Saturday, December 31, 2011

Watchnight Sermon: Lamentations 3:19-26

It seems to be the done thing at this time of year to look back on the events of the past twelve months and review what has gone before. It seems that most TV channels have been doing their own celebrity quiz of the year, and the newspapers have been reminding us of the big stories of 2011. There were some good news stories - the royal wedding, the Arab spring revolutions and the fall of Gadaffi, and the mildest Christmas Day since records began. But there have also been some difficult days for many - the Fukushima nuclear disaster following an earthquake and a tsunami; the riots in England; the fall of the News of the World.

But what about you? How was 2011 for you? As you look back on the year, what will you focus on? Will it be thought of as a good year, or a bad year? I’m aware of so many people who found Christmas a difficult time this year because of the loss of a loved one, or some bad news concerning their health, or for a multitude of reasons. And as we face into 2012, we face the unknown. We simply don’t know and can’t know what the future holds. That might leave you apprehensive or fearful, but I trust that our reading from Scripture tonight will give us hope and comfort on this new year’s eve.

Yet even as I say that, you might think to yourself, hope and comfort from a book called Lamentations? It doesn’t sound like a cheerful read! For the most part, it isn’t. Just as we remember a particular year because of some wonderful or terrible event, so it was for the people of Jerusalem. A few years ago, the Queen spoke of her annus horribilus, a year of horrors; Lamentations is the response to those horrors by the prophet Jeremiah.

Jersualem has been conquered, captured and destroyed by the Babylonian armies led by King Nebuchadnezzar. The temple is no more, its treasures stolen and removed. Most of the people have been taken away into exile. And for the first three chapters of Lamentations, Jeremiah spells out the horror of what has happened. Just before our reading, he says this: ‘He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.’ (3:16-18).

As he walks through the remains of the city - just imagine it as one of the TV news reports showing Christchurch New Zealand after another earthquake or a disaster zone following a tsunami. Darkness, despair, sadness and suffering. He’s at the lowest he could possibly go. All hope seems to have vanished.

It’s at that moment that he remembers something that brings him hope - something that even the darkest night can remove - something that strengthens him to continue: ‘but this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.’ (3:21-23)

Did you notice the timespan of the Lord’s love in that verse? The steadfast love of the Lord ceases when? Never! His mercies come to an end when? Never! His steadfast love never ceases - it is always with us, no matter what the date on the calendar is; no matter what we may be going through right now, or what the new year has in store for us. The Lord’s steadfast love will not cease this year. His mercies will be new every morning, whether you wake early or lie on until lunchtime.

This is something to hold on to as we get used to writing 2012. This is something to cling to when things don’t work out as we planned. This is something to hold us up when we are brought low - God is in control; and his love is still for us. That love was demonstrated on the ultimate day of horrors, as the sinless Saviour died for his enemies in order to welcome us as his friends and give us the sure and certain hope of life with him.

God’s love has been displayed for all time on the cross. His love will never come to an end. It helps us to stand and endure and look forward with hope and confidence, through our pains and disappointments, our struggles and shocks; looking forward knowing that through all that happens God is working out his purposes, and making us more like the Lord Jesus. Do you know his love tonight? Will you trust in this faithful God this new year?

This sermon was preached at the Watchnight service on 31st December 2011 in Aghavea Parish Church.

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