Summary: We live as those who keep our lamps lighted--our lamp of faith, fueled by the Holy Spirit whom God the Father has sent through His Son.

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Veiled underneath the noise and rancor of the new-year celebrations, a low thrumming makes itself known. It is a thrumming undercurrent of sad acceptance pervading the new-year festivities, a presence of wistfulness and nostalgia--and yes, even of muted sorrow.

The year has fled and gone, gone with it sorrows and its joys. The year is gone, gone with the glorious sheen of its many dreams, gone to join its brethren in the shadowed regions of the past.

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And there are those with whom we walked this past year, who walk with us no more. They are those whom we have loved, whose absence we so miss that now only a dead silence sulks where joy once burst forth in buoyant song. The stream of time has carried them away, beyond the bend in the road of time and the slope of hill to lands not passable.

And we this evening, those of us gathered here in the ark of God’s Church know how swiftly the stream of time bears us all away. It is a powerful, unforgiving stream, taking away all who are born within the confines of time, those born of fallen flesh.

This New Year’s Eve reminds us that our years are few. We live and move inside the bounds the Lord God has appointed for us. We live, encircled by time. Yet, we also see our time, our passing years, and our fleeting moments in the light of the Lord whose kingdom has no end.

But where does this stream take us? To what distant land or far shore? The older we grow, the more seriously we ponder that. It is no accident that we all have the same sensation. When I was but a child, a year sauntered along as if it were a century; now it flashes by in but a day. The older we grow, the faster the stream of time seems to carry us away.

Yes, we landlocked creatures must give way to the coursing, river’s current of time. We are born; we age; we die. It has been so since the Fall into sin, when Adam and Eve tasted of the forbidden fruit, making themselves into their own gods. Yes, “time, like an ever-rolling stream, soon bears us all away; we fly forgotten as a dream dies at the opening day.” (LSB 733)

But this evening, the enlivening truth from Jesus brings joy to those inside God’s ark of the Church. For what we know, that which comes after our death, shapes and changes the lives we live. Those who die a blessed death, live a blessed life.

Jesus says: “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lighted. . . . How fortunate are those servants whom the master finds watching for him when he returns! I assure you: he will prepare himself for the task, sit them down at the table, and come and wait on them. Even if their master comes in the middle of the night, or even near dawn, and finds them alert, how fortunate they will be!” (Luke 12:35-38)

The undercurrent coursing in this evening’s Gospel is not the fear of being unprepared. That isn’t what calls us forth from our slumber and sleep to be prepared for our Lord’s coming. The undercurrent is that the One whom we love--our Lord Jesus Christ--He’s coming back to bring us home. And who wouldn’t want to be ready and waiting for Him when He comes?

For the One for whom we wait shows Himself in His actions. Did you hear the strange words from the master in the Gospel reading? The One who comes back won’t demand that His servants slave about and bustle to serve Him. No, He comes to serve us, His servants, to sit us at the table to dine and drink as He prepares for us the food of the feast.

That’s the God we have. He’s the God who serves and saves those who cannot save themselves. He is a God who saves the likes of you and me, giving faith to us fallen beings. How like the One who says, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life--a ransom for the many” (Matthew 20:28).

From manger to cross to empty tomb, Jesus is the One who serves. He serves us all by being our sin on the cross, answering for it fully in the courtroom of God. Jesus serves us by living the perfect-and-holy life that a perfect-and-holy God demands of us, that which we could not do or live. He serves us in the waters of Baptism, washing our sins clean away, giving to us a share in His eternal life. He is the same who bids us to dine at His feast, a foretaste of what is yet to come.

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