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Faith in the Preparation

December 31, 2017
By Rev. David French

We have lots of days of celebration and commemoration during the year. As a nation, we remember the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July. We remember the men and women who risked their lives for our safety on Memorial Day. We remember discoverers on Columbus Day. These are but a few of the days we remember as a nation.

The church also has its days of memory: Christmas - God taking on our human flesh in order to save us. Epiphany - the revelation of God in the flesh to the entire world. Good Friday - God in human flesh sacrificing Himself to take away our sin. Easter - God certifying His salvation by rising from the dead. Ascension Day - God in the flesh ascending outward to fill all things. Pentecost - the transformation of the Old Testament church into the New Testament church by the power of the Holy Spirit.

We especially as Americans have a lot of reasons to remember and celebrate both as citizens of this nations and as citizens of Heaven. As far as I can tell, only two holidays in any given year deal specifically with the passage of time. And as with many things our attitude about those days depends on where we are or think we are in life.

Some look to the future with anticipation others see impending doom. One of these days is personal. The other is shared by all. The personal one is your birthday. The shared one is this evening. These two days more than any other remind us of the passage of time.

This evening, we come to the end of another year. Some look forward to the new year with excitement. Others look forward to the new year with dread. And there are good reasons for both. But for the Christian the end of the year is always a good time to look forward to the end of time and the beginning of eternity.

That’s what our Gospel does. Just as there are two ways to look at the changing year, there are two ways to look at the change from time to eternity. In tonight's lesson, Jesus encourages us to be ready for the day when time stops and eternity begins. And He wants us to be ready so that it is a day we greet with joy.

Jesus asked His hearers to imagine the slaves of a household who were waiting for their master to return home from a wedding reception. Remember at that time there was no instant communication. The slaves learned the time their master was coming home when he showed up at the door and knocked.

He also asked them to imagine that coming to be like that of a thief that is completely unexpected. Simply making the point that the end of our time, like Noah’s flood will most likely be a surprise to a vast majority of well humanity.

But then death is often unexpected. From accidents to natural disasters, illness and disease death comes in many ways and most are unexpected. This is one of those rare times that the Bible doesn’t tell us anything that we don't already know from our own experience.

Still there are many who deal with this truth by ignoring it. Everyone knows that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow and yet most people, Christian or not, live as though they’ll never die, at least not until they reach a ripe, old age.

There are those who know of Christ but put off learning about Christ often because they’ve come to believe that being a Christian will take all the fun out of life. It’s an old story, they’ll just put off religion until they’re too old to have fun and then learn about this salvation thing. This evening Jesus in effect says that’s a bad idea. With sin and the death it brought came the need for all of us to prepare for the end of our time on earth.

At first it may seem that preparation is beyond our grasp. We are after all sinners through and through. Preparation for the coming of the Holy One surly requires a holy people. And if we’re honest we don't know what it means to keep our lamps burning or staying awake until the master returns? What don’t sleep until Christ returns … have you figured out how to do that?

And that’s when God reminds us that when it comes to our salvation, He does all that needs to be done, period. You are prepared for the end of your time and the end of all time because God has prepared you. In fact, we just celebrate the beginning of that preparation.

You see God was preparing all of humanity when He took on human flesh and blood. He was making preparation as He began His ministry of healing, preaching, and teaching; a ministry that culminated with His arrest, several mock trials, and a sentence of death by crucifixion. And with His resurrection from the dead and Ascension into heaven all was prepared for His second coming - the day when He will come again to judge the world.

His life as a human was perfect in every way, that’s the life He now offers to you but not you alone. When Jesus took our sins to the cross, He put Himself in the position to take God's penalty for our sin, preparing all to stand sinless in God's sight.

And God not only prepares His gifts for us, but He also prepares our hearts for us. The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word and Sacraments to create and sustain faith in our hearts. By grace through that faith He allows us to receive all the gifts of life and salvation that Jesus prepared for us through His life and with His blood on the cross.

What that means is when Jesus asks us to be ready, He’s really only asking us to be the way He made us by the working of His Holy Spirit and His gift of faith. You see we are ready for the end when we believe by faith the Holy Spirt worked in us that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who has paid for all my sins. I’d say that’s it but as we already recognized that preparation is beyond our grasp.

To be ready as Jesus again tells us is to be in Him. As He says in John 15 - Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

Clearly Jesus is telling us that He does the work of providing all that we need to sustain the life we have in Him. And you are in Him as Paul writes to the Galatians: for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

As this year comes to an end, we give thanks to God that on the day of our baptism He made us ready for the end of our time in this world. As the New Year begins, we pray God’s continued blessings as He works through His word and sacrament to keep us ready and working through us to prepare others to see with joy the glory of His return.

In His Name, Amen