Sunday, December 04, 2005

Sermon: Advent 2 (Populus Zion)

4 Dec 2005 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 21:25-36 (Historic)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

On this the 21st shopping day until Christmas, the secular world is beautifully decorated with happy and gentle images of smiling snowmen, winking Santas, joyful music, and beautiful decorations. There are songs of peace on earth and even shocking displays of the baby Jesus in places where at other times of the year this would be forbidden.

But what do we find in this church on the second week of Advent? What do our readings say? Well, in the Old Testament lesson, we have people burning in an oven, described as ashes under the soles of our feet, the coming great and dreadful day of the Lord, striking the earth with a curse. The Gospel reading is rather horrifying: signs in the sky, distress and perplexity among nations, roaring waves, heart failure due to fear, and the powers of heaven itself being shaken.


And then we have this epistle reading in which Paul uses words like comfort, hope, joy, and peace.

Advent is a confusing time in many ways. We speak of the anticipation of our Lord’s coming – but which coming? We reflect back in time on the Incarnation, that greatest of all miracles in which God Almighty wriggled helplessly as a gentle newborn in a swaddle-blanket being tenderly nursed by his virginal mother. We also look forward to the Lord’s triumphal second coming amidst chaos and suffering, trial and tribulation, and the physical persecution of the Church. This coming will bring history to a close, will result in the destruction of the world, and a new creation. And in the present, we reflect on our Lord’s coming here and now, in his Word and Sacraments.

All three of these advents of Jesus are physical. In the Lord’s first advent, he came to offer salvation to the world. In his ongoing eucharistic advent, he delivers salvation to those who believe. But his final advent will not be to offer his gifts, nor to nourish his Church through her earthly sojourn. No, indeed, the Lord’s second coming will be one of judgment, of separating sheep from goat, of eternal life for the Church, and eternal damnation for those who reject him.

The world revels in the imagery of a gentle baby as God (as do we). The world takes comfort in a helpless God who can be carried about (as do we). But is there comfort in Jesus the Great Judge, whose coming will be amid the descent of our world into total devastation?

That depends.

The world deals with our Lord’s preaching about judgment and hell with mocking and disbelief. They are in denial that the same gentle meek and mild baby Jesus would preach what he preaches to us today. But we dare not do this. In fact, the Church needs to listen to her master – especially in these days of increasing natural disasters, strife around the world, and a descent of humanity into a universal culture of death and evil. It should not surprise Christians when abortion is treated as a virtue. Or when even Christian judges and politicians do nothing while a handicapped woman is starved to death by court order. Or when homosexuality has been normalized to the point where “conservative” churches are now in various states of approval of this abomination. We ought not be shocked to learn that Christians are being persecuted around the globe, that magnificent and ancient cathedrals in Europe are empty today. Or that the Scriptures are being distorted by so-called Christian churches to the point where women dress up as pastors and mock the Lord’s office of the keys in repeating Eve’s sin of wanting something off-limits to her.

And, dear friends, there’s no reason to believe things won’t get worse. But what does our Lord say? “Now.” Notice, he begins this sentence with “Now.” “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” The worse things get, the more chaos spreads, we are to look to heaven, to look up in hope and expectation. For our Redeemer lives, and he is coming, and he’s coming not to destroy us, but to redeem us!

No matter what passes away – our life, goods, fame, child and wife. No matter if we lose our homes, our treasures, our family pictures, our heirlooms, our health, our mental capacities, and even our lives – there is something that will never pass away. Jesus says: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” The Word of the Lord – the saving, life-giving, redeeming Word of the Lord is eternal. This is why we need to lift up our heads. This is why we ponder the Lord’s return on the great and terrible day surrounded by the color blue, the color of hope.

The Church pauses these few weeks to consider the end of the ages and the return of our Lord as a warning. Our Lord says: Take heed to yourselves.” He says: “Don’t get careless. Stay awake and watch. Abide in my Word!” We must not let sin drive a wedge between us and our lifeline – we must not let the “cares of this life” take precedence over being immersed in the Word of God. We are in the last days, brothers and sisters! When the time is expiring in a hockey game, the side that is behind pulls its goalie in a desperate attempt to stay alive. When a football team is down and the time is running out, the team runs quickly without a huddle. When a category 5 hurricane is bearing down on us, we do something extraordinary out of caution. We heed the warning!

Jesus is telling us to heed his warning. We must not get so bogged down by the “cares of this life” shopping for Christmas presents that we neglect the only eternal Christmas present! It is our Lord’s prayer that we be counted worthy to escape all these things and stand before the Son of man.

This word translated as “to be counted worthy” is not used often in Scripture. It’s used in Matthew 16 when Jesus says that the gates of hell will not prevail against his Church. And notice the context: this is right after Peter confesses Jesus to be the Christ, and right before Jesus entrusts him with the office of the keys.

You, dear friends, are counted worthy – for you confess Jesus as the Son of God, as your Redeemer, and your confession, your faith is nourished by the office of the keys – the pastors of the Church. You are indeed counted worthy when you remain in his Word, when that Word is preached to you, when that Word is pronounced over you in absolution, when that Word is added to water and poured on you, and when that Word is given to you to eat and drink.

The Lord’s Word endures forever! Take heed, and remain in his Word, for that Word in Scripture is indeed for patience and comfort and hope. By that Word we are of one mind and one mouth as we confess that Word. By that Word we receive each other, and we too are received into the Kingdom. By that Word we Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

So hold your heads up, dear brothers and sisters! “Now... now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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

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