In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In Nomine Jesu. This is the Latin you find at the beginning of your worship bulletins. It means “In the Name of Jesus.” I'm sure you've heard this before, but if we're going to review anything, I suppose the last day of the calendar year would be about as good of time as any. Nothing like the last minute details, right?
Of course, for us liturgical-type Lutherans (not that there are any other type of Lutherans), but for us, our New Year began back on the first Sunday in Advent (November 27th this year). And as much as we would hope that Christians would be more excited about the Church's calendar than about the secular (Gregorian) calendar, well, for the most part that's just not the case.
So, the Church has “adapted”. Not “conformed,” though. We wouldn't say that (as if there's really much distinction there), but the way the world marks time is different than the way the Church marks time.
We celebrate the life of Christ, as we're taken from His birth (Christmas), to His baptism, to the Transfiguration, through His suffering in Lent and His resurrection at Easter, then finally His Ascension forty days after Easter and His Work among us today in the long, green season that takes us all the way back to His birth again. Gracious Year after Gracious Year, we are reminded of the story of our Lord Jesus (which is also our story, of course).
But who among us really operates their life based upon that? In some ways, pastors do, right, because, well because they have to, that's their calling, to operate within this church year. Next in line would probably be musicians and organists, because there are various nuances and details that are appropriate to certain times of the year. But beyond that, who really cares?
I mean, really! Who among us orders his life along with the Church calendar? For example, Advent and Lent are penitential seasons. The Church has always spent more time in fasting and prayer during these seasons, but what Lutheran household really plans there meals around the Lenten fasting? If you do, that's great! Most of us don't.
Another example: cleaning your house. Did you know that early in the life the church, Advent was a time where families were invited to make a thorough cleaning of the entire house, and to make an intentional effort to get rid of anything that was just clutter, / and then to give that clutter to the poor? I mean, really, how practical is that? We're too busy for that kind of liturgical daily living. We have Christmas cookies to bake and houses to decorate, and parties to attend, and sermons to write and family schedules to coordinate. The daily 'living out' of the liturgical year is just not practical for us anymore.
As a result, the Church (or at least our current church practice) has “adapted” to the secular calendar in which the people live. A de-emphasis on fasting and prayer during the cookie-eating season, but also an inclusion of certain Feast Days which coordinate with the secular calendar, along with the Church Year calendar. And this isn't a bad thing: we don't ignore the importance of the beginning of the year 2012, rather the Church has sanctified the Day. Every year on January 1st the Church celebrates the Feast of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus.
Luther highly regarded this festival, I think mainly because he highly disapproved of observing January 1st as New Year's Day in Church.
But why this Feast, and why on January 1st? Well, there's a long history of this day, which started out in France in 6th century. But the point is this: since we celebrate Jesus' birth on December 25th, and he was brought to be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth (like all Israelite boys), then do the math: the eighth day would be January 1st. And it's the Circumcision and Name of Jesus because Jewish boys weren't given their name until they were circumcised, and such was the case with Jesus.
And so here we are, the Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus and New Year's Eve.
But there is a big difference between how the world and how the Church brings in the calendar New Year. The world, with parties and spirits, as they say. And the Church, with a Feast Day and the Holy Spirit. OK, maybe the terminology isn't all that different, but certainly the meaning is different.
The Church brings in the New Year in the same way we begin every week: being blessed by the name of God. I'm told of a pastor who used to serve here quite a while ago who used to say: “if you come on Sunday morning (or at other times, I think he would add), and the only thing you got out of the service was the final Blessing (the Benediction) at the end, well then it was well worth it.” And sometimes this is the case. How many sermons do parents miss because they are tending to their children; this is just the reality of things, right, and it's a great point of comfort. But allow me to be so bold as to add something else to that pastor's wise words: / If you come on Sunday morning (or any other time we are here) and the only difference that you can see that it made in your life / is that your life was put on hold and you were gathered together for an hour or two with these other Christians, (if that's the only result that you can sense), well then, it was well worth it.
You are here to rest. Your life has been put on hold. You aren't doing homework right now, you aren't vacuuming or shopping or hunting or watching tv. You are resting “In Nomine Jesu,” In Jesus' name. It's good for your life to get put on hold for a while, you're too busy and stressed out and worn out, or you're not busy enough and your cranky or under-appreciated. Forget about all that. You are here now in Jesus, with Jesus. It's His time to work on you.
And your not alone. You are gathered together. The word for “church” in the New Testament is (ekklesia), literally this means “gathering” or congregation. So to be gathered together / is to be Church. The Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel. That's what those words at the top of your bulletin always mean. You have been gathered here “in nomine Jesu”, in Jesus' name, just like at your Baptism.
So here you are, Church of God, elect and holy, gathered by the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus, baptized and washed in the Blood of the Lamb, awaiting the Feasting tomorrow morning when you will receive His true Body and Blood in the Blessed Sacrament.
And for tonight, keep watch and watch yourselves. The world is going to be doing something different tonight. New Year's for the world is quite unsanctified, actually. But you are not of the world. You / are in Jesus. As you wait, you fast and you pray, because that's what Jesus did when He was waiting. Beware this evening, and be aware of who you are. As your spiritual father, take this as a spiritual lecture. That's fine, that's partly what I've been called here to do.
Even when you walk out those doors tonight, you are still “In Nomine Jesu.” Not only when you come together on Sundays for the feasting, but also every moment, you are Church, the gathered ones “in nomine Jesu.” Every moment of your life this phrase is declaring something, not only to you, but also to the world: that there's more to come.
Your waiting and being attentive to yourself and your actions, these things will not last forever. If nothing else, let the secular calendar teach you / that there are new beginnings. 2011 is almost over. What a year, right? As you look back: repent. And as you look forward to 2012, you are wiser now, so you know that you must continue to pray all the more earnestly, “Lord, have mercy.”
And He does. He has mercy on His own, whom He has blessed with forgiveness, life and salvation in the name / and for the sake of His Son, Jesus.
In this New Year, Lord have mercy upon us, have mercy upon those whom we will meet, have mercy upon our congregation and our synod, have mercy on our families and our homes, have mercy upon our daily work and our places of employment, have mercy on our government and our economy, Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy us, sinners, and save us.
And so, as we begin, so we end:
In +Jesus' name. Amen.