31 December 2012
Your Loins Girded, Your Lamp Burning
Her name was Charlotte. She was six years old; not much older than my Gerhardt or Stefan Horner, but she was all girl. Like some other young ladies we know, she enjoyed Tae Kwon Do with her Dad, but she was into pink and pretty dresses. Her brother, Guy, was three years older, but they attended the same elementary school, where her Mom was an active volunteer.
Charlotte’s Grandma & Grandpa, on her mother’s side, live in Minnesota, on the western outskirts of the Twin Cities, not far from where I worked and went to church between college and seminary, and not far from where I served my vicarage a few years after that. Small world, isn’t it?
You may have seen pictures of Charlotte’s funeral procession, as her body was taken from Christ the King Lutheran Church to be laid to rest in the Newtown Village Cemetery. It’s been in the news a bit. She and her family were not members of Christ the King, but Charlotte attended the Sunday School there, and Pastor Morris has been caring for her family and conducted her funeral.
Charlotte’s parents, Joel and JoAnn, had no idea how little time they would have to care for their daughter, to give her what she needed most, and to teach her the most important things there are to learn in life. I’m sure they were doing the best they could. They were actively involved with their children in school and sports. I don’t know why they weren’t members of the church; maybe they were in transition, or maybe they had let that slip in the busyness of so many other things. But in the providence of God — maybe it was at Grandma Irene’s urging — they had taken Charlotte to the church, to learn of Christ her King, her Savior and her God. In doing this, they gave her life.
Be sure of this, dear friends in Christ, if the Principal and PTA of Sandy Hook Elementary had known on what day, and at what hour, the gunman was coming, they would have had that school on lockdown before the tragedy could happen, in order to prevent it. They would have saved lives.
But there is always more at stake than temporal life and mortal flesh and blood. Six years is a tender age, but life on earth is not long, in any case: maybe sixty years, or barely more than 100 at most. But this brief span in a fallen world is not yet the Life for which you (and all) are created.
As it was, the gunman, twenty-year-old Adam Lanza, took the lives of almost thirty children and adults, none of them very old. But for each of those victims who were catechized in the Word of the Holy One of Israel, who were brought to faith by His Word and Spirit, death was but an end to their watching and waiting upon Him: It was a graduation to the neverending Day — to the new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells, and where the Prince of Peace reigns in Glory — to the nearer presence of God in Christ, in order to behold Him face to face. For the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever on those who fear Him, who are called to faith by His Gospel.
Blessed are those parents who teach their children the fear and faith of God, by caring for them with His Word. There is no more significant task that any father or mother is given than that:
To bring their sons and daughters to the washing of water with the Word and Spirit of God in Holy Baptism, by which the Lord guards all their going out and coming in, henceforth and forevermore. And to catechize their children in the Name of the Lord, with which they have been named. To teach them the pattern and practice of repentance and forgiveness, both by exemplifying the use of Confession and Absolution with the pastor in the life of the Church, and by exercising mutual confession and forgiveness of sins in the life of the home and family. And to bring their children to the pastor, also, for the Holy Communion, to be fed by the coming Lord at His Table.
Fathers and mothers, you do not know the day nor the hour when death may snatch your sons and daughters from your stewardship forever. But in bringing them to Christ Jesus in His Church, and in giving Christ to them with His Word, you prepare them for the ongoing Feast in His Kingdom.
What, then, if you have no children? Blessed are you, one and all, who watch and wait upon the Lord by giving careful attention to His Word and to His works, whereby you live, now and forever. Blessed are you, when you remain awake and alert and alive, by His Holy Spirit, by His grace, even in the nighttime. Not that you must never take your rest or get any sleep; for He does also give to His beloved sleep. But how shall you, perhaps, stay up late to bring in the New Year on such a night as this, and yet not keep vigil to watch and wait upon the Lord your God?
You do not know how little time you may have; nor how long you may have to wait. What if the loud and angry voices that you sometimes overhear at McDonalds, or even at the library, were to escalate into physical violence? What if treacherous icy roads, or a fire in the night, were suddenly to wreck your car, destroy your home, or end your life on earth? A tree might fall on you; for accidents do happen. Deadly cancer might strike, irrespective of age. Or, your mind might fail long before your body. Number your days, therefore, and let each one count for what matters most.
Do you not hear the watchmen singing on the heights? Christ has come! And He is coming! Be ready, then. Have your loins girded, and keep your lamp burning. Do not be caught unprepared.
If you were a father, a mother, a child, young or old, a brother or sister, in Egypt on that night of the Lord’s Passover, then you would know from the Prophet Moses that the Lord was coming at some hour after twilight: A terrible Thief in the night, He would come, to steal away the firstborn sons of Egypt, from the Pharaoh in his palace and from the captive in his cell.
