Pastor Joel Leyrer - New Year's Eve - Friday, December 31, 2021

Text: Joshua 1:5, 9

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Dear Friends in Christ, So, what is your assessment of the year we end tonight? And what is your prognosis on the new year we enter tomorrow?

If what was written in the online version of a prominent newspaper last week is any indication, the present national mood is not all that encouraging. The following snippet comes from an article entitled, “A New National Crisis” (Washington Post, December 24 edition):

Nearly two years into a pandemic coexistent with several national crises, many Americans are profoundly tense. They’re snapping at each other more frequently, suffering from physical symptoms of stress and seeking methods of self-care. In the most extreme cases, they’re acting out their anger in public – bringing their internal struggles to bear on interactions with strangers, mental health experts said.

Some of those behaviors appear to be the result of living through a long-lasting public emergency with no clear endpoint, the experts said…

If, to even the slightest degree, we find ourselves in agreement with those sentiments, the strong, encouraging, and reassuring words of our text for this evening are custom made for these times and this occasion. The history behind them is instructive, and worth reviewing.

If you do the math – years of nomadic wandering by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in a land that would one day be, but was not yet, theirs, plus 400 years in Egypt, most of which was in bondage, followed by 40 years of wandering in the wilderness – it was approximately 500 years that this people lived with no place to call home. That was now about to change.

The one leading them through this monumental shift was a man named Joshua. He was successor to the great hero of faith Moses and the principal figure in the Book of the Old Testament that bears his name. While Moses had the responsibility of taking God’s People to the brink of the Promised Land, it was Joshua who had the honor of leading them into it.

This all happened some 3500 years ago. As we look back on that period of history from our vantage point today it’s easy to focus just on the facts as they are presented to us in the Bible rather than the feelings of those who were there at the time. But try to imagine what was going through Joshua’s mind, as well as the people’s. It had to be a time of mixed emotions.

On the one hand, this was the end of a long, wearisome journey and the realization of a nation’s individual and collective dreams. The people had invested a lot of emotional capital in anticipation of this day, and now it was almost here.

On the other hand, it had to be unsettling to consider the changes about to take place. Wandering in the desert certainly wasn’t ideal, but it was a way of life they had gotten used to. Now they would be tied to a certain parcel of property. Could they handle it? Would they like it? Renters can move or call the landlord. Once you buy a house, it’s a different story. And they were about to become homeowners.

But first they had to get to that point. The new land was full of people who had no intention of rolling out the red carpet for them. The report of the twelve men sent to gather “intelligence” some 40 years earlier was that the land was indeed rich and bountiful, but that it was inhabited by big, strong people who lived in big, strong, and fortified cities. Back then ten of those men (the exceptions were Caleb and Joshua) convinced the rest of the people that taking over the land couldn’t be done, so why even try. It was that lack of faith in God that resulted in their four decades of wilderness wandering.

The point is that not much had changed. The land was still inhabited by big, scary people. Sure, the land was promised, and it was theirs. However, there was going to be a lot involved in the transition.

God, being the caring God he is, anticipates these emotions swirling about Joshua’s mind, so he speaks to him in a reassuring and fatherly manner. What God tells Joshua might be summarized in this way:

You’re entering UNCHARTED TERRITORY

BUT you have A TRUSTWORTHY GUIDE

Or another way of putting it:

  1. Your circumstances are about to change
  2. But I never will
  3. So don’t be afraid

And what God tells Joshua as he stood on the brink and was about to enter a new land is equally fitting for us as we stand on the brink and are about to enter this new year.

While they were confident the Lord had brought them to this stage in their life, Joshua and God’s people were also stepping into the unknown. With the unknown often comes apprehension, sometimes even fear.

The same could be said for us. What will the New Year bring for us personally? One year from now as we look back on the year 2022, what will have taken place? What changes will have occurred in our lives? Big ones? Little ones? No changes?

