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Not the End of the Matter - By Pastor Thomas Engel

Often, when we are going through difficult times, we say the phrase, “Take one day at a time.”

That phrase about living by one day is an obvious truth. Really, we live by the hour, or we can say even that we live by the minute.

As much as I know that life can change at any moment, and how that there is nothing I can do about it, I get a little frustrated living with just seeing the present at the end of my nose.

How about if we were able to get enough of a glimpse of the days ahead to give us some kind of comfort that all is going to be okay?

The world right now is crying out for hope. We want everything to be well, or at least to know that things will be well soon.

Who does not want to see a bright light at the end of a dark tunnel?

If you think about it, we got through yesterday, and we are making it through today.

Our lives are living proof about what Jesus says about God the Father as He cares for the needs of little birds, He will surely take care of us, humans, whom are His precious children.

We like that idea, especially in these difficult times, that we are and will be okay. Day by day, we live knowing God is taking care of us in everyway-even in the hardest of times.

Although we are not quite out of the woods, yet, I have to say I was feeling good about things as I keep putting my trust in God, our almighty creator, who loves His creation.

Then, Monday morning came, and I felt myself getting down. And no, it was not because of the news of another potential lock-down.

Although more stay-at-home orders is negative, we are also getting positive news about the coming of a vaccine, so I was working on keeping an open perspective.

On Monday morning, here I was with my open mind as I was starting my usual routine of looking at the Scripture readings for this week.

I have to say the readings took me aback.

In a way, I know that time is passing with Halloween candy almost gone, and I have the family turkey in my freezer for Thanksgiving. My niece knows that my freezer is usually close to empty because basically I don’t cook, so she asked if I could keep the turkey until it’s time to thaw.

The warmer weather of last week had thrown me off a little, but stores already have Christmas displays, and at the school, we are planning how the children will participate in Midweek Advent Services.

So, I know that we are quickly running to the end of the calendar year and all of its festivities. Even in a time of strict guidelines with their limitations, I’m looking forward to the special time of giving thanks and the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior.

Time is passing as it always is taking us from one thing to another.

Minutes remain ticking away at sixty seconds each, and hours are still a full sixty minutes, and days keep going by with full twenty-four hours, but in these days, time feels different.

So, on Monday morning when I saw that it is now the end of the church year, I asked myself, “Really, it’s here already?

As you know when we come to the end of the church year, we talk about the coming of the Last Day.

Looking at the Old Testament reading, we get hit on the head with the news that a day will come that will be the end of the world as we know it, and the time before that day will be hard with extreme difficulties.

In verse 15 of chapter one in Zephaniah, we read, “A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness.”

In these times, we are looking for the light at the tunnel, and we come to church and hear this news from Zephaniah.

Imagine coming to church for the first time to hear the Christian message and all you hear is this gloom and doom.

Maybe all readings and sermons on every Sunday should be about to relieve stress in five easy ways, or we should be hearing about the solutions to all of our issues.

Coming to think about it-five steps to a stress-free life is too many-let’s cut it down to three very easy steps. And, when it comes to finding solutions to all of our problems, let’s hope that every one of our hopes and dreams is wrapped up beautifully under our tree this year, so that the year 2021 is the best year ever.

After all that has happened in 2020, we deserve some good things to come. Right?

We can get tripped up whenever we use “deserve” or what we “expect.” These words can sound like we are demanding that life be a certain way and are trying to control what happens.

For a moment, let’s do a “reality check.” When problems come our way, and when we say, “It’s always something,” we are right. We are trying to keep our “ducks” in a row, but those little ducks always keep getting out of line because its their nature to wander off.

The short explanation to our troubles is that sin is in the world because it’s the nature of humans to sin, and our sin will always cause problems.

As problems come, we want answers to “fix” the problems. So, we look to government, science, psychology, or technology for solutions.

Getting back to the presents under the tree, we might be happy about having a lot of electronic gizmos and gadgets wrapped up for us. How about if a Brinks truck empties itself under your tree? I think I will a get a bigger tree just in case that happens.

