Saturday, December 8, 2018

Advent 2

2nd Sunday of Advent – Luke 21:25-36 – December 8th and 9th, 2018

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
The things of the Christian faith are backwards. Last week, things were utterly backwards. We had Palm Sunday in winter talking about a King who enters Jerusalem not to conquer and kill the enemy but rather to suffer and die – to win forgiveness even for our enemies. To the thinking of the world, that is utterly backwards. Well, today we have another backwards sort of text, where Jesus turns everything upon its head, and where we are taught to do things that seem just the opposite of what any sensible person would expect to do. Jesus teaches us how to face the end of the world.

We've touched on the end several times in the last few weeks – 3 weeks ago we talked about how things might be boring while we wait, 2 weeks ago we had the wise and foolish virgins. And today, Jesus speaks about the end times in the way that we are most used to – fear. “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 seas and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming upon the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” There it is – there's the end times we're used to talking about. The scary end times, the panicky one. It's the disaster film, the horror film chaos sort of end times. Panic and fear. And, well, there is going to be some weird scary stuff with the end of the world – it's the world's end. But, remember, Jesus is going to have things be backwards for you, O Christian. “Now, when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” When the world panics, when the world is gripped with fear because things are crazy and they are just getting crazier – that's not time for you to panic. That's not time for you to give into fear and hunch over and hunker down. That is the time for you, O Christian, to stand up straight. Shoulders out wide, chin up – just like you're going to sing, because you are going to be bursting into song. It all means that you redemption is drawing nigh. It means that Jesus is just that much closer to coming again, and “then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” Christ will return, and we will sing – yes, even you stubborn people who don't like to sing. It's going to happen – and it will be good.

Sometimes we forget just how profoundly different our lives and our attitudes are as Christians. We face all things in this life resting in Christ Jesus our Savior. Oh, to be sure, sometimes we too give into fear or panic for a moment or a time – we are still sinful human beings after all. However, the way in which we view things is different because of Christ Jesus and His love for us. A huge problem – like the end of the world. Well, for you O Christian, since you are in Christ, it's all good. It all works out for your good in the end. And this is the truth that you know – it all works out for you, whatever trial or trouble. You're in Christ – this dying world and the wicked therein can do their worst to you, can make things really lousy and miserable for you – but you are in Christ, and so really, in the long run, they can do nothing to you. Nothing that lasts. Whatever they do to you must end and be followed with the sentence, “and then Christ returns and you are raised to glory for all eternity.” That fact gives you an incredibly different, a radically backwards approach to things. End of the world – lift up your heads. Someone attacks you, causes you problems – Jesus says to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. That's not just being well behaved – that's because you are in Christ Jesus – you are sure and safe, and the fact that they are being evil to you just shows how sadly they are trapped, would that Christ would rescue them too! We look for Christ to come, even to our enemies, to come to them with love and mercy and peace – love and mercy and peace that Christ Jesus even gives to them through us. This is the utterly backwards way in which we live our lives as Christians when we see things through and in Christ.

Jesus continues with another little image. And He told them 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. It's getting closer. Christ's return is getting closer. The world is continually falling apart. This is something we like to ignore – we have spent the past 200 years telling ourselves that actually we are improving and getting better and all that. Yeah, 200 years ago we didn't have deadly peanut allergies, and people didn't starve to death on wheat. Our technology is improving (thanks be to God!) – but not us. Humanity as a whole is at least as weak and frail as it always has been, and I'd say more so. And we keep on finding new ways to hurt and harm our neighbor, we take innovations and weaponize them. But, our task today is not just to lament how lousy the world is. Nope, you know this all for what it is. The leaf is coming out, the summer is near. All of this just reminds us that the Kingdom of God is near, that Christ is closer and closer to His return.

“But wait!” some of you might say. “What about this next line that Jesus said? What about '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.' It's been almost 2000 years since Jesus said this!” You're right – it has been 2000 years since Jesus has said this. However, the problem here is with us and how we think of the end of the world. We think of the end of the world as something that is off then – it's merely coming. That's not quite accurate, biblically speaking. It is more accurate to say that the End has begun and will be finished when Christ comes again. This is how Hebrews starts – Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us through His Son.” In these, these here now, last days. We are in the end of time. The end of the world has already started.

Consider – there will be signs in the heavens... and on one Friday afternoon, they put Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, up on a cross. And the sun was blotted out and darkness covered the land – Luke describes this saying, “and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour [3 pm], while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice said, 'Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit!' And having said this, He breathed His last. Now, when the Centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, 'Certainly this Man was innocent!' And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts.” Do you see it? The Son of man, lifted up in the air, dies. And while the world is shook, and people beat their breasts in terror, one fellow straightens up and praises God. The innocent Man, the Man without sin has shed His blood, and salvation comes into play. With the Cross, the world is done for. It is finished. The Kingdom of God is here, because we are able to proclaim Christ and Him Crucified – Died and Risen for all. We are in the end, even now before the end. The first coming in complete, we simply are waiting now, in these last days, for the second coming.

