Sunday, December 7, 2014

Advent 2 Sermon

Advent 2 – December 7th, 2014 – Malachi 4 and Luke 21

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
          Malachi was the last of the Old Testament prophets.  In fact, our Old Testament lesson today are the very last words of the Old Testament.  Malachi proclaimed these words right around 500 BC, give or take a few years.  And then, that’s it.  For 500 years, from Malachi to John the Baptist (the Elijah here promised), you don’t have any more prophets in Israel.  The Word had been proclaimed, and that was what was needed until the Messiah would come.  So – what did people need to hear, what did they need to know?   The text starts off ominously – “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble.  The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.”  Well, that’s sort of blunt and dire, isn’t it?  Kind of a strong contrast to all the ho-ho-ho music we get on the radio this time of year.  And at first glance, this seems so inappropriate – why when preparing for Christmas should we talk about the end and judgment when it gives us the willies and makes us scared?  Well, that’s the problem – the end shouldn’t cause you fear, my friends in Christ Jesus.  Listen.

          “But for you who fear My Name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.  You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.  And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.”  You are in Christ Jesus – we all gathered here today in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – we are baptized, God’s own people.  And all we have to look forward to is joy, and healing, and total and complete victory.  You see, we often mishear the warnings about the end days, and this is because of centuries of bad doctrine.  Once you get to the middle ages, we fell into some messed up thinking about the second coming; we became terrified of Jesus and His return because of that stupid, false, made up, unscriptural teaching of purgatory.  Instead of joy and leaping like calves, Christians thought Christ’s return would mean millions of years in detention, burning in purgatory.  That’s not the point in Malachi, not at all.  No, his message for the faithful is this – yes, you still see wicked folks around you – but don’t worry about them.  You don’t have to try to outwit them or defeat them or even punish them.  God will take care of that – boy will He ever!  But as for you – wait on the Lord.  Show love to one another, seek and give forgiveness and mercy, and trust upon God – know that God is stronger than the world (for that is what the “fear of the LORD” is) and that He will deliver you when He comes.

          And in the intervening 500 years, the children of Israel saw enemies come and go.  Alexander the Great came – but there was no prophet.  No, your instructions are the same – don’t worry about the enemies; rather, remember the Word of God, His promises to you.  Then other enemies conquered, the Selucids, and they did horrible stuff.  Still, no prophet – carry on, I will support you.  Then Herod’s family and then the Romans, and still Israel was given to wait, wait 500 years… 500 years takes us back to before the Reformation.  A long time of waiting – but the promise is still sure.  The Messiah will come, and you’ll have the forerunner before Him, and He will take care of things.

          And then we move forward to our Gospel Lesson.  And this is in the midst of Holy Week, this is after Palm Sunday, on the way to Good Friday.  And Jesus knows what is coming.  He is going to suffer and die.  That’s why He came, that’s what needed to be done so that come the last day you all can go leaping in joy.  And yes, He will rise, but He won’t be establishing an earthly kingdom.  Instead, there will be a wait, again.  There will be time given so that more and more can come to faith – including every single one of us in this room.  But in the meantime, before His second coming… the waiting is going to be rough.  And so, He teaches, He tells us how to view and understand the world around us.  “And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming upon the world.  For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”  What’s life before the second coming?  Well, the world is going to fall apart, and people are going to freak out about it.  I’ve been here 10 years – and we’ve seen tsunamis and hurricanes and earthquakes, and people freaking out over it.  Global warming, climate change, fracking – and this isn’t even getting into wars and rumors of war and nuclear power plant meltdowns and ISIS and terrorists.  The world is a messed up place.  Got any doubts – turn on the national news any given evening – it ain’t going to be pretty.
So – what is to be our response to this – what is our reaction when we see all this junk in the world?  Tremble with fear?  Wring our hands?  Panic and get angry?  Not according to Christ Jesus – “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  Now, when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  What does all this tragedy and trouble point us to?  Christ shall come again.  And how are we to view His coming – straighten up.  Don’t hunch down in fear, get up, be ready, don’t cower in fear – raise your head.  Why?  Because redemption is coming, redemption for you.  Christ Jesus, who has conquered death with His own death upon the Cross, He is coming and it is going to be good.  Again, the idea of the last day is meant to be a joy, a comfort to you as Christians – because all this lousiness of life in this world will be done away with, and we will have the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come where none of these things will bother us – where the “former things” that vexed us will be remembered no more.

And Jesus gives a parable.  “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees.  As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near.  So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the Kingdom of God is near.”  How many of you are going to say in Spring, “Oh drat, look, there are leaves on the trees, I was hoping we’d have 5 more months of it being freezing cold and windy”?  No, this is a good thing.  A cause for rejoicing.  Christ will come.  “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.  Heaven and Earth will pass away, but My Words will not pass away.”  And here we get a passage that can be somewhat tricky.  Some people say, “Well, all those people there died before Jesus returned… what went wrong!”  Nothing at all.  What is “this generation”?  For a hint, I’m going to bring up a theological term – we will talk about “Baptismal Regeneration” – the idea that we are born again in Baptism.  Jesus is talking to the faithful in Jerusalem, to the Church – and the Church will endure until the end.  There will always be Christians waiting for the coming of the LORD – they might not live where they used to, but the Church will remain.  Why?  Because the Word of the Lord does not pass away.  The Gospel is still proclaimed.  Baptism – it still brings people into Christ’s Kingdom.  Christ still comes to us in His Body and Blood in the Supper – these things remain – the Holy Spirit still calls people by the Gospel and richly and daily forgives our sins here in the Church.  So this wasn’t a “it’s coming right now” point – but again, like Malachi - don’t worry about the wait.  Don’t worry about the time inbetween.  I will preserve you, then I will come, and it will be good for you.

And one final note.  “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.  For it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth.  But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”  Ut-oh!  We need to escape!  It’s a trap!  Watch out!  Panic!  No… not quite.  It is a warning, a reminder.  People can fall away from the faith.  They can just stop caring, they can just live it up and get blotto-ed, they can just be too busy and successful to care.  And that’s when it’s bad.  But Jesus mentions two things, two ways of being prepared, of “staying awake” as it were.  Prayer and then also standing before the Son of Man.  Oh my, if only there were some place where we Christians came together to pray, where we stood before Christ Jesus Himself and received strength from Him.  If only there was some place where, instead of having my heart weighed down, I was told, “Lift up your hearts.”  If only there was some place where God would strengthen us in faith towards Him and in fervent love toward one another.  Did I lay it on too thick?  Jesus here is pointing us to Church, to coming to this place where we gather in prayer and then receive from Him His own strength, His own righteousness, His own forgiveness.  The Church isn’t an afterthought.  The Supper isn’t an afterthought.  It wasn’t as though the Apostles were standing at the Ascension and said, “Oh, um, hmm…  Guess we better make something up.”  No, God has always gathered His people together around His Word. And you today, you are no different. You are in Christ, gathered in His Name – and you are prepared for His coming, whether it is coming to this Altar today to bring you forgiveness or whether it is His coming on the Last day to give you the resurrection and the life.  It’s okay – in Christ it is all good, and all good for you.  Be at peace in Him.

We believe that He shall come again to judge the living and the dead, and that His kingdom will have no end.  Not only that, but we know that this is a good thing, because you are forgiven by Christ, you have been joined to Him in Holy Baptism, and until He comes again He will continue to come to you in His Word and in His most Holy Supper.  And yes, the world around you often will fall apart – so be it.  You belong to Christ, and because of Him, because of His Word of life, you will endure even when this heaven and this earth have passed away, for He will take you to the new and better heavens and earth.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King + Amen.

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