When the Stars Begin to Fall

Text: Mark 13:24-27
Date: Last Sunday of the Church Year + 11/22/09
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

My Lord, what a morning—the morning of our Lord’s promised and blessed return. Whoever thought that such an otherwise fearful sign in the heavens—“when the stars begin to fall”—would signal not terror but rather the greatest, most comforting event in our lives and in the history of the world? That which has been longed for since the first disciples stood with their necks craned to the sky at their beloved Lord’s ascension, indeed, since Abraham once gazed at the unnumbered stars in the firmament, since Adam and Eve heard that their offspring would be the morning star of the salvation of the universe, since in our own baptism we were called God’s stars, is now fulfilled in His promised return, “when the stars begin to fall.” He comes “to take us to be where He is,” when the stars begin to fall; to take us to Himself, to raise us from our graves, to change us to be like His glorious body, to give us those new white robes and usher us into the marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom that has no end, “when the stars begin to fall.” “They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light” (Rev. 22:5), “when the stars begin to fall.” Indeed, they…we…“those who turn many to righteousness will shine as the firmament of the heaven and as the stars for ever and ever,” “when the stars begin to fall.” My Lord, what a morning…when the stars begin to fall.

Because of the tender, hopeful, grace-filled wonder of that for which we wait and look and yearn I wanted us to sing that old, early American spiritual in connection with today’s Gospel. For it will not be “doomsday,” though it follow the last, great worldwide battle called Armageddon, not a thing to be feared.

We mark the countdown to things coming in the future, both good and evil. For instance, we count down in eager anticipation, on the one hand, when we are waiting for the ball to drop on New Years Eve. We wait eagerly for that moment (usually during the night) when it’s time to grab the suitcase and rush the wife to the hospital for the birth of a baby. We count down to the precise second for the launch of a spacecraft both for the sake of the computer-planned program of tasks and experiments to be done as well as for the avoidance of colliding with “space junk,” each little piece of which is meticulously tracked by teams of “space janitors.” On the other hand we also count down with dread to impending deadlines we fear. There is the low-level depression of savoring the last days and hours of a vacation before having to return to the daily grind. Others are more intense fears such as anxieties over a dentist appointment, or the long hours of waiting with hospice volunteers, or the minutes of watching the monitor in the emergency room after life-support has been removed. My Lord, we have known the excitement and the fear of anticipation, of counting down to many events in our lives.

Some may think of the countdown to the Last Day, the Day of Judgment and the return of Christ as something to be feared. One reason for the fear is that we don’t know where to set the countdown clock! “Concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” The day and the hour of the Last Day is the greatest and best kept secret of God in all of history. Yet it is a secret for one very good reason. As Jesus says in His mini-parable, it is so that we might be concerned with the real, important issue of personal preparation by repentance and faith today and the most important work we have been given to do, namely, the proclamation and telling of the gospel to all nations, beginning with that friend or acquaintance right in front of us.

To whom is Jesus speaking in our Gospel? Well, first, in his mini-parable, he “commands the doorkeeper to stay awake.” The doorkeepers are his immediate audience there on the Mount of Olives, the apostles and therefore also all the apostolic ministers in their train. Pastors are especially to stay awake, alert as the doorkeepers of the sheep. As Saint Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus, they are to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). The patience is needed especially when the sheep decide they know better or they cannot trust the rebuke, the preaching of their shepherd. “As for those who persist in sin,” Paul says, “rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Tim. 5:20). The pastor “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke those who contradict it,” Titus 1:9. So much for keeping silent so as not to offend, just to keep the outward peace!

Jesus is talking to his apostles, his ministers. But he is also speaking to all Christians. “What I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” In one sense this is a call to vigilance, to make a point of being ready at all times by a constant tending to the care and strengthening of God’s baptismal gift of faith, as well as being prepared at all times, “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet. 3:15). In today’s Epistle Jude describes this vigilance as “building yourselves up in your most holy faith…praying in the Holy Spirit.” “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” And there is only one way of doing that. That is by staying in connection with God’s means of grace: hearing the gospel preached and being where God promises to be strengthening and preserving faith by his holy sacraments! On our own we feebly struggle and stumble. Jesus Christ our Lord is the One “who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory” … when the stars begin to fall.

In Christ be on guard, keep awake. “And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake,” for the stars will begin to fall.

And when they do, where do we look for hope and comfort and what do we see? You’ll hear the trumpet sound, you’ll hear the sinner cry and you’ll hear the Christian shout, “To wake the nations under ground.” The next line says, looking, looking to my God’s right hand. Why? And what, and who is there at God’s right hand? The Lord Jesus Christ, who sits at the right hand of the Father, the place of honor, the place of exercising the power and authority in heaven and on earth of the keys of life and death. Looking to my God’s right hand faith stays focused on the grace and mercy of God that declares sinners righteous for the sake of faith in Christ. Looking to my God’s right hand, we see Jesus who was crucified, for whom many have given their very lives because He is the one who gave His life for the life of the world. Looking to my God’s right hand….when the stars begin to fall, is what faith does.

My Lord, what a morning. May you be kept firm in the faith—the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who died for you and the whole world; who, when He had overcome the sharpness of death, opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers; who sits at the right hand of God in the glory of the Father; who will come to be our judge…when the stars begin to fall.

We therefore pray You to help Your servants, whom You have redeemed with Your precious blood. Make them to be numbered with Your saints in glory everlasting…when the stars begin to fall.