1 Thessalonians 5:12-24 / Advent Vespers 3 / 17 December 2014

The notion of an “end times” and “last days” is the cause of much anxiety, even among believers. Remember Harold Camping a couple of years ago, predicting the end of the world several times? It made the network news, and admit it, it probably caused you to wonder too, didn’t it? Hal Lindsey has made a cottage industry out of being wrong as his “Late, Great Planet Earth” goes into revision after revision. Only in the religion business can you make money by being wrong. People are alternately terrified and mesmerized by the eschatological and the apocalyptic. There are video games built around end times themes.

The Thessalonians had their own version of end times anxiety, in one of two forms. Some thought that Christ had already come and they had missed, left behind so to speak. But the apostle 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 thought that those who had died already 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 believes will be united in Christ forever.

We have our own end times anxieties. 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 good quotation. And it’s true to Luther’s teaching. The end is lived in confidence, not fear. It is hoped for with expectation and longing, not dread and terror. It hold the promise of resurrection and life, not condemnation and judgment, for those who trust Christ’s salvation.

As baptized believes, 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 having what we now hope and believe – eternal life, life in the fullest sense of that word.

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 and religious when Jesus pops on the scene? Of course, the answer is no. There’s nothing that can prepare us for the end other than being baptized into Christ, clinging to His Word by faith, and having Him prepare you for His coming. “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.

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.

Admonish one another, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient. Christianity is not an individual thing but a corporate 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. As such, what happens to one another matters. There are weak who need encouragement. There are those who call for patience. 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, even more so in these last days.

Rejoice always. Pray unceasingly. Give thanks in all circumstances. What stands out is the “all.” Rejoice even when the world find no reason to rejoice. The Lord is near. That’s cause for rejoicing. Pray constantly, when you feel like and when you don’t. When things are going well, badly, or not at all. Pray formally, informally, liturgically, spontaneously, it doesn’t matter. 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.

Don’t snuff out the Spirit, don’t despise prophesy, test what you hear. The way you snuff the Spirit is to shut Him up, to close your ears and minds and hearts to the Word. To despise preaching and the Word is to say “I don’t need to hear from God, I’m doing just fine on my own.” To snuff the Spirit is to despise Baptism, the means by which we are born of Spirit. To snuff the Spirit is to despise the Lord’s Supper, to treat it as something that doesn’t matter while the Spirit is giving us 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 being made holy. They are what “holy ones” do. But make no mistake here. it is God Himself, the God of peace, who sanctifies us, who holies us with His holiness, 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.” 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,