O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Based on 1 Thess. 5:12-24
Preached on December 20, 2017
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Fellow baptized saints, I’m going to say it, and your ears are going to perk up. “The End Times.” See. There is a certain human fascination with the last days or end times – and a certain anxiety – even as believers.
Do you remember Harold Camping back in 2011, predicting the end of the world several times? It made the network news, and admit it, it probably caused you to wonder a little too, didn’t it? Hal Lindsey has made a cottage industry out of being wrong as his publication the “Late, Great Planet Earth” has gone into revision after revision. Only in the religion business can you make money by being wrong. People are both terrified and mesmerized by the eschatological and the apocalyptic. We make movies about it. There are even video games built around end times themes.
So it will come as no surprise to us – that the Thessalonians had their own version of end times anxiety. But as a patient pastor, Paul writes to them to address their concerns. Some thought that Christ had already come and they had missed Him, left behind so to speak. But Paul reminds them that the Last Day will be so noisy with the cry of the archangel and the trumpet of God that no one is going to miss it, not even the dead. Others were anxious – because they feared that those who had already died were lost, that you had to be alive on the day Christ appears. The apostle reminds them that the Last Day is resurrection day, a day not of the dead but the living, when all will rise and believers will be united in Christ forever.
Our ears perk up – because we have anxieties too. Are we ready? When will it come? Will it come in our lifetime? Luther is said to have remarked that if he knew the end was coming tomorrow, he would plant a tree today. He probably didn’t say that, but it makes for a good quote. And it’s true to Luther’s teaching. The end is not lived in fear, but in confidence. We need not dread it. We can hope for it – desire it – even long for it. For with the end comes the resurrection and life Christ promised – the fulfillment of His work and gifts to all who trust in Him.
As baptized believers, we are an Advent people, even when it isn’t Advent. We are forward looking, looking forward to the coming of our Savior in glory, the resurrection and renewal of our bodies, and finally seeing with our eyes, what we now hope for and have by faith – eternal life, life in the fullest sense of that word.
But the question for us is, how do Advent people live as they watch and wait? Do we sit around and wait for the end to come? Do we try to get our affairs in order, as they say when the doctors can’t do anything more for you? Do we get more religious, more spiritual, more whatever to try to look good when Jesus pops on the scene? Of course, the answer is no. The only thing that prepares you for the end is being baptized into Christ, and clinging to His Word by faith. “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” Our faith rests in the faithfulness of God, who does what He says and is true to His promises. He has promised to save us in Christ. He has promised to raise us from the dead as surely as Christ is risen from the dead. And He has promised to forgive us, covering our sin with Christ’s righteousness, putting away our sins as far as the east is from the west. This is our peace as we watch and wait.
Advent living has a certain quiet confidence to it. Paul describes what that looks like in the closing of 1 Thessalonians. Respect those who are over you in the Lord, your pastors. Esteem them highly, not because they’re necessarily likable or your friends, but because of their work. Their task is to keep your hearts and minds focused on Christ as you go about the day to day business of your vocations. Make life easy for them, and they will serve you better.
Admonish one another, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient. Christianity is not an individual thing but a community thing, a congregational thing. It is about life together in Christ. We share the same Baptism. We commune in the same Body and Blood. We are a community that is in communion. That means what happens to one another matters. There are weak who need encouragement. There are those who require you to be patient. Each of us is a member of the body, a priest of Christ’s priesthood. We are here to hold each other up, to encourage each other, and when necessary to admonish one another. Instead of getting bent out of shape over a gentle rebuke or admonishment, we should be thankful that God has not left us alone. It’s the devil who wants us isolated, away from the flock, missing the family Supper. Put your arms around your congregational and thank God for them.
Rejoice always. Pray unceasingly. Give thanks in all circumstances. What stands out here – is that word - “all.” Rejoice even when the world finds no reason to rejoice. The Lord is near. That’s cause for rejoicing. Pray constantly, when you feel like it and when you don’t. When things are going well, badly, or not at all. Pray formally, informally, liturgically, spontaneously – all of the above. Pray, as dear children coming to their dear Father in heaven. It is your privilege to say “Our Father” and the Spirit cries out the same. Give thanks for everything, in all circumstances, not just for favors received, but for the diseases and disasters of this life, recognizing that God works good through all things, even those things that are not good. We should thank Him for that.
Don’t snuff out the Spirit, don’t despise prophesy, test what you hear. This is about preaching. How should we view it as we wait for the end? As God’s own message for you each week. The Spirit wants you to hear faithful preaching – whenever it is offered. He promises to work through your pastor too – He’s working on both ends – the preacher’s preaching, and your hearing. But test what you hear. Test it against God’s Word. Study, so that you are able to test what you hear. Tune your radar – so you can be sure the signal is from God, because the evil One preaches too in these last days – and you are hearing his messages more often than you might like.
To snuff out the Spirit is to despise Baptism, the means by which we are born of Spirit. To snuff out the Spirit is to despise the Lord’s Supper, to treat it as something that doesn’t matter while the Spirit there offers forgiveness, life, and salvation. Hell is an unquenchable fire, but the Spirit can be quenched by our stubborn unwillingness to hear the Word.
Abstain from every form of evil. Do you go back into the rip tide from which you’ve been rescued? Do you go back into the burning building from which you have been pulled? Do you go back to the prison from which you’ve been pardoned? Of course not! Shall we sin that grace may much more abound? Shall we continue in sin because we are not under Law but under grace? Only the old Adam would talk that way.
These things don’t make us holy. But they do reflect our having been made holy. They are what “holy ones” do. But make no mistake here, while Paul describes how we wait, he is not describing what makes us ready. No. It is God Himself, the God of peace, who sanctifies us, who holies us with His holiness in the Word, who makes us ready. He does it - so that at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ we would be kept totally blameless – in spirit, in soul, in body – the whole of you, all of you, redeemed by the Blood of Jesus, made holy by the Holy Spirit, beloved by the Father.
The confidence in all this, what gives us that sense of “holy boldness” as Advent people living in the hope of glory, is this: “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” He will do it. He is faithful. He will save you. That’s what carries and keep us, and what has kept the Church throughout it’s 2000 year Advent watch. God is faithful. He keeps His Word. You have His Word. He will surely do it. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr