Sunday, December 04, 2011

Sermon: Populus Zion (Advent 2) – 2011

4 December 2011 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.

“But watch yourselves,” warns our Blessed Lord, “lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.”

Warnings are given for a reason.  Often when we are children, our parents warn us of bad things that will happen if we continue to do something we shouldn’t.  And when the bad thing happens, we regret that we didn’t listen.  And it seems as if adults don’t learn this lesson any more than their children.  In fact, things have been this way since the Fall in Eden, and it is part of our broken human condition that is passed from mothers and fathers to their children – and will continue until the Lord returns.

Many people will indeed continue to ignore the Lord’s warnings.  Many will scoff at them.  Many will ignore them.  For our sinful flesh wants to do what we want to do, and does not want correction and warnings – not even from, and maybe even especially not from – Jesus.  We want Jesus to simply tell us how great we are no matter what we do.  We want Jesus (and His preachers) to inflate our egos.

But notice that Jesus doesn’t do this!  He says instead: “Watch yourselves….  Stay awake at all times, praying.”  He warns us that things in this fallen world will continue to decay and degrade, things will get worse and worse until He returns.  So hang in there!  “For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.”  “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

The Lord is telling us something very important, dear brothers and sisters!  He is telling us something that will make an eternal difference in our lives, in the lives of our children, in the lives of our families, friends, co-workers, and in the lives of all people on the entire globe. 

And every person in this church must listen to our Lord’s warning: “Watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.”

All the things we think that are so important in this life are not, dear friends.  They are not important!  We are so laden down with hobbies and clubs and sports and shopping and eating and partying and gadgets and material greed that Jesus is lucky to get anything more than a cursory prayer from any of us on any given day.  Jesus is warning us to change what we are doing.  God’s Word must not simply become a priority, dear friends, it is the priority.  If it isn’t for us, that is our fault.  And it needs to change.  Jesus warns us that prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are a natural and normal part of Christian life.  How many of us spend too much on ourselves and not enough on our church?  How many of us ever give up food, or TV, or sports, or anything we think is so important, and instead devote that time to the Scriptures or to prayer or to doing good works and to reaching out to our neighbors in the name of the Lord?  How many of us pray – I mean really pray – on a daily basis.

And if we think this warning doesn’t apply to us, Jesus is warning us not to go there.  We know in our heart of hearts that we need to repent – not just talk about it, but to do it.  And if we don’t, we truly have no hope at all.

Jesus is warning us to “stay awake” and “watch yourselves.”  Jesus does not tell us to shrug and say that we’re only human, or that we believe in God, or that we’re good people, or that we’re baptized, or that we belong to the visible church on earth that has the perfect doctrine, or that we made our communion under this pastor or at that congregation, or that we read the Bible sometimes.  He doesn’t care how well we memorized the catechism years ago or if our grandfather was a member of the Board of Elders.  He is warning us – we who sit in these pews and in this chancel – to change what we are doing, to turn to Him, and to stop allowing the “cares of this life” to choke out the seed of God’s Word.

The last of the Old Testament prophetic books also warns us, right here and right now – us, not someone else: “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, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” 

These are not just hollow words, dear friends, these are God’s words, the Lord’s warning, a plea from God Himself to His beloved people to wake up, to repent, and to get things straight.  Enough with the drunkenness with the things of this fallen world, the dissipation in false gods, and the priority we give to the “cares of this life” over and against God’s kingdom.  Now is the time to heed the warning.  Now!  Not tomorrow or next week.  Not as a New Year’s resolution.  Not as a long-term goal.  Any one of us may die at any time.  The Lord may return at any time.  Time is not an endless commodity.  Now is the time!

Now is indeed a time of good news, dear friends.  Warnings are good news to those who need to be warned, and warnings are made to be heard and heeded.  And the Lord promises to save and protect those who hear these warnings and take them to heart.  For He died on the cross as a sacrifice for all of our sins.  He has truly bridged the gap between righteous God and sinful Man.  He has paid the price for every sin of every person.  He offers Himself as a sacrifice and offers salvation as a free gift to all.  No sin is too great to be repented of and forgiven – except the sin of refusing to repent itself.  Jesus offers this warning and His glorious promise to every individual who has ever lived and ever will live.  Time is not an endless commodity, dear brothers and sisters, but you do have time.  And that time is now!  Now is the time to get onboard the ark and be rescued.

For as the Lord promises through the prophet: “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.”  The Lord promises to send a new preacher, a new Elijah who “will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.”  Even the brokenness of families will be healed when eyes are turned to the Lord and there is repentance!

These warnings are for our good, because the Lord loves us, because He truly wants us to join Him in eternity.  As He spoke through St. Paul: “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

We have hope because the Lord calls us to a life of hope, a life of eternal fullness rather than a life of obsession over money and things and sports and activities and the acceptance of friends and the keeping up with the Joneses and getting the latest gadgets.  All of these things leave us empty.  And hell is the ultimate emptiness of all.  Only Christ gives us hope.  Christ alone!  As the apostle says: “The Root of Jesse will come, even He who arises to rule the Gentiles; in Him will the Gentiles hope.”

The Lord doesn’t issue these warnings to drive us to despair, but rather to lead us to hope.  And in that hope, He also gives us forgiveness, peace, joy, contentment, a proper set of priorities, love (given and received), victory (over sin, death, and the devil), and everlasting life (now and in eternity)!  Nothing in this worldly life that commands so much of our time and attention can come close to this, dear friends.  And any happiness we have because of worldly things or pursuits is only a shallow emotion that passes.  Only in Christ is enough truly “enough” – because in Christ we have all things!  In Christ we have something that can never be taken away or wear out.  We have hope and eternal life in His Word.  For as our Lord says: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” 

“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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