The Four Last Things: Heaven


Sermon for December 13th, 2020


Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Perhaps you may be tempted to ask the Apostle Paul why. Why should we rejoice? Why should we pray? Why should we give thanks? Why is this God’s will for us?

When there is so much darkness right now, both literally and figuratively; when so many are sick and suffering; after so many have died; when there is so much division and hatred; when we cannot gather with or see many of our loved ones…how can we rejoice and give thanks?

In the Northern hemisphere, it is getting darker and colder. This time in the church’s year, Advent, is traditionally a time of penitence. It is a time when we talk about the end of the world and the second coming of Christ, and in the midst of this season, in the middle of all this darkness the church tells us to rejoice. Gaudete! The Latin word for rejoice. The word that Paul uses in his epistle this morning. December can be such a difficult month. There is so much stress. There are so many demands placed upon our time and our resources. We have so many emotions to contend with: anticipation, joy, fear, sadness, anger, loneliness, love, disappointment. This time of the year brings out the best and the worst in people, and in the midst of the cold and darkness, the church by tradition puts on splendid apparel, decks the altar with roses and proclaims in the words of Paul: rejoice!

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.


As we sit in darkness and contemplate the end of all things, even the end of our own lives. We are told to rejoice. 

Why do we rejoice? We rejoice because we believe something marvelous is coming. No matter how dark it may seem, we believe that something better is coming. We have seen a glimpse of it. We have seen a light and We rejoice to proclaim to the world that darkness doesn’t win. 

Today is the third Sunday in Advent, which is traditionally Rose Sunday. The vestments are a bit brighter, we have flowers on the altar again, and on this day in the midst of a season of repentance we are told to rejoice. We rejoice because we know something wonderful is coming, but here is the thing you may not know: the wonderful thing that is coming is NOT Christmas. 

The thing that Christians are told to rejoice over, to pray and prepare for and to live in hope and expectation of, is not a commercial holiday. We aren’t told to long for the presents under the tree. Our joy is not based on a party held on December the 25th. We are not here to celebrate one day that comes and goes every year. We are here to celebrate, and to long for, eternity with God. We are here to proclaim an end to suffering and pain and death. We are here to say that there is a light that the darkness cannot overcome or destroy, and it’s not the light from your Christmas tree or your front lawn light display; it is the light that comes from God. 

We long to stand and live in the light of God. At Christmas we celebrate the vision, the glimpse we were given of that light in Jesus Christ. His life and more importantly his resurrection was a foretaste of the life and the light that awaits all of us. On December the 25th we celebrate our Lord being born among us, because in that moment we were allowed to see our eternal destiny: life with our God. We got to see the face of God and it was glorious. Can you imagine Christmas with all of the joy and none of the stress? Can you imagine a day of beauty and love and excitement and wonder that you didn’t have to create or pay for or make, but was just given to you as a free gift? The beauty and joy of Christmas may give us a glimpse into heaven, but what God has in store for us, is bound to be so much better than the holidays we create.

That is why we rejoice. We rejoice because we have heard the good news of the glorious feast that God has prepared for us. 

We have been discussing the four last things this advent: death, judgement, heaven and hell. No doubt you have figured out by now, that today I am talking about heaven. Now popular piety has given us many images of heaven: clouds and pearly gates and angels as little fat babies with harps. Most of these images have nothing to do with scripture or actual Christian teachings. The truth is, there is much mystery for us surrounding what happens when we die, but our conviction, as Christians, is that it can be a glorious mystery and not a sorrowful one. No we don’t have a perfectly clear picture of heaven, but we have been given glimpses of it. We saw it in the face of a tiny child born on a Bethlehem hillside. We saw it again in the life of that young man as he taught the power of truth and love. We saw it once more, gloriously, after his broken body rose from the dead. Saints have seen it. Prophets have seen it. And maybe from time to time, you and I have seen it. Maybe you have had a glimpse of heaven and you didn’t even know it. 

Maybe heaven surrounds us as a mystery that is begging to be seen and recognized, only we are usually too distracted by the darkness to notice. In the midst of darkness, we need something or someone to grab us and shake us, to cry out to us saying: rejoice! Something wonderful is coming! Heaven is on its way and you really don’t want to miss it.