"And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN A CLOUD with power and great glory. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
And He told them a parable: "Behold the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near. Even so you, too, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. Be on guard, that your hearts may not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. But keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."
Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent 12/10/23
Watch and Pray
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Something is coming. Advent means "coming". The message about coming can become old and tired in our minds, if we are not careful, just like living deliberately in the light of your faith can get old pretty quick. That's part of the challenge of the life of faith, patiently enduring and continuing in well-doing, continuing to do what is fitting for the child of God, and maintaining our focus in a world that doesn't want to hear it, does not share our values or our hopes, and which does nothing to help us keep faithful, but rather tries to subvert our faithfulness and seduce us away from Christ.
Advent means "coming". We talk about it so often to reinforce the steadfastness of faith. We all think we know what is coming. Many of us have been Christians for many years and have heard the sermons. Jesus is coming! Heaven is coming! Something wonderful is coming!
Well, all of that is true. Still, there is something about the way that it is presented to us in the Bible that suggests that it is not all happy-faced and delightful. For the child of God on that day, it will be glorious! The experience of life as we slowly approach that day, however, will not seem or feel so glorious. I suspect that it will be somewhat different than we expect not because we haven't been told what to expect, but because we don't always take God at His Word, and we sometimes imagine that what God is doing will be done the way we would do it. But God always does things His way.
With that thought in mind, I read the words of our Lord, and my attention is drawn to the warnings, "Keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man." This morning I want to look at what Jesus said in our text and talk about this admonition. Our theme is Watch and pray
The last day is coming. I wish I could give you the date, but God refuses to reveal that. He even warns us against trying to predict it too closely. He simply tells us that it is going to come and that when it comes it will be awesome! Before the day arrives, there will be certain signs that it is about to arrive. There will be signs in the sun and the moon and the stars. They may be the sort of things that only astronomers or astrologers would pay attention to, or they may be singularly catastrophic events. The text doesn't say, but it seems to suggest something widely seen and widely frightening.
Then there are the signs on earth. "Dismay among nations." That one is hard to fix since there seems to be dismay most of the time. The ongoing war on terrorism might be what the text is speaking about, or not. The dismay seems to be connected to natural events as well as world events. "and upon the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken." This could speak of natural catastrophes, like hurricanes and floods and droughts and such. We seem to be having a lot of those - and the doomsayers are all busy telling us how it means deprivation and death to us.
This prophecy might be talking about the world's anxiety over the environment. Some scientists are making frequent statements about global warming and how it will make life so difficult and different. There is still no hard scientific evidence for global warming, but it is the current buzzword, and there are movies about environmental catastrophes caused by our careless use of fossil fuels and such. The world elite are trying to change our lives like telling us we cannot continue to eat meat. People are being herded towards fear by the gloom and doom predictions -- at least men and women who don't trust God. Many people could be described as "fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world."
Then again, it could be something much bigger, since it says that "the powers of the heavens will be shaken." This could be speaking about something catastrophic coming from the skies - like that asteroid they keep promising us - you know, like the one that killed off the dinosaurs! On the other hand, it could mean that the very fabric of the universe will appear to begin to unravel. The scene painted here is terrible and frightening and not something to be ignored. These signs political, natural, environmental, and cosmic are the heralds of Jesus' final return. The problem is, that they are so ambiguous that they could apply to the world today, or centuries ago, or maybe they still await their final fulfillment. We just don't know. And, by the way, that is just the way God wants it. But those days will be terrible, and wonderful, and frightening to live in! That is in part why we have to watch and pray.
When those signs appear we are to "stand up straight, and lift up your heads, for your redemption is drawing near!" Those who are crushed by fear stoop over, curl up, and hide. But our response to these signs is to know what is happening and to stand without fear and instead of fear, to look towards the heavens, as the place of God's appearing, and expect our Lord Jesus to come and rescue us! In other words, we are not to be frightened, but to trust God. We are to show by our demeanor that we have faith in God. And, we are not to hide, but to bear the good news of God and of our salvation to those who are being crushed and destroyed by the fears and the troubles of these end-time days! Those people - our friends and neighbors, and perhaps even our own families - are our mission field!
