31 December 2015

Sanctifying Time to the Glory of God

As we have recently heard from the Holy Gospel on Christmas Day, and as we confess throughout the year in the Creed, it is by and through the Son of God (the Word who became Flesh) that all things are made and exist.  Even in the face of sin and death, we thus affirm that all of creation is good, for it is God’s good work and His gracious gift.  It is to be received with thanksgiving, sanctified by His Word and prayer, and used to the glory of His Name in faith and love.

By the same token, you know how easily and how often God’s good gift of creation is abused and misused in contradiction of His Word.  It is so typical that it is either idolized or demonized, either worshiped and feared as though it were God, or despised and rejected as though it were the devil.

Time itself also belongs to God’s good creation and is therefore subject to sanctification by His Word and prayer, or to the idolatry and sacrilege of sinful unbelief.  It is created by God and given for a good and godly purpose, namely, that you should live by faith in His promises, day by day and year after year, in patience and in love.  Thus is it marked and measured by the days and nights that God the Lord has established; by the rhythm of weeks, the turning of seasons, and the passing of years which the Holy Scriptures and the servants of God, the sun, moon, and stars, determine.

The purpose of these signs and seasons, of evening and morning, sunset and dawning, of winter, spring, summer, and fall, and of seedtime and harvest, is that you should remember the Lord and His mercies, as He remembers you according to His steadfast love, and as He generously provides you with your daily bread.  For all of time, together with all of creation, is sanctified to the glory of God and for your eternal good by the Cross & Resurrection of the incarnate Son, Jesus Christ.

Even so, time is likewise subject to blasphemous abuse when it is worshiped and feared instead of God, or when it is resisted and denied as though it were the work of the devil.  Time becomes a cruel taskmaster and a prison house, when it is viewed, not as God’s good creation and good gift, but as your lord and ruler, whether for good or ill; that falsehood will destroy you, either way.

Then you find that time pursues you on swift horses, indeed, until you are utterly undone.  Except, it is actually the Lord your God, your Maker and Redeemer, who pursues you in love — also with His servant, time — in order to recall you to Himself, to faith and love, and to eternal life in Christ.

Thus, it is here in time that you suffer and die on account of your sin.  But it is also here in time that you are brought to repentance, that you receive life and live by the grace and mercy of God.

It is within time that you may be hurt and disappointed, lied to, betrayed, and left waiting on those who let you down.  And it is within time that you, also, do both good and evil to your neighbors.

But it is in repentance and rest, quietness and peace, that you are saved here in time for eternity hereafter.  It is within time that you are called to live by faith, to wait in patience on the Lord; and in time that you are called to love and serve your neighbors, to carry out your duties in the fear and faith of God — not knowing the hour in advance, but only that your Master is certainly at hand.

Therefore, do not lose heart, and do not grow weary of doing good, but keep your loins girded, and keep the Word of the Lord in view as the Lamp unto your feet and as the Light upon your path.

Blessed are you, who are so ready and waiting.  The Lord will surely reward you in due season.

It is for you as it was for Israel in Egypt: Waiting and watching, suffering and dying, praying and hoping.  Not always faithful, but never forgotten.  The Lord hears your cries and remembers you.

Ten plagues the Lord sends upon your taskmaster.  But things get worse before they will get better.  The Cross puts to death every part of Egypt that reigns, not only over you, but within your heart and mind, your body and soul.  But all goes according to the Word of the Lord.  And at exactly the right time He raises you up and delivers you from every evil of body and soul, within and without.

For those who know and believe that the angel of death is coming to strike down the firstborn, the Lord provides the lamb to be sacrificed and eaten, sanctified by His Word and prayer.  So it is that death passes over, and His people come out of slavery into freedom, out of death into life.

So imagine yourself and your family on that night, gathered around the table of the lamb, guarded by nothing but his blood upon your door.  Whether it will happen in the second or third watch of the night, you have been told what is coming.  So you wait, you watch, you pray and confess.

And then the hour comes, and the cry goes up, and with your loins girded and your lamps lit you are brought out of Egypt by the mighty hand and outstretched arm of the Lord your God.

Beloved, that is how you are to live at all times and in all places, in readiness and waiting for the Lord Jesus Christ who is coming to set you free.  And He does set you free, though not from His creation, nor from your body of flesh and blood.  He redeems and sanctifies creation to become the new heavens and the new earth, and He sets your body free from sin, death, and the power of the devil, that you should live with Him, both now and forever, in body and soul.

He makes of time, not a tyrant, but a servant of faith, hope, and love.  So it is that, precisely in time and through time, He delivers you from death and brings you into the life everlasting in Himself, into the eternal Eighth Day of the New Creation in His own crucified and risen Body.

If you find that Egypt pursues you on swift horses, and if you are put to death all day long for the Name of the Lord, you also find yourself driven to the Pole on the hill, that is, to the sign of the Cross on Mt. Zion.  And you are brought through the waters of Baptism, through the drowning and death of repentance, into the resurrection of forgiveness and the divine life of faith and love.

You are taught by the Lord Himself to number your days in this way, day by day, from one week to the next, year after year.  For when His Hour had come, and the Lord Jesus was handed over to His voluntary suffering and death, He was watchful and alert on your behalf, girded in readiness, girded with love for you and for all people, even though all the world was at enmity with Him.

So now He invites you to recline at His Table, and here He comes to wait upon you and to serve you in grace, mercy, and peace.  Here you are gathered around the Table of the Lamb, and you are guarded by His holy, precious Blood.  In this way He remembers you, and you are made ready.

This is how you live and love and wait for the reception of your Master, here in time, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection and eternal life.  Not only when you are kneeling at the Altar and actually receiving the Holy Communion of His Body and Blood into your mouth and body; but, no, your whole life moves to and from this Table, so that, whether you are eating or drinking, or whatever you are doing, you live by faith, you live in love, and you glorify the Lord’s Name.

Live, therefore, as one who receives the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, and consider what that means for your life in the body here in time.  Use your body to care for your neighbor’s body, respecting your neighbor, of course, and keeping yourself pure, but feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, caring for widows and orphans in distress.

Use the time that you are given to love and serve your neighbor; to listen with patient compassion; to pray and intercede for your neighbor in peace; and then, also, to gird yourself for good works, that you might be the answer God provides to your prayers and intercessions for your neighbor.

Live as one who receives the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that, as He died and was raised in His Body, so also are you justified by God for a resurrection ready to be revealed in due time.  As God the Lord has bound Himself to you with the very Body of Christ Jesus — here in time — there is nothing at all in time or space that shall be able to separate you from His Love.  Not 2015, nor 2016.  Neither life nor death.  Not now, not ever.

Time is neither your savior nor your enemy.  It is neither God nor the devil.  But the one true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, uses time and all of His created things to serve and care for you: to feed and clothe and shelter you; to bring you to repentance and faith; to feed you with Himself.  He has, He does, and He will, tomorrow as today, throughout the New Year, unto life everlasting.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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