Will this be a year of reaching milestones and goals, or essentially another year to put in until we get there? A year of triumph, or a year marked by its difficulty and challenges and sadness? Or will it be – as it often is – a combination of all of the above?

If ever our thoughts turn to reflection on these things, the transition from one year to the next is the time. Like Joshua, new territory is in sight and on the horizon; we’re just not exactly sure what to expect. So, God steps in and tells us what to expect: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Then a few verses later God follows up with this: Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Do you hear what God is saying? Circumstances may and will change, but our God never will. And he has promised to “never leave us or forsake us.” He has promised that “he will be with us wherever we go.” Therefore, with the full knowledge of his abiding presence in our lives we can move into this New Year with strength and courage and the promise that whatever paths the Lord may lead us down this year we will never be alone.

In other words: We may be entering uncharted territory, but we have a trustworthy guide. So, what can we count on in the year 2022? Many things, but these two for sure: God’s love and God’s faithfulness.

One week ago, we celebrated once again and remembered how God’s love came to us in the form of a Baby born in Bethlehem. We know that the Baby of Bethlehem grew up to be the Man of Sorrows who voluntarily and willingly and sacrificially offered his life in our place for our sins on the cross. And when from the cross extended, he exclaimed “It is finished,” it was.

Everything necessary for us to spend eternity in Heaven was completed. His resurrection three days later proclaimed not only that it was finished, but that it was accepted.

The hymnist poses the question, “what wondrous love is this, o my soul?” Our answer: a love that defies both explanation and comprehension. And remarkably, a love that has been extended to us by his grace. A love we cannot understand, but a love we live in constantly.

Consequently, when Paul in Romans 8 asks: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ” and then lists all kinds of big-ticket items that might just do that – famine, becoming destitute, violence, etc – he concludes by simply saying, “no.” Absolutely “nothing will separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The cross and everything it means is all the proof we need of God’s love. And that love will not leave us or forsake us in the year ahead.

Neither will God’s faithfulness toward his children.

Faithfulness is one of those qualities we look for in others. It means sticking to one’s word and promises. And that is precisely what God does. Consider some of the faithful promises he makes to us…

There is the faithful promise of provision.

Toward the end of his life King David wrote these words in Psalm 37: “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging for bread.” In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and everything else will be given to you as well.” Both are telling us the same thing: As we keep things in proper perspective, we have nothing to worry about. God will provide for his people.

Then there is the faithful promise of God’s direction in our lives.

An Old Testament believer by the name of Asaph speaks for all of us in Psalm 73: “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.” As we seek counsel with God through time spent with him in the Scriptures and as we pour out our hearts to him in prayer, he responds. Not that we should expect the audible voice of God coming down to us from the heavens, but we can expect the Holy Spirit silently leading us and confirming us in directions consistent with God’s will and plan for our lives.

Finally, there is the faithful promise of his protection.

A verse in Psalm 91 reads, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” This is not a promise of freedom from hardship; rather it is the guarantee that whatever the Lord allows to come into our lives will somehow serve our highest good.

Many of us have already learned from experience that troubles will often bring us into a deeper relationship with God, and things “not working out” often purify our faith and help us concentrate on the things that matter most. Many of us can look back on our lives and now thank God for not answering our prayers the way we originally asked of him. Where we may have thought he failed us or was not protecting us or withholding something from us, he was actually at work preparing us for greater and deeper blessings than we had ever imagined.

Of this we can be sure, God is in control.

Add all these assurances and promises together, and then believe them, embrace them, cling to them tightly, keep them continually in the forefront of our consciousness – the result will be the fulfillment of what God told Joshua as he stood on the brink of the Promised Land: No fear. We find ourselves being unafraid.

Why? Because this is what God is telling us tonight: Even though you are entering uncharted territory, you have a trustworthy guide. Circumstances can and will change, but I never will. So do not fear because I will never leave you or forsake you.

These strong, comforting, reassuring words held true for Joshua as he entered the Promised Land; they also hold true for us as we enter another New Year. Amen.