Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Joyful Reveille

Last Sunday of the Church Year, November 24th, Year of Our + Lord 2013
St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Fairview and Sidney, Montana
The Joyful Reveille - Matthew 25:1-

Wake Awake, For Night is Flying, Philipp Nicolai, LSB Hymn 516  (public domain)
   Stanza 1
Wake, awake, for night is flying;
The watchmen on the heights are crying:
Awake, Jerusalem, arise!
Midnight hears the welcome voices
And at the thrilling cry rejoices;
Oh, where are ye, ye virgins, wise?
The Bridegroom comes, awake;
Your lamps with gladness take;
Alleluia! With bridal care yourselves prepare
To meet the Bridegroom, who is near.

     I thought about playing my cornet.  With the sermon theme “The Joyful Reveille,” and a desire to interject some music into this sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year, I thought, for a moment, that I should play my cornet like a bugle and actually blow reveille to start the sermon.  But reveille, that traditional military wake up bugle call, is not very joyful, is it?  Reveille, blasted on a bugle, is jarring and annoying.  That’s the whole point of blowing reveille, to awake someone who needs to be get up, but persists in dozing, please, just five more minutes.  Your reveilles may have been your mother, yelling up the stairs that you’d better get moving or you’ll miss the bus.  Or perhaps your drill instructor threw an empty metal garbage can down the middle of the squad bay, followed by playing the lid with a baseball bat, greeting you into another fine military morning.  Or maybe your reveille still comes, at three in the morning, when the impending pressures of life and work and finances and worries about kids make you suddenly wide awake, bolt upright in bed, exhausted, but now you’ll never get back to sleep. 

       We don’t like to be rudely awakened.  We don’t like reveille.  So perhaps it’s hard to take the parable of the ten virgins as good news, even if you believe in Jesus.  Somehow, our hymnwriter Philipp Nicolai found great joy in this parable, but do you?  Aren’t we more like the Foolish Virgins?  When are we ever bursting with joy to be awakened at O-dark-thirty in the morning? 

     Well, what about Christmas morning?  Oh yes, as a child, and, truth be told, even as a parent, the prospect of the joy of opening all the presents under the tree made me only too ready to jump out of bed and race downstairs, the earlier the better.  And there’s another event that can spring us joyfully from bed, an unexpected homecoming.  Homecomings, and the separations that cause them, have been only too common through the 10+ years of overseas war our military has endured, so we’ve all seen it.  But military or not, if your beloved, your wife or husband, or fiancé, has been gone for a long time, and then suddenly arrives home unexpectedly, even if at 2:00 a.m., you can get up for that, because your beloved, the one you have been missing, the one who makes you whole, is home.  

     Christmas morning and the return of your beloved, these two earthly examples do a nice job of capturing the kind of joy the Scriptures describe at the return of Christ, since Jesus is the real gift of Christmas, the gift of the Bridegroom, the Son of God made flesh, come into the world to rescue and save His beloved bride, the Church, the assembly of all the believers. 

Zion hears the watchmen singing,
And all her heart with joy is springing;
She wakes, she rises from her gloom;
For her Lord comes down all glorious,
The strong in grace, in truth victorious.
Her Star is ris’n, her Light is come.
Now come, Thou blessèd One, Lord Jesus, God’s own Son,
Hail! Hosanna! We enter all, the wedding hall
To eat the Supper at Thy call.

     Why is Zion gloomy?  Philipp Nicolai suggests that the rising of the Virgins is a departure from gloom, and it is, for Jesus is teaching us about His Return, on the Last Day.  He is coming to deliver us from this vale of tears, to eternal joy with Him, in heaven.  But does this note clang a bit for you?  Don’t we love our lives?  You and I live pretty well, for the most part.  Indeed, one of the central teachings of this parable is a warning against complacency, a warning not to forget that Jesus is returning, a warning that is of particular importance for you and me, for we live in an age of remarkable comfort and bounty. 

