New Year’s Eve – 2018 LSB #’s 878:1-3, 899, 783, 878:4-6
Text – Luke 13:9
If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down. NIV
WAIT ’TIL NEXT YEAR
Another season is finally over. No, I’m not talking about the season of Advent or Christmas. I’m not even talking about the year of 2018. I am speaking of another season of Detroit Lion’s football. The refrain began already months ago, “Wait ’til next year!” The Lion’s organization has been playing that refrain for over 60 years.
2019 will be 35 years since the Detroit Tigers won a World Series & their fans have been singing the same refrain ever since, “Wait ’til next year.” It’s common for sports fans to be optimistic, always hoping for better things next season.
And you know, a fair number of Christians seem to be optimists as well. If you ask them to serve on a committee they’ll frequently express the optimistic hope that next year they will have time. If you enquire about their interest in attending a particular Bible study you might hear, “Wait ‘til next year.”
Next year arrives in about five hours. I brought a signup sheet with me tonight. Is there something in particular you are waiting for in 2019?
Is it then that you’ll finally have time to serve your congregation in some way? Is 2019 the year you’ll actually get around to attending a Bible study? Could next year be the one when you’ll start taking the commands of God as something other than optional?
If the gas tank is nearly empty & you have another 200 miles to drive, you don’t reason that filling the tank is optional. Yet, a full gas tank only helps keep your car going. God almighty not only keeps you going, He created you in the 1st place. Why is it that strengthening your relationship with your Savior is something so unnecessary that it can always “wait ‘til next year?” PAUSE
Sporting teams certainly can get set in their ways & need the digging around their roots to change their losing attitudes. The Detroit Lions are a perfect example of an entire organization being stuck in its losing ways. Yet the Gospel reading this evening isn’t concerned just with organizations, but also with individuals.
Has “wait ‘til next year” been the attitude concerning your relationship with God? If so, then God’s sense of judgment is speaking about you this evening: “For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?”
Those are some ominous words. We use the phrase “wait ‘til next year” about teams that didn’t do so well this past season, or maybe the team’s coach, or general manager. Sports writers are calling this day – Black Monday – because six NFL coaches were fired today. Does that leave you wondering how they might refer to hell?
God’s judgment is a far more serious issue, & we have no guarantee that there will be a next year, nor even a tomorrow. Our Lord has been looking for fruit in our lives. That fruit is a repentant attitude & God’s vineyard is too important to leave an unproductive tree occupying good ground indefinitely.
As the OT reading stated, there is a time to be born & a time to die. Your death will come. Judgment Day will arrive. On which hand of God will you be found, His right or His left? PAUSE
From sports we learn to say, “Wait ‘til next year!” Then my team will do better. But sin fools us into thinking that applies to our lives also. “Wait ‘til next year,” God, & then I’ll
do better! Right now I’m too busy, or too lazy, or just indifferent. Fortunately God’s sense of judgment is not the only force deciding whether or not we should be cut down. God’s sense of mercy also factors in. It is His sense of mercy that states, “Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it & put in fertilizer. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.”
There, we find that God’s Word too uses the idea “wait ‘til next year.” In His Son, Jesus Christ, God has acted to save the tree – you & me. And in His Son, He continues still to act, calling us through His Word & Sacraments. His voice of mercy pleads for our forgiveness yet again & again, “Wait ‘til next year.”
As we are children of the world we seek after the things of this world. As we are children of God, we need the church to call us back home to God. As we are children of the world we tell the church, “Wait ’til next year.” As we are children of God, we repent of our sinful indifference & joyfully return to God’s family.
As long as we are God’s children, there will always be that tension in this life, the tension between our saintly nature & our sinful one. God must act in order to save, yet as long as we refuse God’s saving actions, they are of no benefit.
What next year will bring, God only knows, but just 365 days from now it will all be history. Our heavenly Father will have sent trials & struggles into our lives in order to dig up the hardened soil around our roots. He works through those painful events to help us see our sin with repentant hearts. And He does so purely out of love & mercy.
However, along with what we see as the rain, Jesus also sends the sunshine, the joyful events that we more easily recognize as blessing. There will be times when everything seems right with the world, like the candlelit moments as we sing “Silent Night” on Christmas Eve.
Those too come purely out of Yahweh’s love & mercy.
You see, “Wait ‘til next year,” is a phrase that cuts both ways. It speaks of our sinful indifference to the Lord who died a most terrible death purely out His love for us. It also voices our stubbornness as we get set in our selfish ways; as we cling to our lazy & losing attitudes.
But “Wait ‘til next year” also speaks of God’s patience & mercy. Jesus sacrificed His body & blood that we might we might receive it in Holy Communion. He sacrificed His own flesh & blood that ours might be strengthened & preserved through it. At the resurrection we’ll receive a new body of perfect flesh & perfect blood.
God’s sense of judgment was carried out against His only begotten Son. Jesus was the Tree of Life that was cut down in our place. In the 1st Judgment, the Baby born at Christmas was our substitute. Yet, if we constantly refuse His mercy & love, the 2nd Judgment will see our own tree cut down, & that will be for eternity. PAUSE
The OT reading is a beautiful passage as it describes the proper times for many of the events of life. May it remind you also that there is a time to repent & to seek God. That time is now while He still waits patiently with loving arms. Amen.
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living & enduring word of God. For, “All men are like grass, & all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers & the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you. Amen. (1 Peter 1:23-25)
Pastor Dean R. Poellet