Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Vigil at the End of Time

Last Sunday of the Church Year
November 22, 2009
Mark 13:24-37

The Vigil begins now. There is no waiting to begin it. There is waiting involved, that’s what a vigil involves. But there’s no putting it off. Vigilance is called for not at some point in the future. Our Lord calls us to be vigilant now. What He says to us He says to all: Stay awake. The vigil is the people of God being vigilant. We know what will happen we just don’t know when. Our Lord lays it all out for us, He just doesn’t tell us when it will all come about. That’s why we’re in the Vigil. The Holy Christian Church is the Church of the End Time Vigil. It is the Church of Vigilance.

This is in direct contrast to most people’s day to day existence. Most people are too caught up in the things of the world to be vigilant. They’re just trying to make it through the day. They’re not necessarily even caught up in evil things; much of the time it’s ordinary things they need to concern themselves with to live. It’s hard to take fifteen minutes out of your day to be vigilant, reading and meditating on the Word of God. Or to wake up fifteen minutes earlier to begin the day in the Word of God and prayer when there are so many pressing things that need to be done. Or to spend the last fifteen minutes of your day in quietness with God’s Word when you’re so exhausted you can barely stay awake any longer. Or you can’t fall asleep because your mind is racing with all the things left undone and all the worries about tomorrow.

I think that by nature we are not only sinful and unclean, we are not vigilant. We hear the words of Christ in the Gospel reading and have a hard time relating that stuff to what’s going on in our lives. While there’s much here that’s difficult to understand He boils it down to one simple thing: Stay awake. Be alert. Be vigilant. Be on your guard. We don’t know when the end of time will be but we know we are at the end of time. We don’t know when our Lord will return in glory but we know He will. And we must be ready.

So often we don’t even think of the end of time. Jesus’ description of His return in glory is strange to our ears. All the talk about tribulation, the sun being darkened, the moon not giving its light, the stars falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens shaken. I don’t know if there are any scenes in the new end-of-the-world movie 2012 that are on the scale of what Jesus describes here, but what He describes is disaster of epic proportions. But in the midst of that disaster of the fallen world is glory. The “Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” Every eye will see Him. All will know. If they don’t know now, or refuse to listen now, they will know without a doubt then. And our Lord will be coming in glory for the purpose of sending out the angels and gathering “His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

You don’t know when this will happen. But you know it will. Mark Twain can joke all he wants about death and taxes being the certainties of life, but there is only seriousness here on the part of Jesus of what is certain. This life will come to an end as we know it. Your life on this earth will come to an end either through your death or Christ returning in glory to take you to heaven. When you know that you are armed and you can be vigilant. If you choose to ignore it you do so at your eternal peril.

Most everyone can look around themselves and see from the trees the changes of the seasons. Even in Southern California we get a sense of that. Jesus uses a fig tree as an example: “as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.” The point is simple: “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that He is near, at the very gates.” Since the signs are taking place, since we’re at the end of time, we must be vigilant, we must be on guard.

The way Jesus talks it seems as if everything He is saying is imminent. When we hear it all two thousand years later it doesn’t come across with the same force as it did when Jesus spoke it back then. When Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place,” it seems that He meant that it would all come about in their lifetime. The most natural reading of Jesus’ statement would appear to be that He’s referring to those people He was talking to, that it would all come about in their lifetime. A sensible reading would appear to be that Jesus is referring to that generation in the future, the one who will witness all of these things, will not pass away until they all take place.

But the fact is those people listening to Jesus at that time were every bit as much in the End Times as we are today. They were to be as vigilant as we are. The natural reading of the generation Jesus was speaking to may not seem to make sense, it may even seem flat out wrong since the end of the world did not come in their lifetime. Unless—one looks at the cross and views everything else through it as the lens through which to see and understand everything else. The things Jesus has described have taken place in the Great Day of the Lord of Good Friday. The apocalyptic signs described by Jesus and elsewhere in Scripture were present on that day Jesus suffered on the cross. The glory of the Lord was revealed in that suffering and death of the Savior of the world. Salvation was secured for the world on that day and there is no greater glory than that. Christ’s return in glory, while beyond compare, will be more along the lines of icing on the cake in light of the incomparable glory of God’s salvation for the world in His Son on the cross. The generation Jesus was speaking to witnessed that.

It is through this event of history that we should understand what Jesus means when He says: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” The world did not come to an end the day Christ died, but when it does, we know His Word will remain because He remains our Savior who will have come again to take us home to heaven.

He is the Lord Almighty, but we must always remember that He is the Lord who suffered in our place. He is the Lord and yet did not consider it below Himself to become a man as you and I are humans. How else could He say what He says that “concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Jesus is true God. He does know all things. And yet He is also true man and chose to not make full use of His divine glory and power as a man. He is perfectly at ease in His manhood that He doesn’t have a clue when He will return in glory. He truly became one with us in our humanity, and we do not need to worry about what we don’t know, when our Lord Himself is content in His humanity of not knowing when. What we know is what He knows, that it will happen. Our Heavenly Father knows when and we’ll leave it up to Him.

What do we need to concern ourselves with? The Vigil at the end of time. The Vigil that begins now. The vigil that is what we keep until our Lord calls us home through death or His glorious Return on the Last Day. His words to us are as pertinent now as they were two thousand years ago. They are as relevant to our lives now as they will be throughout the rest of our days:

Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.

The time is now, the vigil has begun and we are called upon to keep it. Live every day in the remembrance of your Baptism. Receive the Lord’s Supper often as the very food you need to for your body and soul to survive. Hear the Word of the Lord and rejoice in it for the refreshing of your soul. You don’t know when the end of time will come but you know that you are at the end of time. Your Lord has called you to eternal salvation and wants you to be with Him for all eternity. Amen.


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