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.

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