Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father,
and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: If patience is a
virtue, we’re not a very virtuous nation. Here we are, only three days after
Thanksgiving, and I’ve already been informed ten or twelve times that Santa’s
on his way. I hope the poor fellow’s packed a couple of changes of socks and
underwear, because it seems he’s gonna be on the road for quite a while. I
wonder if old St. Nick ever muttered the phrase: “Kyrie Eleison”?
We as human beings—and especially as Americans living
in a land of plenty in an age of instant communication and overnight shipping—appear
to have a real problem with patience, don’t we?
It seems that the ice is hardly melted in our coolers
from our Memorial Day barbeques before we’re hearing firecrackers for the 4th
of July. No sooner does that sound fade than ads for the Back-to-School sales
arrive. Halloween pumpkins show up the Tuesday after Labor Day, Thanksgiving
turkeys gobble up October, and Christmas carols get played in November—if marketeers
and over-eager consumers are even willing to wait that long.
It’s as if we’re in a competition to rush headlong
from one big “high” in life to the next, without any pause to take a deep
breath. We want to leap forward, with no appreciation of the little gifts and
joys and even the little challenges our Lord gives us in the normal routines of
life. I’ve got to ask, “What’s the big rush?”
Certainly the Lord wants you to be about His business,
and to make good use of your time and all the gifts which He provides you. He
advises His people not to dally, but to work in His vineyard and His kingdom
while it is still day, before the night comes and no one can work.
Yet is your work directed toward that which spoils, or
is it focused upon the things which will last? Are you annoyed and consumed by
the insignificant, or do your life, your words, and your actions point you and
others toward the cross of Christ and the hope it gives you for eternity? “Heaven
and earth will pass away,” Jesus tells His disciples, “but my
words will never pass away.”
When rightly expressed, the Church does not dwell too
much or too long on the things of this world, nor get caught up in them. We as
Christians are to have a different way about us—a different tone, a different
vocabulary, a different look and feel and sound. We certainly are to have a
different outlook toward life, death, and the things of the end times. We even
have a different calendar, even though the secular world has tried to steal
away from us Christmas and Easter, Halloween and St. Valentine’s Day.
Well, today I’m going to steal something back from the
world, and beat it to the punch: I’m going to be the first to wish you a Happy
New Year. We’re ringing out the old and ringing in the new today as we enter a
new church year with the first Sunday in Advent. And as we prepare and look
ahead to observing once again the first coming of our Lord in Bethlehem, we
really ought to be more concerned with looking ahead, and preparing ourselves
for His return.
As joyous and happy as Christmas can be, as much as we
anticipate our reunions with friends and family, it pales when compared with
the eternal bliss and the heavenly union we will have with our God and with all
the saints in the hereafter.
But for now, we wait. And waiting is difficult,
especially when we’re so conditioned to being pushed, pushed, pushed by an
impatient world. As little boys and little girls, we rush to grow up, wanting
to shave or wear make-up, to date and to drive, and to be done with the
learning and on to the earning. In the prime of our lives, we rush to
accumulate the material things of this world, so we can accelerate the time in
which we no longer use our vocations to serve God and our neighbor, but instead
are served by others. When we’re ill or injured, we want a shot or a pill
offering an instant cure, or a quick and painless surgery without a long
recovery and without the hard work of physical therapy. We want to get rich
quick, lose 30 pounds in 30 days, stop smoking today, enjoy our best life now.
It seems the only things we aren’t in a hurry to have
take place are our own deaths, or the coming of the end of the world. We just
want that next “hit” of excitement, fun, attention, or whatever makes us feel
better about being a dying person in a dying world.
I’m no psychologist, but I’ve got a very simple theory
about why so many of us are so impatient about rushing forward from one big
worldly event or holiday to the next: Fear. We just don’t want to confront
the reality that the good times won’t roll on forever, even if God’s Word and
the faith that Word gives us tells us the good times will be so much better on
the other side.
We also fear what we’re going to have to go through to
get there. We have observed what others have experienced on their journey
through life and into death. Even with our Savior awaiting us on the other
side, His open arms ready to gently and lovingly receive us, we hesitate and
How crazy is that? We want to grab all the shallow
and perishable things this world has to offer, right now, today—but we want to
shove away into the far distant future the rich and glorious and eternal
blessings the world’s Creator has prepared and promised to us. In that, we’re
sometimes no better than those who have no faith at all.
We worry about the planet’s eco-system, the health
care system, the global balance of power, the economy, terrorism, who controls
Congress and the White House and the Supreme Court, and on and on and on. We
read books and watch movies about the end of the world, fretting and
speculating about when it will come and what it will be like, instead of simply
preparing ourselves for it every day as Jesus has instructed us.
And prepare you must, for you really don’t know which
will come first: Your personal end, or the end of all things. Jesus told His
disciples that at the time of His return, things will be scary indeed: Nations
in anguish. People perplexed by the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men
fainting from terror, fearful of the things to come. The universe itself will
Frightening stuff, certainly. But you are to be
ready. You have been warned many times, and even here: “Be careful,”
Jesus tells us, “or your hearts will be weighed down with indulgence,
drunkenness, and the anxieties of life.” Sounds an awful lot like how
many people prepare for and celebrate holidays, doesn’t it?
And Jesus goes on to say: “that day will close
on you unexpectedly like a trap.” And not just upon Christians,
either. The Savior warns: “it will come upon all those who live on the
face of the whole earth.”
There you have it, then. In a nutshell, the end is
going to be frightening, tumultuous, unpredictable, sudden, and widespread.
It’s almost enough to make you want to die in Christ and go to heaven early,
isn’t it? And yet, in our fearfulness and in our desire to be in control, we
would prefer to stave off either of those two potential ends for as long as
possible, if not indefinitely.
Fearfulness and control are not what our Lord desires
for you to have, though. Instead, He wants you to have confidence in His
promises and your will surrendered unto Him. But how can you have such trust?
How can you calm your fears about your own death, or your apprehensions and
terrors about the awesome coming of the Lord’s new kingdom? When you see the
sign of that fig tree sprouting its leaves, and all that comes to mind about
fig leaves is your desperate need to hide the nakedness of your sin, where can
Instead of turning from the tumult and the anguish and
the pain, turn toward it. Instead of averting your eyes and hiding your face,
stand up and lift up your heads. Do not turn away, but gaze upon the
perplexing, frightening sight of your God—turned away at the inn, rejected in
His hometown, rebuffed in His temple, driven out of His holy city dragging a
cross to die for your redemption and to bring the kingdom of God near to you.
And bring it to you He has, here at St. Paul and in other
places like it: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded.”
“Receive the Holy Spirit; if you forgive the sins of
any, they are forgiven.”
“Take, eat; this is my body, given for you. Take,
drink; this cup is the new testament in my blood which is poured out for you
for the forgiveness of sins.”
In Word and Sacrament, He continues to bring His
kingdom to you. Not just near to you, but directly to you, in
you, and through you—so that you might not be fearful as death’s
relentless march bears down on you, nor anxious as the passage of time brings
the great and terrible day of the Lord closer and closer for you and for all.
Be always on the watch, then. Pray that you may
escape all that will befall this sinful world that has rejected your God and
Savior, knowing with certainty that His kingdom comes and His will is done even
without your prayers.
Strengthened by His weakness; secured by His loss; bought
by His death; and raised to new life by His resurrection. With all your sins
forgiven and your place at His banquet assured, you are prepared and equipped
to continue to face the temptations and the trials of this life. You may stand
up and lift up your head in confidence as your final redemption draws near.
Have no fear; it’s a Happy New Year.
In the holy name of Jesus, Amen.