Stay Awake

By Paul Koch

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One of my all-time favorite movies is the 1999 film “Fight Club” starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. It is, in my opinion, an insightful commentary on my generation. And nestled in the middle of this incredibly quotable movie is a little nugget where the main character, Tyler Durden, says, “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movies gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.” That line speaks volumes. And I think it is an apt description of my generation, or at least it was.

For while we do not know what it is to get called by a draft board and go overseas to war, while we indeed have known an incredible amount of prosperity and leisure, while we have been conditioned to believe that we are the content of our wallets, there is now a new thing that gives definition to our existence. There is a war, a fight, a struggle that is not found only in our hearts and minds but lurking throughout the world. My generation was introduced to it on September 11th 2001, and since then the word “terror” has become commonplace. The last few weeks are unfolding images of what appears to be a new reality in the world. The attacks in Mali, the brutality in Paris, the explosion of the Russian air liner, and on and on the list goes. I hear people speaking on the radio and read their words on the internet about how we need to do this or that to put an end to this terror, but I’m becoming more and more afraid that this terror is not going to go away.

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It is fitting, I think, in times like this to recall our Lord and his illustration of the fig tree. “From the fig tree” he says, “learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” As a gardener once told me, you can’t cheat the sun. The trees know when the days lengthen, they respond to the extra light and we can see their response so they function as a sign of summer’s approach. So it is with wars and rumors of wars, with violence and pestilence, with terror and catastrophe. Such things are leading toward the day when the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, a day when the stars will fall from heaven and the Son of Man will return.

Now this word is a wonderful reminder for us. It offers us a chance to step back from our fears and worries over a life fueled with the reality of terror and take in the big picture. When we pull back from the nightly news, from the horrifying headlines and terrible scenes of our world, we are given a moment to catch our breath and listen again to the Word of God. And we find that God’s Word gives for us a corrective lens by which we can properly view all these things in our life. What we are given to see is that all this anger, all this suffering, all this violence that we can’t possibly comprehend, all of it will come to an end. This age is not a never-ending journey it has a marked end, a definite day when it will come to a conclusion. Our Lord’s promise is that the day is fast approaching when he will send out the angels and gather the elect. Which means that these very real terrors of our lives are not so real after all. For though they bring terror, though they claim human lives, they will come to an end. Their terror will one day come to an abrupt and jarring halt as every knee bows to the King of kings and Lord of lords. To put it briefly, this is good news!

In fact, it is such good news that men and women, young and old, have gone to great lengths to try and decipher just when this blessed end to it all is coming. Yes, mankind can even take the best of news pervert it and turn it into something they can control and possibly even make a profit. So every generation has had its share of prophets seeking to depict just when and how this end is going to come. In many ways they become their own types of terrorists; instead of fearing the next suicide bomber we fear the arrival of the Son of God. Will we be ready? Will we be doing his will? Will we have all the i’s doted and t’s crossed? And so the joy of deliverance becomes a fearful thing. And from time to time a date is given, it is announced, and if you lived where I used to in southeast Georgia, from time to time they even plaster the day on billboards out in the country.

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But the very fact that anyone comes up with a decided date for the return of Christ ought to immediately help you to figure out that they are not to be trusted. For our Lord says, “Concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.” So we have the good news that the terrors of the world will come to an end, we have the good news that the Son of God will return to gather us into his eternal blessings, but we are not told when this will take place. We do not know the day or hour; rather, what we are given is the exhortation to stay awake. We are to remain ready and alert as we await the arrival of our Lord.

Now the key to remaining alert is to hold on to what will endure, the solid ground, the sure things. In the midst of all the chaos and terror we need to hold fast to the one thing that will not fade away. What good is our watchfulness if we set our watch on sinking sand that erodes away in time? Though we may begin watching earnestly we will soon find ourselves tossed to and fro by the winds and waves of our age. So our Lord who graciously promises us an end to this age and his glorious return also gives to us what will not fade away. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” he says, “but my words will not pass away.” The Words of Christ are the sure thing. The Words of our Lord are the means of our watchfulness.

And so we are given what we need to endure. We are reminded in the face of all the terror of our age that these things will not endure. These things will come to an end; they will prove to be but a passing shadow in the salvation of God. But his Word, oh that Word of hope and life, that Word will endure. That Word will not pass away. So you are to stay awake, you are to receive that eternal Word, be shaped by it, guided by it, and strengthened by it.

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Now listen, I know that staying awake isn’t always that easy to do. I know that when sleep comes calling to stay awake seems one of the most difficult things we attempt. And we all know full well the story of the disciples in the garden when our Lord specifically commands them to stay awake, to watch while he goes a little further and prays. But they can’t do it, as our Lord says, “The spirit is indeed willing but the flesh is weak.” Which is why we don’t do this alone, we can’t do it alone. The call to stay awake demands that we have a church, it creates and establishes the community of the faithful here on earth. Why do we gather together? Why do we continue week in and week out while terror swarms all around? We gather so that we might stay awake, so that we might stand firmly upon the Word which will not fade away.

And so we come together, brothers and sisters in Christ, with his Word upon our lips. For that Word is not some distant dead thing. It is alive and well as we speak it again and again to one another. When we wash in the waters of Baptism, when we feed with bread and wine the very body and blood of Christ, we sound the alarm and keep the faithful awake. And yes, we will get drowsy. We will recall all the times we’ve been asleep, when we’ve not kept the faithful watch, but remember those things too will pass away. What will remain is his Word: a Word that calls you his own dear saints a Word that says to you today, I forgive you. “And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!”

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