For all of those living along the Texas Gulf coast, looking back on 2008 cannot fail to bring to mind thoughts of stormy weather (Tropical Storm Edouard and Hurricanes Dolly, Gustav, and Ike). Those who stayed endured several frightening and sometimes dangerous days. Those who fled were left worrying about friends, family, and property. Some lost everything. All lost something. With Ike’s memories still burned into my brain as fresh as in early September, C.F.W. Walther’s writing for this last day of the year was even more poignant for me that it may have otherwise been…though reflections of God’s marvelous grace in spite of our own actions are suitable for each of us, every day.
Today, the last day of the year, is an important day in our life. We stand, as it were, on the border between two great regions though which the way of our life, the way to salvation, leads us. Today we leave the one through which we have already traveled and to which no return is possible. The past is past. We will soon enter, full of expectation, the other as a land that is completely unknown to us.
Could we have allowed this day to pass without taking a look back before stepping forward into the new year? It is not possible. But what do we see when we look back? First, we consider what God has done. We see nothing but evidence of His goodness, His love, His mercy, His long-suffering, and His patience, and we are bound to thank and glorify Him for all of it. How many times during the year were we and our families in need of nourishment, clothing, and shelter? And behold! The Lord never let us lack what was necessary. Yes, He has blessed most of us with excess. We must day, with Saint Paul, “Yet He did not leave Himself without witness, for He did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14.17). Furthermore, how many dangers were we exposed to during the year? How many kinds of misfortune could have befallen our bodies and souls? But behold! As on the wings of an eagle, He carried us above all dangers. He stood by our side when we awoke, and He was on guard when we slept. His eye was always upon us. He has proved Himself to be the guardian of Israel, and we must cry out, with David: “Sing praises to the LORD, O you His saints, and give thanks to His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, and His favor for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps 30.4-5).
We may begin to think that the Word of grace did not resound to many millions in the past year, but how richly God let is be proclaimed to us, both by mouth and in writing! How kindly He always offered us His grace anew, showing us the way of heaven and inviting us into His holy kingdom! Mustn’t we cry out: “Lord, how shall we repay You for all Your mercy and faithfulness You have shown us? Oh, if only each pulse were thanks and each breath a hymn!”
Yet what do we see when we look back at what we have done? Is there one commandment that we have not transgressed? Is there one day in which we have not sinned? Is there one gift for which we have been perfectly thankful and which we have used in complete accord with the will of the heavenly Giver? Is there one rescue from trouble for which we have offered the proper praise to God? Is there one vow we have kept perfectly? Is there one sermon, one exhortation to repentance, one call to faith, one encouragement to holiness with which we have fully complied? At each of these questions, must we not cast our eyes down in shame before the most holy God, beat our breast and say with the tax collector, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Lk 18.13)? With David, must we not sigh, “If You, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Ps 130.3), and “Enter not into judgment with Your servant, for no one living is righteous before You” (Ps 143.2)? Must we not agree with Daniel, who says, “To You, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but to us open shame” (9.7)?
Hearty thanks and deepest humiliation are the two things required of us today as we review the past year. No one of us is excluded. May all of us, then, end this year as reconciled children of the heavenly Father. Only the ones who do this will make a joyful and blessed close to the year.
(from God Grant It: Daily Devotions from C.F.W. Walther, pp 85-86)