Date: December 27, 1936

Prayer for the Closing Year

Eternal Father, our Help in ages past:

As another eventful year, marred by sin, but marked by Thy loving patience, hastens to its close, we raise our hearts to thank Thee that during the past twelve months Thou hast spared us; that Thou hast kept Thy protecting hand over our country to insure peace and to restore some of those blessings which Thou didst take away from us because of our ingratitude and our pride. But particularly we praise Thy name for this infinite mercy, that Thou didst not deal with us according to our sins, our smallness of faith, our cowardice, our disloyalties. Instead Thou hast accepted that blood-bought atonement achieved by the suffering and dying of Thy holy Son, Jesus, our only, but all-sufficient Savior for this world and the next. Earnestly we entreat Thee, O Father of all love, O Jesus, Thou Ransom of the world at Bethlehem, O Spirit of enlightenment and truth, to bring this joy of free salvation today into the hearts of many who still walk in darkness without having beheld the Christmas Light of the world. Come to them, O never-changing Trinity of grace and power and heavenly wisdom, so that even now in heaven the angels, who exulted over the Savior’s birth, may rejoice over the rebirth in that Savior’s grace by which some lost soul has found its eternal hope in Christ. Hear us; for we ask it in His name, by His promise! Amen.

Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today and forever.Hebrews 13:8

TODAY we write the last of the fifty-two weekly chapters in the current volume of our lives; we have come to the final Sunday of a year, which twelve months ago seemed to lose itself in a broad and distant future. Joyous, yet earnest, is the note that this concluding Sunday strikes, coming upon us, as it does, in the afterglow of Christmas, yet reminding us, as it should, that we are all, the lusty, healthy, happy children and the aged, bowed down under the heavier load of time, a year closer to eternity. If ever we need anything to emphasize the colorful picture of Scripture, when it sketches the one life that you and I have to live as a rushing wind, momentary foam upon the waters, a tale swiftly told, grass and flowers that grow up in the morning, but that wither and are cut down in the evening, the weaver’s thread that is quickly snapped; if ever we are inclined to think that the writers of the Bible speak darkly and see black when they ask, “What is your life?” and answer, “It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away,”—stop to measure the length of the twelvemonth now closing, and you will agree that life at its longest is just a flicker in the ages.

Add to this distressing thought of time’s swift-winged flight the further realization that our existence at its surest is uncertainty itself; that as the close of every year shortens your span of life, but lengthens its shadows, so the past twelve months have wrought deep-grooved changes in many hearts, printed the stamp of death and decay on many lives, and wrought drastic changes in many homes. Some of you listeners who last January greeted the new year with carefree laughter and high hopes have since been flung to your knees in grief. For others the days which came and went have touched the quick of your souls with piercing sorrows. I know—for your letters pour out the overflowing measure of grief—that some of you compute your losses in terms of broken hearts, broken health, broken limbs, in the liabilities of shattered fortunes, crashed hopes, severed friendships, and a hundred other crushing reverses that present themselves when, at the dose of the year, we take annual inventory of our joys and sorrows.

I know, on the other hand, that for thousands of you the past months have built a year of outstanding gain and notable blessing. Yet even you, the richly endowed, who have never known what it means to be cold or hungry or unemployed or destitute, will agree that in our complicated life nothing is secure, nothing immovable, nothing certain. Our generation, which has seen more dynasties disintegrate and more kings abdicate than any other quarter century, this age that has been torn by race war, labor war, trade war, crime war, civil war, world war, and, though staggering on the edge of international bankruptcy, bleeding from a thousand unstaunched wounds, prepares for a new war—this groggy, blood-drunk age is sowing the seeds from which we may reap a harvest of ruin greater than we have yet known. One need not be a prophet to discern the flares of perilous trends and impending dangers. Trade experts, statisticians, and analysts have issued repeated warnings. One need not be a historian, a sociologist, an expert in economics, to understand that our age, far from having solved the problems that the last twenty-five years have intensified, is marked by uncertainty and instability.

But you do need Christian faith, the implicit trust in the Bible from cover to cover and in Jesus from Bethlehem to Calvary and the open grave. You must have that Christ-centered trust to find soul-security for this insecure hour, spiritual certainty for an uncertain world.