     The poorest Americans enjoy luxuries and technological marvels that kings and queens could not even imagine one hundred years ago.  God has showered many great and wonderful earthly blessings upon us, but satan is trying with all his trickery to get us to make these gifts and the comforts they offer our highest good, so that we forget about the Good Giver.  Almighty God is the One who delivers them all to us.  Faith created by the Word of God is what we need to be ready for the return of Christ, but if we just doze comfortably through our lives, never refilling our lamps, we will forget what light we were following when the End comes, be that the Last Day, or our personal end, our physical death.  Faith lives from the Word of Christ, and so it is strong and enduring.  But if we starve it long enough, faith can die. 

     We live very comfortably, but our wealth and technology haven’t really changed our biggest problems.  We are remarkably blessed, and the pleasure of material things and the marvels of the digital age are alluring.  But no amount of riches or technology can take away the sadness of being unloved.  No material thing can truly ease the pain of being abandoned or betrayed by someone you love.  No bank account or oil well or fancy electronic device can forgive your sins, or take away the guilt that hounds you.  The healthcare system may or may not get fixed in America, but even if it does, people will still get sick, and die. 

     Philipp Nicolai is right, still today, five centuries after he penned this hymn.  The good things of this world do not help us fundamentally with the bad things we suffer.  No amount of man-made light can dispel the gloom of human existence, because the darkness flows from our sins, and our sinfulness.  And against these, earthly goods have no potency. 

     But, the Bridegroom is omnipotent, all powerful, against every trouble we face, because He has solved our central problem, sin, by the blood of His Cross, which purchased our forgiveness.  The Bridegroom for whom the Church awaits is Jesus Christ, who has risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven, His victory for us complete.  The Bridegroom is our solution, and He is coming.  Arise, sing, rejoice, the table is set, and Jesus is holding our seats for us.        

Now let all the heavens adore Thee,
Let saints and angels sing before Thee,
With harp and cymbal’s clearest tone;
Of one pearl each shining portal,
Where joining with the choir immortal
We gather round Thy radiant throne.
No eye has seen the light, No ear has heard the might
Of Thy glory; Therefore will we eternally
Sing hymns of praise and joy to Thee!

     By the gracious will and working of God, we will sing hymns of praise and joy to Christ, who reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever, Amen.  And also, by the gracious will and working of God, we do sing hymns of praise and joy to Christ, right now.  And as we sing, God will be working through our praises and joy to continue to expand His Church. 

     I come here on Sunday mornings, in part, because if I don’t, you won’t pay me.  But even more, I come here and gather with you around God’s Word and Sacraments because I need Christ’s grace and mercy.  I need forgiveness.  I suspect that motives for gathering together here vary across the room, and from moment to moment, for each one of us.  Obligation, socializing, compulsion by parent or spouse, all of us no doubt sometimes come here for reasons that do not shine like the stars in heaven.  But you also come for forgiveness.  You also come craving God’s Word, and the mercy and peace it gives you.  Also the joy of knowing that God has promised to meet us here, to be truly present, in the Word,  in the Wine and Bread, truly present to bless  us and strengthen our faith, for another day, another week, until Jesus comes back, all these beautiful promises also draw us together.  And in every case, when and where and how He wills, the Holy Spirit works on us, and in us, and through us, shaping us by His Word to the form of Christ, and sending us back into the world to live our lives as Christians, to do our regular work, but with an exceptional difference, the difference of Christ and His Spirit, the difference of knowing that the future for His Bride the Church is brighter than any of us can yet imagine. 

     As God works on us, He also works through us, causing us to speak joyfully of our faith, of our life in Christ, of our congregation, God’s family gathered around this altar.  God works to show how the forgiveness and new life we have in Jesus changes everything.  And that is what people need.  That is what God longs to give.  And so God grows His Church, and will continue to grow, until that Day when Christ returns, and we will be free from every sin, free from every need, free to rejoice and sing, with every saint and angel, of all time.  Wake, Awake!  The Joyful Reveille. 

Come Lord Jesus, Come, Amen. 

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