Click HERE for an audio version of this message.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Our focus on the Church Year tonight reminds us that we have chosen to be a church that follows a pattern of worship that has been used for thousands of years because it’s a pattern that keeps our focus on Christ. As we focus on the blessing, or benediction tonight, we notice that our weekly worship services end as they began. The first words of the liturgy remind us that the one and only true God, the triune God, is present to bless us. They are the same words by which God claimed us as his own in Baptism. The last words of the liturgy again remind us that this one and only true God wants to bless us, after all he has put his name on us. He reminds us that we are his dear children and he is our gracious Lord.
These words that we often call the Aaronic Blessing are the oldest words we speak in the service. They go all the way back to Moses and Israel at Mt. Sinai, about 3,500 years. They are the words that God gave to Moses to give to Aaron and his sons, to use to bless his people.
Do you see what that means? When we hear the words of this blessing at the end of the service it is not simply expressing a wish. The pastor is not saying, “I hope God will bless you as you leave today and go about your lives in the world.” No! These are the very words of God himself. God said that this is the way that Aaron and his sons would put HIS name on Israel and, God says, when they do this, I will bless them. He doesn’t say, “I might bless them, or I hope they will be blessed.” He says, “I WILL bless them.” These are powerful words from our gracious God.
The one that is doing the blessing is the LORD, the one and only true God, the one whose name is I AM. This is important. God is reminding us that he is not some fly-by-night lord, or some here-today-gone-tomorrow ruler. The one who is blessing us is the same LORD who was there before the beginning, the one who created all things, the one who promised Adam and Eve a savior, the one who passed that promise on to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David. He is the same God who saw to it that his promise was fulfilled, who sent his son at just the right time to be the Savior of the world. And since he is the I AM God, the eternal, unchangeable God, we can know with absolute certainty that he is with us 24-7-365. He is present and able keep every promise he has made to us. He will come in glory, just as he promised, to take us to be with him forever.
The LORD bless you and keep you. The LORD, the one and only true God, is the source of every blessing. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. Luther put it well when he taught us to confess today and each day in the New Year, “I believe that God created me and all that exists and that He gave me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my mind and all my abilities. And I believe that God still preserves me by richly and daily providing clothing and shoes, food and drink, property and home, spouse and children, land, cattle, and all I own, and all I need to keep my body and life.”
And, Luther teaches us to confess, “I believe that God also preserves me by defending me against all danger, guarding and protecting me from all evil.” He sends his angels to watch over us and lift us up so that we don’t dash our foot against a stone. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him and he delivers them. The God who watches over us neither slumbers nor sleeps. He watches over our coming and going both now and forever! The Lord truly does bless and keep us.
The LORD, the one and only true God, make his face shine on you. When we hear the phrase “make his face shine,” we picture God with a big smile on his face as he looks at us. But we realize that’s not the way it should be. As God looks at us, he sees a sinful being. He sees someone who is stubborn and rebellious, like the people of Israel in the desert. He sees someone who constantly breaks his commandments and defies his will. As we review our lives during this past year, we realize that God’s face should not have a shining smile on it, but a dark scowl. He should be filled with anger, ready to send us off to the eternal punishment we deserve.
So how is it that God’s face can shine, that he can smile when he looks at us? The answer is that Jesus got the scowl, he got the angry look that we deserve. He took our place. On the cross he cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” God vented his anger over the sins of the world, including your sins, on Jesus. Because of Jesus, God is gracious to us. Because of Jesus, God doesn’t see our sins. He sees the perfect righteousness that is ours in Jesus and he smiles. The Lord truly is gracious to us.
The LORD, the one and only true God, turn his face toward you, show you favor. During our time of worship together we have seen his favor because, through Scripture and Song our thoughts have been focused us on Jesus. He shows us his favor when we partake of the Lord’s Supper, as he personally assures us that in Jesus our sins are all forgiven. Through the word and sacrament, the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts to increase and strengthen our faith and trust in God. And as we trust God’s words and promises we have peace, a special kind of peace that no one and nothing in this world can give.
The LORD gives peace, the kind of peace that everyone needs and wants. He gives us the peace that comes from knowing that our relationship with God has been restored. God is not an angry judge just waiting for a chance to punish us. He is our loving Father who only wants what is best for us.
The LORD gives us the peace that comes from knowing the future. No, he doesn’t tell us what is going to happen in our lives each day of the New Year. But he does tell us that whatever does happen, he is going to use his almighty power and his unlimited resources to make sure that everything turns out for our eternal good. He doesn’t give us a lot of details, but he does tell us that one day he is going to bring this sinful world of trouble to an end and take us and all believers to live with him in a place where there is no sin or trouble.
As we grow in faith and trust his promises, we have peace, Shalom, the absence of care or worry, after all, He has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us.
God gave to Aaron and his sons these words 3,500 years ago so that they could put his name on us and bless us.
God puts his name on us. Think about that for a minute. Why does someone put their name on something? You put your name on something to show ownership. You put your name on something because it belongs to you.
Through the blessing, God reminds us that we belong to him. As Paul says, we are not our own, we were bought at a price. God is the one who purchased us and the price he paid was the blood of his only son Jesus shed on the cross. Paul says, therefore, honor God with your body.
As we are about to leave worship and go about our daily lives God reminds us that we are his 24-7-365. He has chosen us to be his own. He has showered us with blessing after blessing. He has given us all we are and all we have. Most importantly, he has given us Jesus, forgiven all our sins and promised us eternal life in him. Because he has called us out of darkness into his wonderful light, we want to declare his praises. We want to live and talk in a way that brings honor and glory to his name.
Our worship ends as it began. It began with a reminder of what God has done for us in Baptism. It ends with a glorious reminder in the words of God himself that he was not only present with us as we worshiped, but that he is present with us everywhere and all the time. It is his desire to bless us. In response to his love and grace, remembering that you bear his name, enter this New Year filled with peace, and the determination to bring him the honor and glory that he deserves.