So, Jesus continues - “But watch yourselves lest your hearts become 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 on the face of the whole earth.” And the temptation that you face, o Christian, is to forget that you are in Christ in these last days. You are a forgiven child of God, and as such you are a tool that God uses to not only do good earthly things for the neighbor, but also to bring Christ Jesus and His love and mercy to people. Wherever you go, you bring with you the blessings of God Almighty, to be given freely and generously to your neighbor, without thought or worry about what you will get back in return out of it – because you are in Christ and your story ends with the resurrection of the dead, so it doesn't matter what you get out of it now. But, we do get tempted away from that, don't we? And Jesus warns us what tempts us away – dissipation. Where you waste things and squander them and fritter them away – like when what looks to be a promising rain shower dissipates and breaks up and we get nothing and the farmers grouse. We too can get scattered and lose our focus on Christ and not do folks any good and stop being a blessing to them. That's not good. Or we can get caught up in drunkenness – where we go simply to live in immediate pleasure, and stop being a blessing to our neighbor. That's not good. Or we can be so focused on the cares of this life – of what we want, what we “need”, that we forget that our job is to love the neighbor while Christ tends to our needs. Again, not good.

Over and against this, we are called to prayer – and this is a we. It's a plural – But stay awake at all times, praying that [y'all] may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. Over and against the dangers of dissipation and drunkenness and the cares of this life, Christ calls us to gather together for prayer – and this word for prayer here is fascinating. It is the begging sort of prayer, it is the 'Lord have Mercy' sort of prayer. It is the Christian cry for deliverance that we together pray here in the Church seeking Christ's forgiveness. And what happens here? Christ comes to us, and He strengthens us with His forgiveness. You are forgiven, you are joined to Christ in Holy Baptism, and Christ gives you Himself in His Supper to strengthen and keep you in the One true faith, to keep you in Christ. And in Christ – you are prepared. You are raised up, now and eternally. You are prepared for whatever comes, and whenever you come here to His Church, Christ will continually prepare you for whatever comes down the pike.

And that's how it works. You are prepared for the end, because you are in Christ Jesus. And while the world goes spinning, you remain steady and steadfast in Him, for He is your Lord and Savior who has won you forgiveness with with His death and won you everlasting life with His resurrection. Nothing can change that. So we face the end with hope, we face fear with love, we face sin and wickedness with the forgiveness of Christ, and we wait together, calling upon God to give us mercy. And Christ Jesus does so as He comes to us in His Word and Sacraments today and even until He comes again on the Last Day. Come quickly, Lord Jesus – Amen. In the Name of Christ Jesus our Advent King.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Advent 1 Sermon

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
Who is God? Who is He? What does He do? While that seems like a broad and wide question, it is basically what Jeremiah was asking the Kingdom of Judah in our Old Testament text. See, Judah was in a bind. It was right around 588 or so B.C., and the Babylonian kingdom up north was rattling its sabers and had already invaded Judah a few times, had already taken Daniel off to captivity. And Judah didn’t know what to do – but the prevailing wisdom was that Judah should buddy buddy up with Egypt and trust in Egypt to protect them.

If Jeremiah had asked a Jew of his day who God was, the expected answer should have been this: “He is the LORD our God who brought us up out of the land of Egypt.” That’s really how the 10 Commandments start – that’s the point of Passover – the LORD is the God who got us out of slavery in Egypt. And now what – with fear and worries about Babylon, you forget the LORD your God, you continue in idolatry, in fact, you want to run back to Egypt, back to the people who enslaved you. And so Jeremiah preaches. He says that Babylon will win, and they do. But in our text he also says the day is coming when they will call God “The LORD who brought us up and led the offspring of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where He had driven them.” 586, Judah is conquered. 538, King Cyrus sends them back home. Jeremiah was right.

But Jeremiah points forward to a greater truth, a greater prophecy. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as King and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which He will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’” No, Egypt won’t be the solution. A stronger military or just paying tribute won’t be the solution. Nor will the troubles of this day endure; Babylon won’t vex us forever. Instead, here is the truth – the Messiah will come, and He Himself will fix the problems. He will be the Righteous One for us, and His day is what we should be looking for, more than just any military victory now.