But, really, can anything of the world make everything better all the time?

Don’t get me wrong-the world has a lot to offer, but it can’t “fix” everything. Centuries of world history tell us that we have not ever gotten it right.

And, it might surprise you as I say that religion doesn’t have all the “specific” answers to all the problems and issues of the world, either.

Zephaniah was one of God’s prophets. The prophets told God’s people what He wanted them to know. Every word spoken from the prophets was divine truth. If a prophet spoke about something that thing would happen.

In Zephaniah’s day, God’s people were acting like pagans from the way they dressed to the way they acted. God sent a strong warning for the people to listen to His good ways for them.

Zephaniah warned them of punishment for their sins. This punishment did happen some decades later when the people’s enemies did destroy Jerusalem.

When prophets say something, it’s time to listen. If you remember back in your confirmation days, you learned that Jesus is a priest, king, and prophet. Jesus talked about how the Last Day will come, and he talked about as Zephaniah did that it will come with the wrath of God.

Such bad news! Again, if we are listening to the Christian message for the first time, we maybe will run from all this pessimistic news.

As I am still feeling anxious in these times but trying to stay calm, all I want to hear is good news.

On Monday morning, after I read the reading from Zephaniah, I read a commentary of the verses from one of my seminary professors.

At first, I thought it was odd what he said. The end of the church year and Advent is about repentance, so that we are ready for Christ’s second coming.

But, this professor said that for a moment to not talk about sin, forgiveness, or repentance-not even healing or hope, but he said just to talk about how the Last Day is coming.

It’s enough for a moment to take-in that the end of the world is coming, and to realize that there is nothing that we can do about it.

I’m not sure how God the Father works it all, but on His calendar on some date, the world and our lives as we know will end-and it’s not going to be pretty.

This is not the news I want to hear, but it’s the truth.

Hearing this news and knowing it’s true, it does beg the question, “What do we do until then?”

The answer to that question is already answered. For what we do is exactly what we are doing today.

St Paul tells us in the Epistle reading as he talks about the Last Day. In 1 Thessalonians 5:11, Paul says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”

I know with such an consequential day coming like the Last Day that it seems that we should be doing more than just being “nice” to each other.

But, in all the conflicts, divisions, difficulties, and uncertainties of these times, I guess we could say that genuine and sincere love, care, and kindness to all people is a tall order.

As we do near the Last Day, we can remember a few things that will help us get through it all.

St Paul also writes in his letter to the Thessalonians that we are not people of darkness but people of light, and we are not children of wrath but children of God’s grace in Christ.

And we do not wear the clothes of pagans, but we can look at ourselves with eyes of faith and see that we are wearing breastplates of faith and love, and for helmets, the hope of salvation.

When we talk about something being last, we are usually saying something is over and done with, and that there is no more to come.

But when we talk about the Last Day, it’s not the end of the matter.

When Jesus took his last breath on the cross and was physically dead, it was not the end of the matter. After death, there was resurrection and new life.

Looking at the Last Day of this earth, it’s not the end of the matter. After the Last Day, there will be a new earth and a new heaven.

After the Last Day when the twenty-four hour day is all gone, God the Father in Christ has so much more to say to us for all of eternity-and these words bring only perfect peace and complete joy.

This kind of heavenly peace and joy for all of eternity is waiting for us and is the hope that we live with in this present day.

As kids, my older brother, two younger sisters, and I did not always get along, especially as we sat in the back seat of the car on long trips.

I remember my mom turning to the back seat and saying, “Can you please be nice to each other for just five minutes?”

In a very complex world that is always on the verge of chaos, let’s put it all in simple perspective-God is saying for us to be “nice” to each other until the Last Day.

With all that is happening in the world today, and with such a consequential day as the Last Day, it seems that we should be doing a whole lot of stuff to keep the world going, but keeping the world going is out of our hands.

I might be sounding a lot like Fred Rogers, but I want to be putting the best construction on the people fo faith, for all we need to be doing is what we have been doing-we just need to keep being “nice” to each other.

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