Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Saint Sylvester - New Years Eve

Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ, 

[Isaiah 30:15-17 / Romans 8:31b-39 / Luke 12:35-40] 

As another civil year draws to its close, the Word of God speaks to us tonight about the way we pass the time of this failing age until we reach the Age that never ends. The first reading pointed the way: “In quietness and trust shall be your strength.” The Israelites, however, were panicking and thought that if they were to get out of the pickle they were in at the moment (war was impending with some pretty nasty neighbors to the north), they’d have to use their own smarts. What pickles are you in or are you anticipating this year? Whatever they are, God’s message remains the same. Your strength does not come from your fretting and fuming, your anxiety and fears. Strength comes to you as the gift of quietness and trust.

But quietness and trust in what? For that we turn to tonight’s Epistle. What can give you the gift of quietness and trust? This: that your God is for you, not against you. That He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for every last one of us, He can be trusted to give us with that most precious Gift of all every other gift besides. Trust that God is the one who justifies you – He’s declared you not guilty in His Son and so who is there to level an accusation against you, to condemn you? No one. For Christ Jesus is the One who died for you, who is raised for you, and who right now and throughout this coming year does not cease to intercede for you at the right hand of God His Father. You are ever on His mind and heart. And that is why we know that nothing can separate us from His love. 

What will the year hold? Who knows! Paul gives what sounds to be a rather frightful list: trouble, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword. Let it come on, he seems to exult. Whatever it is, it has no power to destroy us. How can such meager things triumph over a people who have been given an unending life in Christ? They can’t! As Martin Luther once preached so beautifully: “All that is ours passes away and lasts but a short while. For what are forty years or fifty, or even a hundred? But with a man who belongs to an everlasting kingdom all is well, and it is fitting that he should dance through life forevermore.” 

Dance through life forevermore. This we can do when quietness and trust are our strength because we know that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. How can we not be dancing indeed?

And today’s Gospel reminds us that living in that secure loving embrace of our God through Christ, we are also a people who wait. Time is for waiting. And what we’re waiting for is the return of our Master. We can’t wait to throw open the door and welcome Him back. For this Master is unlike any other. When He comes and knocks, He isn’t asking for us to wait upon Him. Rather, He begs entrance that He might wait upon us, dressed for service, seating us at His table and coming and serving us. Already we have such a rich foretaste of this in the Holy Supper. The Eucharist accompanies us all the days of our journey, and each Lord’s Day our Savior is there, knocking at the door, and asking us to let Him come in that He might be our servant – giving us ever and anew the promise of His unshakeable love for us in the body and blood that He once offered upon Golgotha for the blotting out of all sin and the bringing in of all righteousness. He would serve us such rich gifts – pouring into us forgiveness and His own undying life. 

But that’s only the foretaste. For the Feast itself will arrive at the moment when time is through and the Son returns in glory, and we are welcomed visibly into His home and made to sit at His Father’s table and the Blessed Trinity will delight to serve us the gift that He has always wanted to give us – the blessedness that never ends.

And so Jesus also warns us to beware of the thief. The thief who would come to rob us of this inheritance, to snatch it from us and deprive us of it eternally. If we need have no anxiety about our earthly life – trusting as we do that the Father who gave us His Son will not fail to provide for our every need, and the Son who never ceases to pray for us and to present our needs before His Father, and the Holy Spirit who never ceases to pray within us at times with groans too deep for words – if we need have no anxiety about this life, yet Jesus bids us to watch and be wary of the thief who would take all this from us if he could.

There’s only way the thief can do that. And that is if he can destroy the quietness and trust that are our strength. He has but one goal: “How can I cut them off from the source of their faith – from the Words and promises and Sacraments of God?” That is where the enemy concentrates all his effort, and just as he worked on you that way in the year past, so he will seek to work on you that way in the year to come. It’s his only chance. He knows that if you abide in the Word, there is no way he will ever be able to destroy your trust, your quietness, your peace. For that Word will keep you in repentance and in faith. It will keep you dissatisfied with yourself and seeking your life only in communion with the Blessed Trinity. So the thief seeks ever to separate you from the Word that your trust in God’s unshakeable love in Christ might grow dim and die.

But we are not ignorant of his devises. We know what he’s up to. And so we’re on guard against the thief, even as we enter the New Year. Our prayer is that God would help us stay vigilant and eagerly waiting to welcome our Lord into our hearts as often as He comes knocking in Word and Meal. “Come Lord Jesus” is not just for table prayer – may it be the prayer of our whole lives. “Come, Lord Jesus, into this home.” “Come, Lord Jesus, into this broken relationship.” “Come, Lord Jesus, into this trying situation.” “Come, Lord Jesus, into this damaged heart.” And His delight is always to answer that prayer – for that is why He stands at the door and knocks.

In quietness and trust shall be your strength. More than conquerors through Him who loved us. He will dress Himself for service and have them recline at table. If the master had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready. 

Grant us such readiness, O most Blessed Trinity, for to You alone we give all glory on this New Year’s Eve– to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages, to which may we all attain by your great mercy and love! Amen. 

Father Ed Bakker 
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province 
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne 
Bendigo Australia