“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.” Matthew 25:31-46
You are surely grasping the fact that, during the season of Advent, the focus is not normally on “baby Jesus.” In the life of the Church, the season of Christmas is for focusing primarily on the Word made flesh in the infant Jesus, born of the virgin Mary. The season of Advent is a time for us to reflect upon and prepare for the many ways our Lord comes to us—not only at Bethlehem in Judea, but in past, present and future. Hence, the daily lessons aim us at a broader reflection upon Law and Gospel, sin and grace, preparation and lack of preparation and, yes, today the separation of the sheep from the goats at the time of judgment.
I was visiting a congregation recently, speaking about the NALC, and the members asked many questions. One question caught me off guard. Several wanted to know if I could explain the comment made to them by their liberal Lutheran bishop in a visit prior to their vote to leave their current church body. She had said, in front of the entire congregation, “I have come to believe that hell is empty.” They had asked for explanation, but the more the bishop spoke, the more confused they became. Now, they wanted to know if I could explain her words?!
I didn’t and I couldn’t, except to say that it surely reflects a belief in “universalism.” It surely reflects a belief that, finally, all people will be saved, regardless who they are or what they believe. I assured them we are not “universalists” in the NALC. We believe our Lord when He says, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6) Similarly, we believe our Lord when he speaks of a judgment—a separation of sheep from goats on the Last Day. Those on his right hand will inherit the kingdom prepared for them, while those on his left will go away into eternal punishment. Our Lord couldn’t make it clearer than that!
Prepared by David Wendel, North American Lutheran Church