Last Sunday of the Church Year 2015

Bible Text: St. Mark 13: 24-37

+ In Nomine Jesu + 

The last few Sundays of the church-year always take this tone. A temple bound for destruction, false christs coming to deceive us, persecution of the faithful, and now, today, all the signs of the end: Darkened sun, darkened moon, falling stars, angels coming to reap a harvest, and the admonition to stay awake.

For the last three weeks, as the Church has always done, Pastor Hopkins has been telling you, in many and various ways, that Jesus is coming. But then the strangest thing happened. Or maybe I should say that the strangest thing didn’t happen. A week came and went, but Jesus…didn’t.

That would have been a very happy 50th anniversary for all of us here, but things didn’t quite work out that way. Despite what you’ve heard from the news headlines and angsty teenagers, the world, in fact, has not ended. You and I are still here; still living, still dying, still singing, still sinning…still waiting. And you would think that after nearly 2000 years of practice, we would be better at it. But we are not. We still get it wrong. Jesus bids us to wait in joyful anticipation, but instead we wait in fear and anxiety.

We stare at our bank accounts? Where will the money come from? We stare at our watches. Where will I get the time? We riot in the streets, or in our hearts, when we don’t think justice has been served. On the flip side, some of us spend the holidays jumping from pious act to pious act, hoping that Jesus, like Santa Claus, will see it and put us on His good-list. All of that is fear.

Fear is why the servants a master leaves in charge will stay awake and vigorously perform all their tasks, constantly looking over their shoulder hoping that they have just a bit more time – at least until their burden proves too much, and they collapse from exhaustion. Fear is why Jesus’ command to “stay awake” sounds for us like yet another impossible task that offers no rest, and no hope. So what do we do with all that? Ask yourself: Who in the world could stay awake indefinitely?

It was the very first time Caroline and I had gotten the chance to babysit our nieces, Sophia and Fiona. We’d baked treats, watched a Charlie brown Christmas, and planned one activity after another after another. The goal, as you all know, is to so thoroughly wear them out that they would be fast asleep by the time Mommy and Daddy came home.

Yet throughout the night, despite all the fun they were having with Uncle James and Aunt Caroline, they missed their parents. And when it came time to put them to bed, they would have none of it. Until their parents were holding them in their very own arms, there would be no sleep…for anyone.

There was nothing resembling fear in them. They knew their parents were coming back, even if they didn’t know what time. Maybe we’d be in the middle of finger-painting; maybe eating a snack; maybe it would be at bath-time; it could happen at any moment. And so they stayed awake. And at every creak or light flicker they would turn their heads to the door, not with frowns and trembling lips, but with smiles and gasps, hoping as only children do.

Adults don’t think that way. We grow up, and we get smart. We get adult problems and adult solutions. We wonder how long we need to stay up. We fear. And so while children act as if what they are hoping for will happen any moment, adults tend to act as if what they are waiting for will never happen at all; or if it does, it won’t be good news. So we fear.

The message for all of us today, the last Sunday of the Church year, however, is that you and I have nothing to fear. We are, after all, on the cusp of Advent, a hopeful season that is meant to slow us down, even when the world is telling us to speed up. It speaks in hushed tones. It’s slow and syrupy. It’s penitential and meditative. It’s a time of preparation and training in patience. The end of the Church year, and the beginning of a new one teach us what it means for Jesus, the Light of the World, to come, and to cast away our fears like so many shadows.

After all, the word “Advent” means, “To Come”. And so we, the Church, rejoice that Christ came to us first in the manger of Bethlehem. But not just then and there, we rejoice that He comes to us now; the very same Jesus held in the Virgin’s arms, delivered to you, as Luther says, on the manger of your tongue, Here in His Holy Eucharist. And now we wait with holy impatience, with childlike smiles and gasps, for the day when Pastor Hopkins is finally right, and Jesus comes to wrap us all up in His arms.

Every Sunday is a little resurrection – a fresh start for all of us; and a new Church-year: doubly so. And so the season upon us is an invitation to a new life – one without fear. It is a new chance to live in freedom, joy, mercy, witness, and love; to participate in the Divine Life of the Holy Trinity. This Advent looks to make all of us children again; to wait like children and to believe like children: restlessly – and to look to the Child of Bethlehem, all grown up, and see in Him what it means to be fully human again, to be God’s child. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

+ In Nomine Jesu +

About Pastor Hopkins