are open and available and you are the one God has set the opportunity in front of. What you do or don’t do at that moment may set their lives on a new course, or plant the seed for God to develop later.
Okay, perhaps you have had other opportunities and failed to take advantage of them. If that is so, 2020 is another year to set things right and to do what you did not have the courage to do before. That would be a nice way to recover your self-confidence. If you have taken full advantage of such opportunities in the past, this new year may give you another chance to serve the Lord.
Keep in mind that God has already done everything you need to be done for your salvation and has poured it out on you already. You have forgiveness, life, and salvation already. Anything you can do now is for those around you, your neighbors (whether you call them family, friends, or strangers). Your faith and your courage and your patience with others will speak to the world around you about Christ and the Gospel. 2020 tells us that we have another chance and that the task is more urgent than ever before.