Those of you who understand the traditions of the church might be wondering why the Advent Wreath is out and fully lit. Advent is a few weeks away and even then, we don't light all the candles until we read the Gospel on Christmas Eve.
The reason that Advent wreath is out and lit is that it reminds me personally of the craftsmanship that Wendell brought into our lives. I remember when Wendell built the stand that supports that wreath. The ladies of the congregation had purchased new candles and Wendell built that stand before the candles arrived. He was concerned about the fit of the candles, but when we got the candles and put them in their holders, the fit was so close that it was almost air tight. Even now, after years of use, the fit is still excellent. That Advent wreath and its stand always remind me of the precision that was part of Wendell's life.
The nave where you now sit is part of an addition that was added before I became the pastor here. I have been told that Wendell was a big part of getting this addition built. Not only was he a trustee who supervised the building on behalf of the congregation, but he also did much of the woodwork and the wiring himself.
When I visited with him, I learned that he also applied his skills to help his family. I specifically remember him telling me about the cabinets in his daughter's home as well as several other projects that he had going at the time. In fact, I noticed a notebook with photographs of these projects located out on the memory table in the narthex. Wendell was basically a very active man.
That is the reason it was so frustrating when the immobility set in. Wendell was a man on the go - active, vital, outgoing, and then the legs started to give him trouble. When you are used to being active and getting out with other people, it is very hard to just sit in the living room. It is very hard when you need help just to get into bed or get into a car. It is very hard - when a person is used to taking care of others - it is very hard to need that care yourself.
It is right for us to get frustrated at such times. It is right for us to get angry. It is right for us to express that frustration and anger to God in prayer. When we do express that frustration and anger, we should make sure that we have the right target. All the pain, weakness, illness, and all the other frustrations of this life have one root cause - sin. Sin surrounds us. It hassles us. It attacks us. It is the root cause of all that is wrong in this world. It is the cause of death as the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write [Romans 6:23] the wages of sin is death.
But God has provided an antidote for sin and death - our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. As you just heard from the Gospel, [Jesus said,] "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." God the Father sent His Son into the world to free us from sin. His Son became one of us and took our place under the law of God. God's Son is named Jesus and He lived a life of perfection. Although sin attacked Jesus, He never gave in to it. He lived a perfect life.
Then Jesus took our place as the target of God's wrath against sin. God allowed men to take the iron that He had placed in the hills to make nails. He allowed men to take a tree He had created to fashion a cross. Then He allowed those men to use those nails to fasten Him to that cross. They abused the gift of craftsmanship that God gave them in order to nail God to a tree.
God used this evil act for our good. With His suffering and death, Jesus earned our salvation. He provided the cure for sin and death. He certified this cure Himself when He rose from the dead and showed Himself alive to hundreds of people. With His resurrection Jesus has promised eternal life to all who believe in Him.
Last Tuesday, God extended that ultimate healing to Wendell. God took Wendell out of this sin-soaked world to Himself. Now Wendell has no pain, no sorrow, no weakness, and no illness. He is now perfectly free from all the influences of sin, death, and the devil.
Wendell now waits with the Lord for that last day when Jesus will return and raise all the dead. On that day, Wendell's body will be what the Apostle Paul described: [1 Corinthians 15:51-57] Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
"Death is swallowed up in victory."
"O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?"
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Even the saints of the Old Testament knew this truth for we recently heard from Job. He said, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another." Even Job looked forward to the day of resurrection for all people.
So Wendell is now safe. He is beyond the reach of sin, death, and the devil. He is waiting at the side of Jesus for that day when his spirit will once again unite with his immortal body.
But what about us? How are we to respond to this ultimate victory for Wendell? Is it OK for us to be sad even though Wendell is now at peace with the Lord?
Wendell was a special part of our lives. He leaves a hole. Even though he is better than ever, we still miss him. Of course we grieve.
Never the less, our grief is different than the grief of the world. Our sadness is the sadness of those who will be apart for a long, long time. Our sadness is not the sadness of those who will never see each other again. We know that the day will come when those who die in the Lord will experience the grandest re-union of all. We know that the day will come when all those who trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins will join together around the throne of God. There we will never again leave one another, and we shall see God face-to-face.
In the meantime, we gather around God's Word and His sacraments. For in these means, God has promised to give us heaven on earth. Even though we cannot see Him, Jesus has promised to be with us always, and where Jesus is, there is heaven. Even as we gather together to receive the gifts of God, we gather together with all the hosts of heaven. We gather together with those whom we love who have already died in the Lord.
Today, when I look over at that Advent wreath, I remember Wendell and I think about this building that Wendell helped build. It is now a place where God's people can come together and receive the gifts of God along with Wendell and all the other saints in heaven and on earth. Amen
Please quote from my sermons freely. I expect people to copy my sermons or I wouldn't put them on a site like this. I only ask that you quote accurately if you attribute anything to me.
Should you decide to contact me, I would be very interested in knowing where you are. Please include the name of your city, state or province, and country when contacting me.
Send James T. Batchelor an email.