On the last Sunday of this year of grace, then, and somewhat in summary of every message that I have been privileged to bring you in the past, I propose to exalt—

THE CHANGELESS CHRIST FOR A CHANGING WORLD

Still lingering in the warmth and light of Christmas (and the Savior’s birthday is charged with too much heavenly radiance to he dismissed with one hasty, hurried day), still under the spell of the Nativity grace, “Unto you is born . . . a Savior, which is Christ the Lord,” let us, as we approach the last milestone of this year, with the Spirit’s help take faith, hope, and love from that majestic exclamation in the Letter to the Hebrews, chapter thirteen, verse eight, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever.”

THE UNCHANGING MERCY OF CHRIST

Thank God that as this year tapers into history we can rise sheer above our changing world and believe with unswerving conviction that “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever,” never changes His love, shades His compassion, nor alters His grace. Behold the highest devotion that the race knows, the love that centers in the home, and as you witness the hardest and most hopeless of human tragedies, children spurning their parents, parents hating their children, husbands untrue to their wives, wives neglectful of their husbands, you will realize that human affection is often frail and inconsistent, disloyal and traitorous. Take the truest love that moves our hearts, and even in its purest forms it is subject to change. A child trustfully embraces its parents and gives the devotion of its little heart to these dearly beloved guardians and protectors; but as childhood grows into youth and manhood emerges from youth, that love is shared by a helpmate, as it is ordained that a man shall “leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife.” And again, when a bride and groom kneel before God and in that sacred moment pledge themselves to love and honor each other until death do them part, it seems that—outside of their devotion to Christ—their affections will continually and exclusively remain focused on each other. Again, however, in the mysterious cycle of life they receive, as a heritage from God on high, a child, which from the day of its birth lays happy claim to a large share of their affection. Even the most self-sacrificing love which the parents show to that child finally changes when death intervenes to paralyze all human emotions. Many of you, during the twelve months now closing, have bidden a numb, aching farewell to the lifeless remains of a loving father or mother or wept over the sudden death of an only child. You know, better than I can tell you, how quickly an endeared voice may be silenced forever, how suddenly the caress of a beloved hand may give way to the cold rigor of death.

Surrounded by this change and decay, Christ comes to us with a message of unchanging hope. Pay undivided attention to it, you who have trusted your friends and now know that they have betrayed you. Hearken carefully to each word, you who have built your confidence on health, and it failed; on your money, and it disappeared; on your own ingenuity, and it left you the victims of your own folly. Listen closely, you, the distracted of life, dissatisfied with yourselves and your fellow-men, bewildered by your lack of peace in mind and souls. If you are caught by the undertow of life and want a high and mighty rock to which you can cling midst all turbulent tides, here it is in “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever.” If in that greatest of yesterdays, the first Christmas, He, “though He was rich, yet for your sakes . . . became poor that ye through His poverty might be rich”; if in the blackest of yesterdays He, all-merciful, all-gracious, all­compassionate Savior, “loved” His own “unto the end” and in that final terror and deepest darkness offered His poor, beaten body for the sins of all the world and its races, for all the crimes of humanity and its ages, then believe that He whose “mercy endureth forever” and who assures you, “I change not,” looks upon you with the same intensity of His divine love that nineteen centuries ago brought Him to the cross. Multiplied passages of God’s deathless Book proclaim Christ’s love for you through His never-changing mercy. In the unaltered grace that once called the world­weary and disconsolate to Him with the pleading invitation, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” His Gospel addresses itself to your heart, crying into your soul, “Christ wants you, for He died for you. The bleeding love of the cross has not grown cold.” In His name I beseech you: “If there is anything in your life that keeps you from Christ, ask God before this year closes for the strength required to tear it out forever.” Jenny Lind, the gifted soprano, whose voice enchanted Europe and America and who never sang her selections from Handel’s Messiah (the gem of oratorios which many of you have heard during these Christmas days) without praying that God would bless her song testimony to Christ in the heart of some one in her audience, retired from the concert stage at the height of her success. And when, in the seclusion of her home near the English shore, a friend sought an explanation for her abandoning the stage, the Swedish Nightingale thoughtfully replied, pointing to the Bible, “When every day made me think less of this, what else could I do?”

If you want Christ and with Him forgiveness of your sins, heavenly counsel in all your problems, His light of love in all the darkness of hatred, His burden-lifting companionship on the roughest of life’s roads, what else can you do, what else dare you do, than pull down the pride and haughtiness of your life, tear out the claims of self­righteousness, break off the treacherous relationships that keep you in sin, and then push through to your Savior? Fall before Him with a heart convicted of great sin, but a soul assured of even greater grace. As you confess, “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief,” the mercy of Christ, renewed with each day, will repeat the promise of His Word that neither age, nor fire, nor sword, nor life, nor death can change or suspend, restrict, or modify, “Thy sins, are forgiven,” “Thy faith hath saved thee.”

