Last Sunday of the Church Year – Mark 13 – November 21/22
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
So much fear. So much terror. That is what we are used to seeing nowadays it seems. But here's the thing. As we close the Church Year today, as we look towards the Last Day, the end of time – we remember a great truth. Christ Jesus has won us the victory – and nothing in the news last week, nothing in the week to come can change that. Period. Seriously. One of the great annoyances that I have is when people will use end times texts to try to get people all worked up and worried – not the point. Rather, Christ proclaims victory for you. Even in this text, Christ's Victory for you is all over the place in our Gospel text. Listen.
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” Okay... after what tribulation? The tribulation that we are in now, the troubles of this life, where there are wars and rumors of war, so on and so forth. Jesus lets us know something nice here – the troubles will end. They will be stopped, put an end to. And how? Even as Creation itself starts to fall apart, to unravel, we will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send out the angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” And then Jesus comes. With power. Great power. Is the whole universe coming undone – doesn't have a thing on Jesus' power. And you know what – Jesus doesn't come just to strut and pose, it's not the greatest photo op in history – He comes, and He send His angels to gather you, yes you, for you are the elect, you have been chosen by God, washed in the waters of Holy Baptism, brought into His family, and forgiven. And Jesus will come and He will send His angels to gather you wherever you may be – from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. Doesn't matter what the days you saw on the earth did to you – God's not going to forget you. Jesus comes to save. And that's not a bad thing, not at all. This is just what Paul says again in Romans – for I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels or rulers nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Period. The love of God for you in Christ Jesus lasts beyond even the end of the world.
Jesus then, to further make the point, gives a brief illustration. “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that the summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, know that He is near, at the very gates.” It's the simple image – you can tell the time of year by looking at the trees. And this example isn't something to dread – Jesus doesn't say, “Just as when the last leaf falls off the tree you know there will icy-snowy-retribution to make Tom Skilling quake with fear...” No! The example is summer – joy, life, growth, things nearing fruition. Indeed, here's the wonderful twist, the wonderful way in which Jesus instructs us to view the world. When there are tragedies or troubles, “when you see these things taking place, know that He is near, at the very gates.” Even in the worst of times, you are not abandoned by God. Even at your worst, Jesus remains God for you, for your good. And He will come again in His good time – but He isn't distant or ignoring us now. No – He is our Lord who sees us through the days that He deigns to give us. And we will endure in Him. Listen.
Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. Now, this is one of the more interesting verses in the bible. There are multiple ways people take it. Some people had thought it would mean that the second coming would happen within a generation's time – and that was a major problem in the early church. In John 21 John corrects folks who thought that Jesus had said that He'd return before John died. So what happened is there became multiple ways folks would interpret this text. One way, a faithful way, is to say that Jesus really is pointing to the Crucifixion and Resurrection here with “all these things” - that when Jesus dies and rises, everything is sealed, signed, delivered. When we see Christ raised, we know how the story goes – and that could be the main thrust. That's not the way we normally think – but it sort of is a good, Jewish way of thinking about time. Another common way of reading this verse is to take it to refer to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, which happens in 70 AD. That works too. However, the way I like, that I think fits in best with the rest of the text is this. When Christ says “this generation” He's talking about the Church. The Church, the sons and daughters of God, that generation of God will endure until the end, no matter how dire it looks. And why do I like this? Heaven and earth will pass away. Earthly generations will pass away. But what will never pass away – the Word of God, the Word of God that has given life to Christ's Church on earth. The Word that made you a child of God. It's a call towards confidence – yes, things will be rough, but Your God's love for you is greater than the roughness of this fallen world – His love for you that He declared in His Word and water when He washed you in Baptism, that doesn't fade away. At any rate, the whole point is this – God's Word endures, and that Word is good for you.
Jesus then makes a slight transition. But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It's always a great dark amusement to me how seemingly every other year there will be a new book that comes out that says, “We've found this verse and that verse and looked at the moons and we've determined that X will be the last day.” Um, no. No one knows. Even Christ Jesus said that He Himself didn't bother knowing that. And yet, we can have such a fascination with predictions and trying to figure out when things will happen, as though the scriptures are a puzzle or a cryptogram just waiting to be solved. But that's not what is going on here. No one knows. And you know what – that's a good thing for us. It is. Because that way we are on guard and are awake. As Christians, we are to be continually in the Word of God, hearing it, receiving it – we are to be confessing our sins and receiving forgiveness. It's to be habitual, who we are. We are to be awake. Now, consider instead what can happen if you know something is to be done by a certain day. Some of you here probably would tend towards procrastination – put things off? There's still plenty of temptation towards that with the faith as it is – well, we'll head to church once we have kids... well, once the kids get bigger... well, once they get done with sports... well, once they are out of the house we'll have time... well, it's just so nice to have some time to ourselves – yaddy yaddy ya. Imagine how much worse that would be if we knew, for a fact, when Christ would return. Or there's the other option – if I have a deadline, I tend to get stuff done early... wrap it off, be done with it, put it away and don't worry about it. That's not the approach we are to have to God either – it's not as though we are to hurry up and get our holy homework for the week done on Sat/Sunday and then shrug and live as heathens the next 6 days. But those are the temptations – especially when we know the timing on things. So instead, we are told to watch, be awake.
It is like a man going on a journey, when He leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning – lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: stay awake. Don't compartimentalize your faith – don't push Christ and His gifts to the side, don't let this hour now be the only time pondering God's gifts to you or let it be the only time you have any semblence of Christianity about you. Remember who you are: you are a baptized Child of God, and that isn't something that is true only on the weekends, but it is to shape who you are all the time. That's what this idea of being awake is describing.
Sometimes we get this off idea that what our Lord is instructing us is that we are to be constantly watching for His return... as though every few seconds we should peak up at the sky just to make sure that He hasn't come back yet. That's not how the story goes. The master gives the servants their various tasks – and the expectation is that they just simply keep busy with those tasks as is proper, knowing that He could return at any moment. When he returns shouldn't matter – they should be doing their duty. Likewise, He has given us tasks to do until He returns. This is what it means then to be awake. It means to live, to be living out who He has made us to be – parents, children, workers, students, friends, neighbors, spouses, and above all, forgiven sinners. The way you prepare for the end of the world is you be whom God has made you to be today. And you strive to do your best, and when you fail, you confess your sins and delight in God's forgiveness. This is the point of Luther's daily prayers, both evening and morning, that we will pray today. Be with me in my tasks, and give me forgiveness. And that is being awake, being aware of God and knowing that He shall come again.
So there it is. In this world, we are confronted and battered with terror and fear and anger. Yep. But you still belong to God. You have been purchased by the blood of Christ Jesus; you are forgiven, and nothing in this world can change that. So God has left these standing orders for you – that in the midst of this messed up world you are to continue in showing love according to whatever jobs or duties He has given you, always remembering the love and forgiveness that He has given you in Christ Jesus – and do this until He returns. And as for the rest – eh, it's in His hands, and that's a good place for it to be. And so we face these things with hope and confidence, for God's love for you is great and wondrous and lasts longer even then heaven and earth. Amen.