Then Jesus told a parable. It was the natural course of Spring as it brings the trees to leaf. If Jesus lived in Minnesota, He might have had the parable of the Lilacs and the Rhubarb. When they are popping open or popping up, we know Summer is just around the corner. In precisely the same way, we are to know what to make of the terrible fears of mankind, the political, the military, the natural disasters, and the environmental worries. We are not to get wrapped up in them or terrified by them, but to understand that they are the signs of the coming of the end. They are, in a manner of speaking, the evangelism program of God. The world gets frightened, and we don't, and the difference is so painfully obvious that they will want to know why we are different and then, we get to do what Peter counsels in His first epistle, "but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence."
And when Jesus finished the parable, He promised that the signs would be evident and obvious before the first generation of Christians passed away. In other words, this state of expectation and anticipation and persistent and bold faith and witness is to be the ordinary condition of the Christian Church. And how much more now than two millennia ago? Remember last week's epistle? "For now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed." That means, of course, closer now than when we first believed -- and much closer to us now than when the first Christians first believed!
Today the Christian Church, so-called, is pretty comfortable. Very few actually expect Jesus to return at any moment now. We have the time, according to our expectations, to make plans a year or more in advance, without ever thinking to add, even in our private thoughts, "God willing". Christians in many congregations today think they have so much time and such security in this world that they can fight with one another contrary to the command of Jesus to love one another. That is what our Epistle lesson spoke against, "Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus; that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God." Some people feel such a lack of urgency about faith and salvation that they can set aside the Word of God whenever it is inconvenient, when it accuses us of sin, or it makes us uncomfortable. We can treat worship, communion, and Bible Study as optional activities for those weeks when we have something else we prefer to do. Face it, most Christians today do not really expect Jesus to appear in the skies and to end the world at least not during their lifetime.
Jesus knew that this was going to happen. That is why He said, "Be on guard, that your hearts may not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. But keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."
The simple truth is that what has happened throughout the modern world is that Christians have been weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life.' Dissipation is wasting your life on things of no significance or value.
Another distraction for many Christians is the "worries of life". That weighs many of us down. We worry about all sorts of things: the next paycheck, or the weather, or terrorists, or we worry about our health. Life is every day, and dangers, threats, worries, and fears are always clamoring for our attention.
Which ones have your attention?
Jesus tells us to be on guard against just such things. They are just as natural as can be. One or another of them is impossible to avoid. So how can you keep that sense of expectation, and not give in to the worries and temptations of life? By being on guard, and "on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place and to stand before the Son of Man." You do it by vigilance, and prayer, constant, regular, fervent prayer. You do it by knowing that these temptations are coming and that you have no strength in yourself to withstand them, and so you call on God and then you trust in Him to bring you through.
Jesus tells us that these days are coming and that they will come upon everyone who lives on this planet. The temptation is to surrender your expectation that these days will come soon and to get busy living like everyone else in this world. That is why you are called to watch and pray.
The battle for your salvation has already been fought. Jesus fought it on the cross and rose from the grave to declare victory. Your sins have been forgiven! Jesus has poured out on you the gift of everlasting life and resurrection from your grave if the world does not end before your body goes to the grave. He poured those gifts out on you in your Baptism, and He feeds you with the Medicine of Immortality each week in this blessed Sacrament of His body and blood. Jesus said, in Matthew 24, "But the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved."
The one thing we want to be sure to do, is to stand firm, that is, to be faithful. We want to straighten up and lift up our heads and confidently expect the Lord. We want to do what Jesus has instructed us to do so that He may accomplish through us all that He has planned. Mostly, we want to believe, because "he that believes and is baptized shall be saved." Losing our sense of expectation is a form of unbelief and the beginning of the total collapse of the faith. So, as Jesus said, Watch and pray.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
Sunday, December 10, 2023
Watch and Pray