Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sermon: Populus Zion (Advent 2)

6 December 2009 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.

There is an ancient Chinese military stratagem that reads: “Make a sound in the east, then strike in the west.” In other words, the element of surprise confuses the enemy and weakens his defenses.

God and Satan have been at war since the original rebellion of the angels, and this war escalated when the vile devil struck a blow against the pinnacle of the Lord’s creation, deceiving Adam and Eve and introducing chaos into the Lord’s universal order, injecting hatred into what was a perfect environment of love.

Of course, the enemy was not to have the final say. And the Creator Himself told the serpent that the Seed of the woman was to avenge the fall by crushing the serpent’s head. The Lord did not set a time or a place for this encounter, but He did send His Word through prophets, not only to prepare the people, but also as propaganda against the enemy.

The Lord indeed made a sound in the east and struck in the west. Through His holy prophets, He proclaimed that the Seed of the woman would come with mighty power, with signs in the heavens, with great wrath and fury, and He would show no mercy in destroying His foes. And while all the world was looking out for such a militant savior, a different kind of Messiah slipped into our world almost unnoticed. He came as an infant born of a poor woman, who was socially outcast by her pregnancy and whose husband would whisk her away for her Son to be born in unbelievably humble circumstances.

And yet, the prophet Malachi, four centuries before, had thundered: “Behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze… so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.”

And on the day that the Savior came, there were no burning ovens and evildoers being burned like stubble. On that day, the world continued as before, with very few people even noticing the miraculous birth of God in the flesh, of the Root of Jesse, of the one destined to slay the dragon with a single and yet eternal mortal blow.

The world was taken by surprise when God became a human baby. And the Lord would again make a sound in the east and strike in the west three decades later as the Root of Jesse, the Seed of the woman, the Lord of might, seemed to have been utterly defeated in humiliation and abandonment, dying as a condemned criminal on the cross. But the element of surprise came as the Lord Jesus Christ proclaiming victory, breathed His last, redeemed all of creation, defeated death by death, defeated the grave by entering the grave like a Trojan horse of life, by conquering hell itself by descending to hell, and rising again to eternal life as He “who arises to rule the Gentiles.”

And yet, the prophecy of Malachi and of the other preachers of the prophetic Word were not incorrect. For the day is indeed coming when He “shall set them ablaze.” There will indeed be “signs in sun and moon and stars and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity,” fear and foreboding will surely grip the earth and the “powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Our Lord, who outmaneuvered the devil, defeating him at the manger and again at the cross, is coming once again to fulfill these remaining prophecies, to carry out the final campaign to cleanse the universe of all remnants of sin and death. And this next time, He will not come as the “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” He will not be nailed to a cross and ridiculed. For lo, He is indeed coming “with clouds descending.”

Instead of a suffering servant, the entire world will see her King coming not in humility on a donkey, but rather commanding the very elements in almighty power and might:

Ev’ry eye shall now behold Him
Robed in glorious majesty;

Those who set at naught and sold Him,

Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,

Deeply wailing,

Shall their true Messiah see.

And so here we are at the end of yet another year of expectant waiting, beginning anew another annual cycle in anticipation of His coming. Our Lord promises that this sin-sickened world will continue to get worse. Depravity will deepen. Nature will degrade and decay. Entropy will escalate. Humanity will descend further into the spiral of godlessness and evil. Believers and unbelievers will become increasingly anxious as these signs increase. And even as we know summer is near because of the foliage of the trees, even as we watch the prophecies continue to unfold as time marches toward its inevitable and immutable conclusion, we “know that the kingdom of God is near.” And it can be a great source of worry, for our Lord Himself promises: “the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

But dear Christians, dearly beloved and redeemed of the Lord, our Blessed Redeemer Himself encourages us to “straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

We should see the coming of these increasingly perplexing signs as joyful landmarks on the way to our final destination of eternal and perfect joy! For listen to these words of comfort the prophet has in store for those who have been redeemed: “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet.”

And it is our Lord Jesus Himself who concludes His own prophecies about His future coming by encouraging us to pray for strength, for ultimately, the courage and mettle that we will need to stand fast “before the Son of man” will come from above. For He is coming not only to judge those who hate Him, but also to save those whom He has claimed as His own in love, by water, by the Spirit, and by His Word. For “Heaven and earth will pass away,” but His promise-bearing, universe-creating, and sin forgiving “words will not pass away.”

And at the Lord’s next and final advent, there will be no element of surprise, no “sound in the east” to create a diversion, no military strategy save the universal display of overwhelming force: “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Thus we are strengthened, even in times of persecution and horror, bidden to “straighten up and raise [our] heads, because [our] redemption is drawing near.”

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Amen.

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

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