I read that Hermann Sasse observed once that the work of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed is always eschatological; it’s never finished in this age, and that is the time in which we live. Advent seems to point us as much toward this return of the Lord on the day the Father has appointed as much as it points us to the manger and our Lord's first coming. It is this time -- the time between manger and glory -- in which we live and work and have our being. We anticipate this future in the Divine Service as we feast upon the foretaste of the eternal wedding banquet to come but it leaves us only hungry for more. It is to this that the end of the Church Year also points. Christ has come, yes, and Christ comes in Word and Sacrament, thanks be to God, but Christ is coming again.
If that helps explain the tension in our days, it might also explain why this tension is so difficult. We are in but not of the world and so we do not belong where we are but where we belong for eternity is not yet come. No wonder our great temptation is to grow weary of it all. But He who endures to the end shall be saved. That is the work of the Spirit -- keeping those whom Christ has called His own to the day when He comes again. The lost sheep must ever be gathered, the wounded sheep nursed to health, the aged sheep encouraged on, the young lambs taught, as the flock ever moves under the guidance of the Good Shepherd toward the rich green pasture and still quiet waters that await us.
I once described to men more accustomed to work that produced concrete labors (yes, I know that might be a relic of the past now) how the work of the pastor might be compared more to the work of the housewife and mother. It is work repeated, the same things done over and over again, because they are never done, never complete, never finished. The pastor preaches and preaches more, teaches and teaches more, presides at the Eucharist and presides more, reaches into the baptismal waters and reaches still, absolves and absolves still, visits the sick -- who though they might recover or die -- are always replaced by more, buries the dead and buries more, and so on. It is never ending work because it is the work of Christ, empowered by the Spirit, for this eschatalogical time.
The pastor is not alone. Our daily routines of prayer and devotion, worship and praise, service and sacrifice, suffering and endurance, trial and temptation, continue unabated through time until we depart this life with its calendars and clocks counting down the days and hours. That is our life. We live in the tension between what was but is no more and that which is to come but is not yet. It can be painful but it is also joyous. Advent seems to catch this tension better than just about any other time in the Church Year -- especially the hymns. I hope you have time this Advent to forget for a moment political turmoil and pandemic fear and remember the days in which we live, the eschatalogical time of the Spirit, directing and keeping us to that day which is not yet but coming. Heaven and earth are already feeling the pain of this passing away and they groan with us in expectation of what is to come. We live not by sight as witnesses to what is unfolding but as a people who walk by faith, trusting in the word of His promise as the most sure and certain thing we have to grasp in a season of letting go.