Jesus Christ, the same self-giving Savior yesterday, the same loving Redeemer today, the same sin-removing atonement tomorrow—yes, forever! Can you think of a greater God and a deeper love than our heavenly Father and His holy compassion in giving His own Son, the Sinless for the sin-stained, the Ever-living for the justly damned? Can you picture a more glorious Savior than the Christ who thanked His Father for the privilege of redeeming the world and who in His unchanged love still intercedes for the sinner, the Christ for every man and every day and every place; the Christ for the sick-bed and the death-bed, yet the Christ for the health and strength of life; the Redeemer of the deserted and destitute, yet the Ransom for the applauded and acclaimed? Can you—or any one else—construct a better faith than the changeless Gospel that has never put a price on its promises or demanded payment for its blessings?

THE UNCHANGING POWER OF CHRIST

“We need more than love,” someone objects. “We need the power which puts this love into blessed operation.” No one doubts the affection of a mother who moans over her dying child; but that devotion will not keep the little one alive. There must be power; and, thank God, our glorious Savior, “the same yesterday and today and forever,” offers us not only His unchanging mercy, but also His enduring power. The closing scenes of the year have impressed upon our minds the truth that, while human authority rises only ultimately to fall and while earthly rule increases only finally to decay, “all power . . . in heaven and in earth” still belongs to the unchangeable, eternally triumphant Redeemer and Ransom of our souls. A President may bask in the plaudits of a nation today and be impeached and discredited tomorrow; an emperor who was the idol of his people yesterday may be a self-exiled failure today. But the eternal cry echoes throughout the ages, “All hail the power of Jesus’ name!”

Every other force that influences one may fluctuate. Our age has witnessed the limitation of brain power, the swift and sudden collapse of dollar-sign power, the unexpected loss of personal prestige, the repeated debacle of military power, more intimately than any other generation; yet we still see the Cross of Christ “towering o’er the wrecks of time.” If the enemies of the Savior in the past of all history have been hurled to destruction and have confessed defeat as did Julian the Apostate, who in his dying moments is said to have thrown some of his own blood toward the sky and screamed, “O Galilean, Thou hast conquered!”—if today Christ is crowned Lord of Lords and King of Kings in His triumph over the rebellious uprisings of a hundred antichrists, then for tomorrow let all the forces that hate His Cross and reject His atoning blood mobilize for a common onslaught. Let them reinforce their ranks a thousand times, increase their number ten thousand times, multiply their power a million times, and as each morning the sun rises in its irresistible splendor over the retreating shadows of night, so Christ, our “Sun of Righteousness,” will blaze forth in His glory to scatter the legions of unbelief in perpetual flight.

It may seem, as we view the past year and the conquests of sin, with godlessness enthroned and crime nourished on the fat of the land, that Christ’s power has been changed and His supremacy restricted. But God moves to victory in mysterious ways, at unexpected times, at unforeseen places. Infidels, too numerous to mention, have officially declared Christ dead and have sung a satirical dirge over His demise; but Christ was never more alive and His power never more decisive than today. Two years ago in Germany, under the influence of a small wilful group seeking to restore the old Wotan cult and the spirit of Teutonic paganism, Christian churches were driven to desperate extremes. Yet as Jesus rebuked and restrained the jealousies of the overbearing churchmen of His day, so that German opposition which robbed pulpits of faithful pastors was recently officially checked by the government. In Russia the pendulum is swinging back within less than twenty years from the extreme left of rampant godlessness to a constitutional tolerance of the Christ who has triumphed for twenty centuries. It may be that this is only a temporary gain for Christ’s cause and that in these countries unbelief will return with even greater power; but in the end Christ never retreats. In the early Church, under the reign of deadly Diocletian, a building filled with hundreds of worshipers, gathered to commemorate the Christmas miracle, was set on fire, and every Christian was burned alive. On Christmas Eve atheists gathered in large cities throughout the world to desecrate the happy festival with obscene caricatures and vulgar rites; and this iniquity will swell into more vicious attacks in the future. But take courage! Can a termite pull down Mount Everest? Can a butterfly hold back a hurricane? Can spawn say to the swelling tides: “So far, and no farther!”?

