Sunday, December 09, 2007

Sermon: Advent 2 (Populus Zion)

9 December 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 21:25-36

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

In the midst of Bing Crosby on the radio, Frosty and Rudolph on the TV, and all the usual debates over store policies about clerks saying “Merry Christmas” – the Church gives us a reading that comes right out of the Twilight Zone or War of the Worlds.

Instead of giving us a lot of nice guy theology, or some seven steps to be a better (and presumably a richer) person, or even a warm and fuzzy reminder to eat healthy, be nice to animals, and conserve gasoline - Jesus is talking about international calamity, cosmic disruptions, universal fear and panic, and the end of the world.

Furthermore, the Church has the audacity to call this reading “the Gospel” – the Good News. As if any of us really want to hear such tidings which sound anything but good.

For Jesus is telling us that no matter how bad things seem in the world, they will get worse. We will see further climactic disruption with wind and waves, as well as strange happenings with the heavenly bodies (over which we have no control), and many will lose hope. It is just then, our Lord tells us, that we should “lift up [our] heads.” For that’s when our “redemption draws near.”

Indeed, to anyone who watches the news, reads the papers, or surfs the internet, it seems that the world has gone mad. That which is good and honorable is called evil. That which is wicked and vile is called good. Things that would have been unthinkable 20, 10, or even 5 years ago, now happen and are accepted as normal.

The Boy Scouts are considered evil. The Boy Scouts, for crying out loud. An organization that trains young men to: be prepared, to perform good works, to strengthen mind and body, and to be patriotic and upstanding. The Boy Scouts are treated by our society as though they are the Hitler Youth for no other reason than that they take a stand on the existence of God and that they protect young boys, our sons, our grandsons, our brothers and nephews – from potential sexual predators. And their attackers are considered somehow noble.

In Scandinavia, pastors and laypeople alike are now subjected to criminal trials – criminal trials – for refusing to take communion from, or serve communion with, a woman “pastor.” We’re not even talking about impeding the woman “pastor” in any way – but simply refusing to work with her and simply not wanting to hear her preach is now a criminal offense.

A kindhearted British school teacher, a lady who gave unselfishly of her time and talents to help the poor of all faiths in Sudan, who unknowingly offended the Muslim religion over the name of a teddy bear, was imprisoned amid calls for her execution. Under international scrutiny, she was pardoned and released, but without international pressure, she was facing a year in prison and 50 lashes – over a teddy bear.

Sunday night cartoons on FOX-TV aired in prime time feature subject matter, language, and depictions that would have, without exaggeration, gotten an X-rating only a few years ago. Even Christian parents seem resigned to the fact that their children are going to be bombarded with explicit sex, graphic violence, and a gratuitous denial of the truths of Christianity.

But get ready, dear friends, it will get worse. We’ve moved beyond abortion on demand right to experimenting with fetal human beings by blending their genes with the genes of animals. Governments around the world – including our own – are becoming more and more authoritarian and intolerant of dissent – even dissent made in the name of conscience or religion. All over the world, parental rights are being chipped away in the name of some secular, atheistic agenda of a Utopian common good.

But our Lord warns us that no matter how bad things get – and they will get worse almost beyond our ability to bear it – the Lord of Creation is still the Lord of Creation. “Look up and lift your heads,” He implores us, “because your redemption draws near.”

As the universe continues on its path of decay and degeneration put into motion after the fall in Eden, the manifestations of that decay are to us like buds in the spring. They are signs that the long night of winter is almost over. In response to these terrible signs of which our Lord speaks that will fill the world with terror and panic – “men’s hearts failing them from fear” – we are to hold our heads high, maybe even dare to smile and sing joyful hymns to God’s glory – as many of the martyrs did while being tortured to death in the arena or at the stake.

These signs are, to us who believe, indications that “the kingdom of God is near.” For even “heaven and earth will pass away,” as the old creation, flawed by our sin, will be destroyed and recreated anew – but listen to this comfort from our Blessed Lord: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”

As the Lord assures us elsewhere: “The Word of the Lord remains forever.”

The Word of the Lord, through whom all things were made, who speaks words of comfort and assurance to us, that Word and the words He speaks, will outlast any and all things, and will never prove false, or fail us.

For that Word assures us that He will never forsake or leave us. “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” For we are His sheep, and nothing will snatch us from His hand.

These are great words of comfort imbedded in a great warning. Though warnings are not always pleasant to hear, warnings are acts of mercy. For we are being warned so we will not be surprised and caught unaware. We are also warned not to lose heart and cave in to the temptation of the devil. “Take heed to yourselves” our Lord warns, “lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly.”

For there are two very real versions of this trap, this “snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.” We Christians may look at the decaying world around us and despair. We may think that God has forgotten us. We may question His strength to act in the face of evil. We may question His integrity in allowing evil such free reign. We may even doubt His existence at all. The degradation of the universe may shock us out of our belief – even though Scripture has made it clear that this is the fate of a universe in disarray with a chaos-loving Satan wreaking havoc. This is why our Lord warns us. We should not be surprised. In fact, we should be encouraged that the forces of evil are becoming more and more desperate as their time draws short.

There is another trap waiting for us if we don’t heed our Lord’s warnings. We may be so wrapped up in the decaying culture that we forget our Lord’s warning that we are to be “in” the world without being “of” the world. We may convince ourselves that being baptized, we are simply free to live as the unbelievers, indulging in the same sins, the same decadence, the same indifference to the holy things, the same chasing after material things, and engaging in the same rebellion against God’s created order by embracing feminist ideas about democracy in the family and in the vocation of man and woman. We Lutherans especially tend to think that, being baptized, we are free to wallow in the mud on Saturday since we will be absolved anonymously on Sunday.

But our Lord is warning us, dear children of God, against such arrogance. “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Truly, the Lord Himself makes us worthy. He forgives us. He baptizes us. He nourishes us with His body and blood. But if we shun him, if we join the world’s rebellion against Him, if we despair because of what we see with our eyes instead of lifting up our heads because of what we see with the eyes of faith – we will ourselves relinquish our worthiness.

And so, dear friends, this is good news indeed. Our Lord is warning us while there is still time. Repent! Believe! Take heart! No matter how great the evil is around you, the Lord’s purity is greater. No matter how powerful the forces of darkness may seem, the Light of the World banishes the darkness forever. No matter how much your flesh may seek the decaying pleasures of this world, the flesh and blood of the Son of Man, given and shed for you, makes your body a temple of the Holy Spirit and gives you strength in times of weakness – even when it seems that the sky is falling and the world is ending.

Just as we, the “Populus Zion”, the “people of Zion” prepare to celebrate anew the annual festival of our Lord’s Holy Incarnation, we must never forget that we also prepare for the celebration of our Lord’s coming again in glory, to destroy the legacy of sin and decay, and replace it with eternal life and paradise. No matter how tempted we may be to give up – our Lord encourages us with the Good News, the Gospel, the joyful hope and expectation that just as the Son of Man came to us meek and mild at Bethlehem, the great day of our redemption draws near when we will “see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

1 comment:

Pastor Beisel said...

I don't know how you do it Fr. Beane, but you hit another homer. Great blending of Law, Gospel, comfort, warning, admonition, promise, etc. I should never read your sermons Sunday morning, because they always make me want to toss mine in the dump.