Ending and Beginning, First Advent 2016
First Advent November 27th 2017
Isaiah 2:1-5 Psalm 122 Romans 13:11-14 Matthew 24:36-44
Ending and Beginning
Happy New Year! You know that the secular year might begin with January first, but our church year begins today on the First Advent. In antiquity calendars were usually set at the beginning of the reign of a king. For example, in that way we would say in the eighth year of the presidency of Barach Obama. But notice how even our secular calendar is anchored in the birth of Jesus Christ. We used to speak of B.C. and A.D. – meaning Before Christ and Anno Domini, that is, in the year of our Lord 2016. Now those abbreviations have been changed to BCE – before the common era and CE, the common era. But what has not changed is the fact that the birth of Jesus Christ still marks the turning point in our western history and his advent is still what we celebrate today in the four Sundays before Jesus’ birth.
At the beginning of this church year we will experience a real transition at Christ Lutheran Church. My Co-Pastor has already removed most of her books from the shelves of our office. Next Sunday will be her last and I will end on Christmas Eve. But through it all, be assured that Christ is really present here with you and Christ is the Good Shepherd, the real pastor of CLC and so you will continue to be in good and holy hands. So the Nativity of Christ, the Messiah is at hand! Stir up your hearts! The first candle on the wreath has been lighted!
Let our transition here at CLC point to the deeper turning point in our lives and history, the end of the world. Jesus said that not even he knew when that day and when that hour of the end of time would come, when the end of history would take place.
But you and I know that our time is limited and thus we have to make it count. That becomes very clear when you are at the end of a call, a job, or a responsibility and you have to make your time count. You have to also realize that even if you are young and still in the midst of life, a night can come in many ways in which no one can work. So on this day, the beginning of the new church year, let’s make resolutions that we entrust to Christ within us to carry out; therefore we want to wake up, come alive, get ready, and be prepared.
For our citizenship is in heaven and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil. 3:20) “For here on earth we do not have a lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:14) So let us be faithful unto death so that we receive the crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10)
Thus here on earth, those of us who follow Christ, seek to do God’s will as it is done in heaven – in that lasting city, that commonwealth of heaven, where our swords are beaten into pruning hooks and nation shall not lift up sword against nation and neither shall there be war any more, in the reign of the Prince of Peace.
Robert Goeser, for whom I was a long time teaching assistant at the seminary used to say: we certainly do not know when the world will end – only God knows – but let’s live our lives with an end-of-the-world intensity! And really, even though we are talking about something much more profound, when we die, that spells the end of the world for us. And each ending that we experience points to that fact.
We co-pastors will be ending our ministry among you, but you will be beginning with a new intentional interim pastor, who will prepare you for the advent of a new pastor. So keep watch, be awake, alert, be prepared, get ready with an end-of-the-world intensity.
With the four advent Sundays we can speak of four real advents: the advent of the Messiah that Old Testament people looked forward to, the advent of Christ that we look back upon, the advent of Christ when he is born in the cradle of our hearts, and the advent when he comes to judge the quick and the dead. (I guess the first two are really the same, except for our perspective.) In Greek the latter advent is usually called the Parousia. In Latin, advent is the same word, the coming, the arrival of the king of kings, lord of lords, the Messiah. In our first hymn we asked ourselves, o how shall we receive him? How will we be able to meet? Our Matthew lesson assures us that for that rondez vous we will not be able to make an appointment. That has always been a question for me when I make a visit. Do I have to make an appointment or can I just drop in as your pastor. I once lived with a family that provided hospitality by the rule of no hospitality. Things were always in order, so that all kinds of preparation was not needed so that someone could visit. And a pot of coffee was always ready. You were allowed to open the door and take something out of the refrigerator as if you were home. In my family of origin, we had a long driveway and when we saw someone coming, everyone went into emergency mode, went turbo in the few minutes before they would knock on the door to get the house into a relatively, half-descent, and presentable order.
But in the Parousia on our First Advent, we point to a visit of far greater significance. In our sending hymn we will sing: “mountains transcending, then Christ descending, shall bring unending salvation!” So our pastoral transition at CLC and speaking about visits can’t hold a candle to that Parousia to come, which is the end of all endings and the beginning of all beginnings.
In our Matthew lesson, those being taken and those left behind have nothing to do with the rapture, according to a commentary, but realizing and knowing that Christ is all important. Nothing can stand in the way between us and Christ. One leaves with Christ, if he calls, as the first priority. Work out in the field, work preparing food, mending fishnets in a fishing boat, not a wedding day, not one’s property can stand in the way. We have to drop everything and leave with Christ the lord of Life, when the time comes.
Noah and his family got into the ark. Those left behind drowned in the flood. When the NAZI war machine was entering Europe’s eastern countries, Jewish farmers were warned, if they did not flee they would lose their lives. Some couldn’t leave their farms, all their property, their life’s work, and so they were killed.
Like a friend of mine who really loves his money. When he contemplated being mugged, he supposed the thief might say, “Your money or your life!” That is too hard a question, he whined!
Let us recite with each other the words of our opening hymn to help us watch, wait, wake up, get ready and be prepared:
O Lord, How Shall I meet You,
How welcome you a-right?
Your people long to greet you,
My hope my heart’s delight!
O kindle, Lord Most Holy,
Your lamp within my breast
To do in spirit lowly
All that may please you best.
(Evangelical Lutheran Worship Hymn No. 241)