If ever you doubt Christ’s power over obstinate, self­willed, Christ-denying men, you can gain a dearer understanding when with the psalmist you contemplate their end. Though the enemies of Christ may fare sumptuously and be “clothed in purple and fine linen,” the unavoidable reckoning always awaits them and, as thousands of Christian pastors can testify, makes quaking, gibbering cowards of men who prided themselves on their independence of God. The self-engrossed and self-righteous must remember that Christ’s power is still the same. For the sake of your soul I ask you not to indulge in the folly that exults, “I do not need Christ! I do not want Christ! I do not believe Christ!” but open your heart penitently to the Spirit of God, and the same power that has wrought happiness from misery, soaring faith from groveling unbelief, will “create . . . a clean heart and renew a right spirit within” you.

Perhaps many of you who were Christ’s now stand baffled by the unshared burdens and unrelieved sorrows that came with the past year. You cry out in protest: “Christ has not helped me! My prayers are unanswered, my trust has been misplaced! The power of Heaven is broken!” But will you measure God with the yardstick of twelve short months when a thousand years in His sight “are but as yesterday when it is passed”? Will you dictate to God and say that He must answer your selfish prayers, that He must help here, now, and in this way? Would you pluck the green fruit before it is ripened in the orchard of God’s grace? Would you build your ship of life from unseasoned timbers? Ask Christ for a patient, cheerful faith. Believe with all your soul that, if in the past His miraculous power fed the hungry, cheered the destitute, healed the sick, and strengthened wavering lives, He is “the same . . . today” and that, if it be in accord with your soul’s salvation, He will invoke the resources of His omnipotence to guide, guard, and protect you, in His own better way, His own happier place, His own more appropriate time.

Do not tell me that this is theory. The experiences of thousands prove Christ’s power. As you review the declining year, is it not true that repeatedly, against your own expectations, in utter disregard of your fears, even in contradiction of doctors’ verdicts, in the face of seeming impossibility, Christ’s power sustained you by unforeseen and startling intervention? This whole radio crusade for Christ, a high adventure in faith, is proof of that Savior’s power. In one of the most arbitrary and discriminatory practises that this nation has ever witnessed the Roman Catholic Church is given the free facilities of fifty-seven stations every Sunday for the entire year, radio time which is valued at more than $400,000. Our Jewish friends have similar privileges—again without charge. Protestant denominations united in the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America are granted even more time than this, many more stations, and far more broadcasts each week—absolutely free. But the National Broadcasting Company has refused to permit us, who, as you know, preach the never-changing Christ, the old faith, founded on the old Book, even to pay—at full station rates—for the privilege of raising the cross of the Crucified over the radio firmament of America. But the power of Christ prevails; and while we are grateful to the officials of our broadcasting system and the experts at the great superstation in Cincinnati who have established a special Gospel hookup for us, I cannot let this year close without thanking particularly you, my friends, for your courageous prayers and support which under the power of the changeless Christ have helped us to purchase this time and broadcast for a fourth season. We thank all of you, from the two children in Chicago who mailed our broadcasting fund their pennies, painstakingly saved for Christmas-gifts, to the generous, but anonymous Iowa friend who on the same day had $500 sent to promote this radio mission for America. Your heartfelt determination to maintain this ministry of the air will be blessed by His power, to whom we say in reverence and love, “Lord, Thou canst do all things!”

In your smaller personal problems the same unchanging faith can still carry out its purpose. If you trust Christ for your soul and body and believe His promise “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee” in the uncertain tomorrow with its hidden sorrows and unveiled joys, His power will bring the same evidence of His merciful omnipotence. The French artist Tissot, shaken by sudden sorrow out of his gay Parisian boulevard life into a career for Christ, went to Palestine and for years occupied himself with painting the scenes of the Savior’s life. After he had completed the magnificent volumes depicting Christ, he wrote on the last page a plea to the readers asking to be remembered in their prayers. Before you lay aside the present annual of your life that either reechoes your trust in Christ or repudiates it, will you not prepare an inscription for the last page, addressed not to men, but to your God? And may its contents bring the devotion of a faith which declares: “Heavenly Father, on these 366 pages is recorded the evidence of my trust and mistrust. I thank Thee for the grace that has bestowed my blessings; but in Jesus’ name I plead for forgiveness and pardon whenever the record has been disfigured, as it often has been, betraying my inborn weaknesses and traitorous disloyalties. And it is with the resolve that, Thy Spirit helping me, I lay aside the volume of this year to start afresh the new record for the coming year, confident that whatever may befall me, ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday and today and forever,’ will redeem me with His unchanging love and strengthen me with His unchanging power. As the book of this year closes, hear me for His sake who can save to the uttermost.” Amen.

Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.