But how many sons of Israel has Pharaoh already put to death? And now shall the Lord Himself slay even more? Not so! For He has heard your cries. He knows your sorrows. And He has come to save you, to release you from the Egyptians. He shall bring you through the waters into safety and freedom, and feed you generously with bread from heaven in the wilderness, and bring you at last into the Good Land He has sworn to give you, a land of creamy milk and sweetest honey.
What, then, shall you do, now, on this dark night in Egypt? The Lord your God has told you. He has given you His Word to guide you and guard you. You shall take a male lamb, unblemished, from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall slay it in the evening, as the night falls. If your household is too small for the lamb, then you shall join with your neighbor and his household. And you shall anoint the doorposts and the lintel of the house with the blood of the lamb, and you shall roast its flesh and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Eat it with haste. Your loins shall be girded as you eat, with staff in hand and sandals on your feet, ready to leave in a hurry.
You know the story. The Lord is faithful, and He brings you out of Egypt with His mighty arm and outstretched hand. No plague befalls you, for the blood of the lamb covers and protects you, and your whole household, in accordance with the Word that God, the Lord, has spoken to you.
Now, beloved, this is how you are to live, each day and every night of your life on this earth. For the Thief is surely coming, at an hour you do not know. Death is coming, yes: Tonight, tomorrow, in the new year ahead, or at some point in the years to come, if the Lord shall grant such years to you and to this earth. But the Lord Himself is coming like a Thief in the night.
You neither know the day nor the hour of His coming. Yet, He has not left you clueless, without a Lamp to lighten your way. He has given you His Scriptures and the preaching and teaching of His Word. And there is, for you also, the Lamb who has been slain. His Blood anoints your lips and tongue, the doorposts and lintel of your body, and protects you from death. And His Flesh is your Meat indeed, your true Passover Feast, which you eat with the unleavened bread. You share this sacrificial Meal in the household and family of God, regardless of your own station in life, no matter the size of your own household. And here you are kept safe, so that you may have Life.
Therefore, let your loins also be girded, and be ready to leave at any time. Be dressed for work, and packed for travel at moment’s notice; like a woman ready for her labor and delivery to begin.
Not as though your watching and waiting upon the Lord were a waste of time.
But here now is the point and purpose of your time on earth, whether in Egypt or the wilderness:
Here and now you learn to live by the grace of God, by faith in His Word. You learn to live each day in view of your Baptism, dying and rising with Christ. You learn to live with Him, to follow Him through the water, and to be fed by Him in the wilderness, without complaining or grumbling. And so you are taught to number your days, to know how short your life here is, and to apply your heart to wisdom; which is to fear the Lord your God, but also to love and trust in Him. You are taught to repent of your sins, and to rest in His mercy and forgiveness. You are taught to be alert to Him and to His coming; neither anxious nor afraid, but in quietness and peace.
In such repentance and faith, you also love and care for your neighbors, especially for those who are entrusted to your care: Your spouse and children, if you have them; your siblings and parents, your co-workers and customers, your neighbor next door, and your brothers and sisters in Christ.
If your own household is small, or if you are alone, you still share the Lamb with your neighbors.
You love and care for all of these others, as the Lord so enables you to do, in order that they too may be prepared for His coming; so that, when death and judgment come, they shall also be found ready and waiting in the faith of Christ Jesus. Such love for your neighbor is a priceless service.
All the while, dear little child of God, you do already live: by the grace of your Father in heaven, through faith in His beloved Son — even while you are still watching and waiting upon Him in the power and peace of His Holy Spirit.
For the Lord is coming to you, here and now, and He is already with you: By and with His Name, with which He has named you as His own in Holy Baptism, and with which He still claims you and richly blesses you with His Glory in the Divine Service, in the Invocation and the Benediction.
He is your very present Help in every trouble; for with His Word and Holy Spirit He attends you. And because you are His very own, and you are dear to Him, He watches over all your going out and coming in, even to the last: With His Holy Angels, whom He has given charge over you; and through the service of His watchmen, your pastors, who shepherd you with the staff of His Word.
By the preaching of His Gospel of forgiveness, He satisfies you in the morning with His steadfast love, and He gives you peace and rest in the night season; no matter what terrors may lurk outside.
And now, again, as day by day and week by week throughout the year, through summer and winter, seedtime and harvest, here and now He comes into His House; and though He is your Lord, He girds Himself to serve you. He gently invites you to recline at His Table, and here He waits upon you in tender love and mercy: He washes you and feeds you. And in doing this, He gives you Life.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.