Thursday, December 02, 2004

Sermon: Thursday before Advent 2 (Populus Zion)

2 December 2004 – Lutheran High School Chapel, Metairie, LA

Text: Luke 21:25-36

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

At this time of year, when someone asks us if we are ready, it usually means “have you done all your Christmas shopping?” But the Church’s question “Are you ready?” in this the upcoming second week of Advent means “Are you ready for the coming of Jesus?”

Scripture tells us Jesus is the one who was, who is, and who is to come. We Christians speak of his coming in terms of past, present, and future. So let’s take a few minutes to reflect on Jesus coming to us in the past, present, and future.

We know that Jesus of Nazareth came in the past. He is a real historical person. He was conceived by the Virgin Mary during the reign of Caesar Augustus. He was born in humble circumstances in Bethlehem. And we prepare to celebrate yet again this most wondrous of all miracles, the Incarnation of our Lord. Advent is a time of preparation for this great festival we call “Christmas” – which is a contraction of the words: “Christ’s Mass. It is a high holy feast day in which all the world ponders anew the meaning of God becoming man, and of man becoming God.

Of course, the secular culture is more likely to see dollar signs than the sign of the cross, more likely to think of gifts from Santa than gifts from God the Father. This commercialization of Christmas has led people to call for putting Christ back in Christmas. Indeed, the church needs to remain focused on our Lord, but we should also remember that it isn’t Christ who left Christmas, but rather we “poor miserable sinners” who have relegated him to the back burner. We would do well to have a more churchly focus in this holy season, a time of reflection of God’s wondrous miracle of 2,000 years ago when the Eternal God took human flesh. And although this is a historical event of long ago, it continues to shape us today.

But Jesus is not merely a past-tense figure of long ago.

Jesus is also one who is coming again in the future. Today’s Gospel text has our Lord speaking of great and wondrous signs that would signal his return. And as we have been in what the Bible calls the “last days” since the first coming of our Lord, his second coming can be at any time. In fact, our Lord tells us repeatedly in parables to be ready, that he will come like a thief in the night. We need to keep the oil burning in our lamps and wait for him to come. We are told in today's text to “watch and pray.” We are to expect his return, and prepare ourselves and each other for the end of all time and space, for the great cosmic event that will signal a new order of the universe.

But Jesus is not merely a figure from the past, who is to come in the future, he also comes to us in the present.

Before his ascension into heaven, Jesus promised he would always be with us. Though he sits at God’s right hand, he is also with us where two or three gather together in his name. That is, when the church meets, there our Lord is present. He is there when his Word is proclaimed. Jesus told his ministers “when they hear you, they hear me.” He is there when his sacraments are administered. Jesus said: “Take, eat, this is my body. This is my blood. Given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.” And so he comes to us every Sunday as the Gospel is read, the sermon is preached, and Holy Communion is celebrated.

Sometimes children will blurt out how they wish Christmas could be every day – with a special feast, and with a man in funny clothes handing out gifts. But in a very real way, we do celebrate the Festival of the Lord’s Incarnation every Sunday, as our Lord manifests himself miraculously in our space and time, under the humble elements of bread and wine. The early church fathers saw a clear connection between the Incarnation and the Eucharist, between Bethlehem (which means “House of Bread”) and Christian altars around the world – where the Bread of Life is given to God’s people. In fact, just as we desire to see Christ put back in Christmas, we should equally strive to put the Mass back into Christmas. Just as the Wise Men met Jesus where he was and where he was promised, we too need to come to Our Lord where he tells us we can find him.

And along these lines, instead of getting angry about the world’s use of Santa Claus, maybe the church should reclaim him. For “Santa Claus” is another way of pronouncing Saint Nicholas – a bearded 4th century pastor. Santa’s white-lined red suit is really the adaptation of the bishop’s red clerical garb, and his pointy hat is a suggestion of the bishop’s miter. And indeed, the real Saint Nick handed out goodies to children, but the greatest gifts he gave them were Baptism, the Gospel, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. For these are greater than any Gameboy or big-screen TV, because these gifts are treasures to be stored up in heaven, where neither moth, rust, nor changing technology can destroy them.

And these gifts given by St. Nicholas and his fellow Christian pastors not only celebrate Christ present among us in the here and now, but they also bring Christ to us to make us ready for the great and terrible day when “there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring;” when hearts fail from fear and the “expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken.” For on that day as history comes to a close, we will “see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” But we, the Lord’s baptized, forgiven, redeemed children need not fear, for our Lord tells us plainly “when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

This sure and certain Second Coming of our Lord is why the church keeps the custom of Advent – a time to think of our sins, to seek forgiveness for them, and to repent. The baptismal waters which washed us clean are renewed and revisited every time we hear those magnificent words: “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Advent is a time to hear those words even more often.

So dear Christian brothers and sisters, while we may not be ready in terms of our Christmas shopping and preparations, rest assured by the promise of God himself that we Christians are ready for our Lord’s return. And as we enjoy the festivities of this coming Christmas, let us keep our hearts and minds fixed on our Lord Jesus. Let us ponder his coming in the past, in the present, and in the future – a glorious future that will have no end!

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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