Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
7 Look! He is coming with the clouds;
every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
So it is to be. Amen.
8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
I don't know who first uttered these words but they set forth an important bit of wisdom: If there is nothing above us we will be consumed by all that is around us.
This is a good bit of wisdom to ponder now that we have reached the end of the line, the end of the Christian year, the end of the week-in, week-out enactment of the gospel via the seasons of the year.
At the end of the church year we look at the end times, at the coming again of Christ.
That is where we find ourselves now, the last Sunday of the church year, waiting to welcome the one who is to come. Our church year is organized the way it is to tell the story of salvation, that begins with the time of waiting for the Messiah in Advent, then his arrival at Christmas, and then his acts of redemption with lent and Easter. We celebrate his ascension and then the birth and growth of the church through Pentecost and beyond, and now we look at the end of the church year to the end of all things and the return of Jesus with the clouds. Next Sunday we begin advent, and the whole cycle begins again.
But now we take time to look, not at the Christ who has come to be here among us, but at the God who is also above us. We look towards heaven.
We live in a dichotomy, a tension between knowing God as one who is absolutely present among us, (that’s what Christmas is all about, after all) and the God who is absolutely “other” than us, absolutely separate from us, as high above us as the heavens.
This is the time to concentrate not on the human side, but on the mystery of God.
The beautiful name of God that we have in our text is: The one who is and who was and who is to come. Have you heard this name before? Think back a long way. The one who is. This is the name that God told Moses to use. Right back in Exodus 3, When he was afraid to go to the people of Israel, in case they didn’t believe him, he asked God to tell him his name, so that he could tell the people, and God said: Tell them: The one who is has sent you. I am.
In this name we jump thousands of years, from the beginning of the bible to the end, and we see that the one who was then, still is now at the time when John was given his revelation and wrote this book. He still is now when we read his words two thousand years later still, and he still will be in the future. The timelessness of God is something that we who are stuck in time find so hard to understand, but he was, and he will be. He is the first and the last, the alpha and the Omega, the A and the Z. He brackets our whole lives, before and after.
If there is nothing above us we will be consumed by all that is around us. For centuries the churches concentrated so much on the holy otherness of God that people everywhere were terrified of that God, and felt that they could never know that God, who dwelt only up in heaven, so far away. God was completely above us. This was the God with whom Luther struggled.
Then the churches swung away from this idea of a distant God to concentrate on the God that was comfortable, that was here completely among us, that we could know as a friend. They didn’t want to scare anyone by talking about the holiness or “otherness” of God, or to be put down by the thought that there is something higher than us. After all we lived in an age of science, of believing that humans are the greatest possible being anywhere, and we did not want to offend anyone. God was not above us any more, he was only among us.
But like so much of our theology, we live in tension. Tension between sinner and saint, tension between divine and human, in the two natures of Christ, and tension between thinking of God as completely among us or completely other to us. This tension means that it is not a case of either -or, but both-and. Not either God is in heaven or on earth, but God is both enthroned in heaven, and here among his people. God is both totally different to us, and one of us, as close as he can possibly be.
This tension means that for too long we have brought God down out of heaven so that he is no different to anything we have here on this earth, and we have to realize that he stands above, too. We have to keep the tension, to find a balance between the both/and.
Remember: If there is nothing above us we will be consumed by all that is around us.
If we abandon our belief in the holiness of God, if we do not look to him for answers, that means that we have to try to find them ourselves, and that is a poor substitute.
If there is no mystery to our worship of God, if we have nothing to offer here that the world does not have, then we will be overcome by the entertainment techniques and fads of the world around us, and people will realise that there is no use coming here, as we have nothing special that they cannot find in a concert or a computer game.
The world is longing for the holy mysteries. In fact, rather than the friendly entertainment-style churches, some of the fastest growing churches in the world are the orthodox churches, and the Catholic Latin Mass. Both churches that stand in awe of God, start to finish.
That awe of God is something that our text tells us that all people will share when Christ returns. Every eye will see him, even those that pierced him, and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.
Not only Christian people will have that awe of Christ when he returns, but all people will see him, and many will realize that it is too late. Many who, believing that there is nothing above them, will have been consumed by all that is around them.
We often tend to think that the return of Christ is just a quaint idea, that it might not happen, it is just something that won’t effect us. But whether we are alive or dead, it will be very real for us. There will be a harvest.
Now we move into advent, waiting for the coming of the Messiah at Christmas, waiting for the first coming of Christ, but let us never lose sight of the fact that the story is not finished, for always, we wait for our Lord to come again. What a glorious day that is going to be.