And then we come to our Gospel Text. The triumphal entry. Palm Sunday. And once again we can look at this in terms of a “who is” question. Okay, Israel, who is your King? What does your King look like, what does He do? Jeremiah had prophesied a righteous Branch for David – that is, someone Righteous from the line of David who would be King, and there hadn’t been a king since Babylon conquered them – but then here comes Jesus. And Jesus enters Jerusalem riding a donkey, just like King Solomon had when he was enthroned. And everyone gets the symbolism; this is why they cry out “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Son of David! The Guy who should be King! The fervor and the excitement are astonishing – so high that come Palm Sunday in a few months, we’ll get in on it with little kids waving palms. But again, there was a problem. Who did they really think this King was, and what did they really think He was going to do? Immediately after our text, we hear this: “And when He entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.’” Wait… just a prophet? Just a guy from Galilee? Why don’t they call Him the King? That’s because for the people, He wasn’t really viewed as their King – that's why in a few days on Friday morning they will cry out that they have no king but Caesar. He ended up not being what they wanted. The King they expected wasn't the King that was promised. Sure, a king was wanted, but you don’t call him the king until he’s driven out the Romans! Once he’s made the nation glorious again, then we can give the fellow the throne – you only get the throne after you’ve beaten the bad guys! That’s the way it still is in stories and movies today. But here’s the problem. That wasn’t what was promised to them. They were promised a king who would be wise, who would execute justice and righteousness. But that wasn’t what they wanted. Power was they wanted. Earthly glory was they wanted. Revenge against the Romans was they wanted. And Jesus doesn’t do that. That’s not wisdom. That’s not justice, that’s not righteousness. Jesus is more interested in driving out the money changers in the temple and reforming worship than He is in driving out the Romans and reforming an Empire. And by the end of the week, Pilate orders his death to prevent a riot. Think on that. It’s not that there would be a riot because they are *killing* our king and we will rise up to rescue him. No, the riot would come if you don’t do Him in.

So. What of us today? Let’s ask ourselves the same questions. Who is God? Who is our King? What does He do? What are the expectations, what do we look for from God? If I turn on the religious tv channels, I get horrified. If I look on-line at facebook, I get horrified. I’ll see tons of stuff about God giving money and wealth and affirmation and validiation and making your dreams come true if you just trust in Him. Is that what we want from our God? We are in the Advent season, where we focus on the fact that Jesus came down from heaven. Is that what we think He came to do? In Advent we focus also on the second coming of Christ. What do we want? Do we want a Jesus that is going to reform American society and make us a better land (whether that's the liberal definition or the conservative one) if only we obey Him? Is Jesus the guy who brings the better rules that will make sure your family keeps its nose clean? And, of course, if you don’t send in money, if you don’t click “like” Jesus will be mad at you and punish you.

What does your God look like? Does He look like a Man coming humbly, seated on a donkey? Does He look like a Man who is beaten and whipped and scourged? Does He look like a man hanged upon a cross and left to die? Because this is what Jesus comes to do. Jesus is the LORD, our Righteousness. And He is our righteousness by going to the cross and suffering and dying, by being buried, by rising again. This is the point, the point of contention, the reason why so many people forsake Christ Jesus even to this day. Jesus deals with what we need, not what we want. Jesus isn’t Santa Claus; we don’t get to just tell Jesus what we want and know that if we are good little boys and girls that we’ll get it. Because the simple fact is this – a lot of times what we want is foolish. What we think is important isn’t. Judah wanting Egypt to deliver them was foolish – that would be even worse than Babylon in the long run – at least Babylon respected the Jewish culture. Wanting to take down the Roman Empire was foolish – if you aren’t certain of that, when Rome falls, we call what comes next “the Dark Ages” – it’s the fall of Rome that allows Islam to conquer and destroy Christianity in the middle east and in Egypt and in Babylon. And that’s just immediate problems – that’s just current events turning to history. Where was the thought given to sin – where was the thought given to the fact that I am a sinful human being and I am going to die in my sin unless God intervenes and saves me? Meh, they didn’t think that was important. Who wants a spiritual solution – we want a better war machine, we want “justice” that looks like our enemies crushed and bleeding and destroyed.

That’s not what Jesus comes to do. Oh, He could have come with legions of angels brandishing flaming swords – in fact, He will come that way on the last day. But first, He had a job to do. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as King and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which He will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’” His job is to be your righteousness. His job is to win you life and salvation and the forgiveness of your sins. His job is to execute justice, by taking up from you all the weight and wrath of your sin and crucifying it upon the Cross. His job is to fulfill all righteousness, to live the perfect holy life, and then to cover you with that righteousness in Holy Baptism so that He may say to the Father, “See these, My brothers and sisters, they are righteous and holy and without blemish in My name.” His job is to see that you dwell securely, not just for a day, not just for a season, not just until the next election, but for eternity. This is His wisdom. And He still comes to you, brings this righteousness, this forgiveness and salvation here in this place, preached, proclaimed to you, comes to you humbly riding in, with, and under bread and wine, for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.

So, who is this Jesus, our God? He is the One who pays no attention to human expectations. Rather, He comes to fulfill the Scriptures, to fulfill the Word of God that has proclaimed your redemption and your salvation. And in His great wisdom, He does whatever must be done to accomplish this – and it means coming down from heaven, and being incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and being born in a manager, and suffering and dying. He is determined to be wise for your sake; He is determined to execute justice for you, to be the LORD our Righteousness. And so He is. This we have heard in the Word, this we have received in Baptism and the Supper, and this we shall see face to face when He comes again. Amen. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +