Are You Sitting or Standing?
Most people prefer to sit. Whether it be in a meeting, at an airport, or even in church, most people prefer to sit than to stand. However, on this the Church's New Year's Day, as we enter the season of Advent, the season of preparing for Christ's return, I must tell you that if you are sitting when the Lord returns, you most certainly will be lost.
That's a powerful statement. There's no salvation in sitting, but sitting is more comfortable. Heavy burdens make us want to sit. Carrying luggage or groceries we can't wait till we can sit down. Physical burdens make us want to sit down. They wear us out. If given a choice, we won't weigh ourselves down with physical burden, will we? But we do with spiritual ones.
We weigh ourselves down with the very things Christ warns us about, dissipation and drunkenness. Dissipation translates the Greek Word for hangover. Isn't it ironic that this time of year is filled with parities where it is acceptable and even expected that people will eat and drink too much? During the Church's Advent preparation where we are sober and vigilant as we watch for our Lord to return, the world has parties that invite us to weigh ourselves. We fill our heads and hearts with too much food and drink, so that we forget about the coming spiritual crises that the end of the world is. We just want to chill out. Hey, the world ain't going to end tomorrow, is it? No, it might end today.
I know what you're doing. You who don't go to such parities, you who are careful not to eat and drink too much, are sitting back smugly saying, "That's not me. He's only talking to those young people." Hangovers and drunkenness aren't the only way to be burdened. Christ also warns about being weighed down with the "anxieties of life." The word life here is not the common one. This word refers to those things belonging to daily life. Christ is warning us about being concerned with how long do we have to live, our means of support, and our manner of living. Therefore, when you are worried about how many more Christmases you will have, how you will pay your bills on your fixed income, or whether or not you will end up in a nursing home, you are every bit as weighed down as those hungover or drunk. Both pleasures and worries encourage us to sit.
So does the daily ebb and flow of life. There is a rhythm to life that can lull us to just sit down. You can feel it when Jesus in Luke 17 describes how the end of the world will be. He says it will be just like it was in the days of Lot and Noah. People will be marrying and giving in marriage. They will be buying and selling. They will be eating and drinking, building and planting. Can't you feel the rhythm? Doesn't it lull you to sit? Daily life is going on and it will continue to go on. We need not be concerned with it ending abruptly and permanently. No, all is as it should be. It's freaks and wackos who walk around with signs saying, "The end is Near - Repent."
Burdens and rhythms aren't the only things that encourage us to take a seat, so do delays. People at airports first stand around waiting for a plane to come in, but after awhile they start to seek seats. It's going to be awhile; might as well be comfortable. It has been a long while that we've been waiting for our Lord. How many times have you heard, "The end is near." The first time you heard that you might have gotten up out of your seat. Maybe even the fourth and fifth time you heard it. But now? Not only isn't the plane taxing toward the gate, it's not even in a holding pattern above the airport. It hasn't even left the ground to get here. There is plenty of time. We might as well be comfortable. We can't stand forever. Let's just sit.
Sit and you die. That's what you're told in hypothermia training. The first step in freezing to death is to sit down. You're sooo tired of standing. You're just going to sit down for awhile, a moment; then you'll get back up. But once you sit you close your eyes just for a moment. Then you sleep and then you're dead. It is not a horrible experience. It's delightful. It's easy.
It's just as easy for the Last Day to come upon you as a trap. But Jesus DOES NOT say, as our bulletin translates, that the Last Day will come as a sudden trap upon all those who LIVE on the face of the earth. It's not the word "live" at all. It's the word "sitting." The Lord says the Last Day comes suddenly upon all those SITTING on the earth, those sitting because they are weighed down by hangovers, liquor, or the worries of daily life. It comes suddenly on those sitting because they've been lulled by the rhythms of daily life. It comes suddenly on those sitting because they are tired of waiting for Christ to return.
The Last Day DOES NOT come as a trap on those standing. That's why the Lord says that we are to pray that we might be able to "STAND before the Son of Man" when He returns. Yes, you have nothing to worry about as long you're found standing on the Last Day. But that's the problem. Not only is sitting more comfortable, standing is impossible.
You don't think so? What sinner ever stood? Do you think Noah did? Noah stood for the 120 years before the flood and even during the flood, but what happened to him right after? He planted a vineyard and became falling down drunk in his tent. How about Lot? Do you think he stood? Go back and read Genesis 19 again. He had to be dragged out of Sodom and Gomorrah so anxious was he for the daily cares of his life. Then he too drinks himself into a stupor with such a bad hangover he can't remember what he did the night before. Left to himself, Lot would have sat there until the fire and brimstone raining from heaven killed him. Left to himself Lot could stand for nothing.
