Sunday, December 07, 2008

Sermon: Advent 2 (Populus Zion)

7 December 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 21:25-36 (Mal 4:1-6, Rom 15:4-13)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

“And 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; men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

At first glance, these are hardly comforting words. But when we consider the state of the world, the fact that we are poor miserable sinners living in a culture of death, surrounded on every side by the enemies of the cross – both within and without – we absolutely can take comfort. For in spite of all of this, we confess a Savior who is coming back – not to condemn us, but to rescue us. For listen to the rest of the passage: “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

Jesus did not come, does not come, and will not come – to condemn the world, but to save it. He does not come to abuse His bride, but to rescue her. He does not take on flesh to destroy us, but to save us. And when we see these horrific signs – distressing things in the sky and heart-rending situations here in earth – it is precisely then that our Lord tells us not to lose hope, but to “look up and lift up your heads” because our “redemption” – not our condemnation – is drawing near.

Our Blessed Lord is frank with us about how terrible this world will become before His second Advent – not to frighten us, but to steady us. For when it gets bad for the world, it is getting better for us – since it means the lifeboat is all the closer. We should not be shocked at anything we see in this world presided over by the prince of darkness. In fact, we Christians should be so jaded as to the depravity of the devil that anything we witness in this life ought to be par for the course. What should we expect – that Satan has some sense of decency? But as bad as it gets, we have a promise. No matter how arrogant and brazen the devil becomes in his temporary reign of chaos, we know the end of the story, that the Satanic chaos will end and that the divine paradise will replace it.

There is enormous comfort in this. The Bible was not written to leave us bereft of hope. To the contrary, listen to St. Paul’s exhortation: “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” The Word of God is a beam of light shining in a veritably dark and dismal world. It is truly a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, a ray of glory to guide us through the dreary midnight of the soul – and this Holy Word is here for us whenever we need it.

For we don’t worship a God who wants to terrify us and take away our hope. The false god of hopelessness is just a deception of the evil one. But the One who crushed the evil one’s head is none other than the Crucified One. And it is in this season in which we ponder not only the Lord’s first Advent when He took infant flesh “for us men and our salvation”, but also His future Advent, when He will come in His glory to bring us with Him to the right hand of the Father. He is coming again not to betray His bride, but to protect her, love her, and draw her to Himself for all eternity. Hear the words of the Holy Apostle: “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.”

In receiving the Holy Spirit, we receive strength to endure all trials, sufferings, and crosses. Every evil that we have had to endure has been borne by our fathers and mothers in the faith before us. Every physical ache, every spiritual pain, every regret, every agony of body and soul, every sin we have committed and every sin carried out against us has plagued our ancestors in the faith before us. And it is only by grace that the Holy Spirit sustained our forbears – be it through torture in the arena or tied to the stake, through a hostile world and an evil culture, through their own sins and lack of faith, through sickness and even death, through doubt and fear, through stress and anxiety, and through every craft and assault of the evil one. The Holy Spirit has comforted, strengthened, and sustained the Church through the centuries by the same simple means: the Holy Word of God preached and taught, Holy Baptism administered in the name of the Triune God, Holy Absolution pronounced by called and ordained servants in an unbroken chain back to the apostles, and in the very salvation that we can taste and see in the eating and drinking of the Holy Supper – all given to us to fortify our faith and to purge away our sins, to bring us into communion with our Heavenly Father through the reconciling ministry of His Holy Son – all given to us through the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit.

We can indeed take great comfort knowing that our trials and temptations have all been experienced before, and our Lord is there carrying our cross, bearing our sins, and dying our death in order that we might be liberated from the burden of God’s wrath, from the deserved punishment for our transgressions, and ultimately, so that we might enjoy life, abundant life, never-ending life, life as it was always meant to be.

In this light, nothing has the power to separate us from God’s love. When we fall, He is there to lift us. When we stumble, He is there to right us. When we wander, He is there to retrieve us. When we die, He is there to raise us.

And the Lord Jesus, in His mercy, warns us to be watchful and vigilant in these last days: “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 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.”

Unrepentant and willful drunkenness and carousing and being weighed down with the cares of this life are all signs of those who have lost hope. When a person has no belief in our Lord and no faith in His coming, there is no reason for him to “take heed to himself” at all.

“Watch therefore, and pray,” says our Lord. This is what we are doing, dear friends. Even if you don’t feel very watchful or very prayerful, this is why we’re surrounded with God’s Word and why we avail ourselves of His Sacrament! This is what it means to be watchful and prayerful: soberly keeping this life in perspective and praying that the Lord’s name may be kept holy – even when our own strength is far from sufficient. For it is in those times that we learn best that the Lord’s grace is sufficient for us.

And so here we are, dear brothers and sisters, watching and praying, waiting and hearing the Word of God, listening to the Lord forgiving us our sins, and entering into a mystical communion with Him through His body and blood.

Let us continue to keep vigil – even when the world falls deeper into depravity. Let us continue to pray – even when prayer seems to be the only thing we have the power to do at all. Let us not allow the devil to rob us of hope, tempting us into drunkenness and depravity, into treating His Word with contempt and spurning His grace or taking His mercy for granted.

Advent gives us yet another opportunity to confess our sins, to recommit to the Christian life, to live daily in baptism, to be called back to repentance, to place our trust in our Heavenly Father and not in our own wealth or works, not based on our own feelings are desires, and not rooted in our own strength or ideas. Advent is yet another reminder that we are not in control. And far from being a burden, this is a great comfort – for it just means that God is in control.

And lest this terrify us, let us remember that our God is gracious and merciful, that He took flesh to save us, not to condemn us, and that He not only lay in the manger, but hung in the cross – to pay for our sins. And death itself no more held Him than it will hold us. We have His promise on this, and His pledge – not only in the resurrection, but in the communion we share with Him in His body and blood.

Take heart, dear redeemed and beloved of the Lord! For hear anew the ancient prophecy that is yet to be brought to fruition for all who cry “Lord have mercy”, for all of us who continue to struggle in this life and flesh:

“But to you who fear My name
The Sun of Righteousness shall arise
With healing in His wings.”


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

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