How about the great man of God Elijah who was taken to heaven in a whirlwind? Do you think he always stood? He stood up to hundreds of prophets of Baal one day only to be found the next day laying on the ground moaning over the cares of his life and begging to die. And St. Peter pledged that he would have no problem standing with Jesus to face imprisonment and death, but all it took was a servant girl to make him fall. So much did he care for his life!
Do you think you can do any better than these saints of old? What chance do you have of standing when every single saint before you has sat down? Do you think that if you never eat or never drink or never party that you will therefore stand? What about the daily worries that flood your mind so much that you aren't even aware of them? What about the ebb and flow of life that lulls you into a chair? What about the fact that for years you have waited for the Lord to return without any hint that He is any nearer? Do you think that the commands of the Law can somehow make you stand? Don't you know that the sure way to make yourself feel tired and sleepy is to say, "I've got to stay awake?" The sure way to make yourself sit down it to tell yourself that you must stand.
Friends, we don't come to Church in Advent to be told that we need to stand. We don't come to be instructed on how to stand. We come because we know that we cannot stand. We come to do exactly what the Lord Jesus says we are to do. He says we are "to pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and pray that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man." And that's what we have done in our Collect for today. We prayed that the Lord might come and by His protection rescue us from our sins - from our sitting - and save us by His mighty deliverance.
Isn't prayer a rather silly response to the crises that is coming upon us? Shouldn't we be doing something? Show me one saint, one prophet, one apostle who was ever saved by doing? When all of your doing is inadequate, prayer is the only answer for in prayer you throw yourself on God's doing. In prayer we go to the Last Man standing who is of course Jesus Christ. He is the only Man who never gave into the temptation to sit down. In Gethsemane He was the only one who watched and prayed. He is the only Man whose heart was never weighed down by a hangover, drunkenness or worry. He is the only Man who was never lulled to sit by the daily rhythms of life. He is the only Man who did not grow weary waiting on the heavenly Father's promises and so sat down.
Though Christ always stood and never sat, God the Father dealt with Him as if He had found Him sitting down on the job. He allowed brutal guards to lay heavy hands on Him, drag Him to the cross and nail Him savagely there. There His life blood dripped out drop by drop falling upon a world filled with those who love to party, worry, and sit. His lifeblood drained out of Him covering the sins of a world so that not one of them showed. The Last Man standing died in place of a world that loves to sit.
So we who cannot stand come to Church in Advent and pray for the Last Man standing to come. And He does. Today. Now. Right in these very minutes. He came in the Gospel reading. That's why we stood for it. We stood because our Lord was once more among us speaking to us. He came in the Absolution. Our Lord Jesus stood before us in the person of the pastor joyfully forgiving our sins once more. He comes in our Baptism covering us with His holiness, His forgiveness. He comes in the Holy Communion into our place and time with His Body and Blood and the forgiveness, life and salvation that He won for us on the cross by giving and shedding them..
By these daily comings to us through the Means of Grace: Baptism, Absolution, and Communion, Christ Jesus is preparing us for His final coming. Our standing and watching is always flawed, always inadequate. But standing in our Baptisms, we stand on Christ and His standing and watching. Standing in Christ's absolution, we stand in His forgiveness not our holiness. Standing on Communion, we stand on Christ's holy body and blood not on our unholy ones. We are not sitting on the face of the earth; we are standing on the grace of God, and the God of grace.
And as for standing around until the Lord returns. Standing around is a boring thought, a tiring thought, a thought that invites us to sit. So is waiting. People get tired of waiting. Enterprising businessmen know this. So instead of having signs out front, "Shoes repaired while you wait," they have "Shoes repaired while you watch." How much more inviting watching is rather than waiting and especially standing. This is why the Lord is constantly bidding us to watch not wait for Him.
Watch and see how the Lord is bringing this world to an end. Watch as He spreads His gospel of forgiveness despite incredible forces against it. Watch as He saves souls that others are sure are unsaveable. Watch as He forgives sins that others are sure are unforgivable. Watch as He uses the weak to overcome the strong, and the foolish to overcome the wise. When you think of yourself as waiting, you almost always see yourself as sitting, but when you think of yourself as watching you almost always see yourself as standing. Watching is exciting particularly when you are watching something awesome and powerful from a safe place. You are watching the end of the world while standing in your Baptism, Absolution, or Communion. You are safe there. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Advent I (12-3-00) Luke 21: 34-36