Readings: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25.1-10; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21: 25-36 (view all)
Something is coming. What is coming, according to our text, is the kingdom of God. And that kingdom actually came among us when Jesus came. He said so once. In John 11, “If I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
Each time Jesus said that the Kingdom of God was near, He was actually saying that it was among us – present with us now. And yet it is as one of my friends likes to describe it, “Already, not yet.”
There is something of the kingdom ahead of us yet. I think of what is yet to come as the fullness of the kingdom , or the full experience of the reality and presence of the kingdom – an experience which Scripture says will be initiated with the last day of earth and the entire creation, and the judgment day.
Advent means “coming”. The message about waiting for what is coming can become old and tired in our minds, just like living deliberately in the light of your faith can get pretty old pretty quick. That’s part of the challenge of the life of faith. This challenge is in patiently enduring and continuing in well-doing, that is to say, 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 instead tries to subvert our faithfulness and seduce us away from Christ.
The Church talks about what we think is coming as often as we do to re-enforce the steadfastness of faith. Jesus is coming! Heaven is coming! Something wonderful is coming! Hold on, be faithful, and wait.
Nevertheless, I suspect that that coming day 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 text and my attention is drawn to the warnings: ‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’
What is coming is wonderful at the last, but the way it will come, the wait for it, and the days that lead up to it will, in fact, require divine help and God-given strength. So, this morning I want to look at what Jesus said in our text, and talk about the admonition He gives.
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 signs that it is about to arrive. In Jesus’ own words, “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. “Distress among nations.” That one is hard to fix, since there seems to be a great deal of dismay among the nations most of the time. The ongoing war with terrorism might be what the text is speaking about, or not. The distress appears to be connected to natural events as well as world events. “and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is 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.
Today’s watch-word is “Global Warming.” We seem to hear a lot about that these days – and the doomsayers are all busy telling us how it means deprivation and death to us – and it is all caused by our use of the planet’s resources. Some think the science is shaky, and the consensus they talk about is not as broad or deep as they want you to think, but they say it is going to be bad for us, and we cannot afford to wait and see what the truth is – and so they want to herd us – stampede us – into following their agenda, whatever it might be.
And it is working on many of those around us. 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, the promised signs could be something much bigger, since Jesus said that “the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” This could be speaking about something catastrophic coming from the skies – like that killer asteroid scientists keep promising us, like the one that they assume forced the extinction of the dinosaurs!
Whatever it is, the scene painted by Jesus for us is terrible and frightening and not something that is easily ignored. These signs – political, natural, environmental, cosmic – are the heralds of Jesus’ final return. The difficulty we have interpreting these events is that the signs are so non-specific that they could be applied to the world today, or centuries ago, or they might still await their final fulfilment. We just don’t know.
When we see those signs – and I think we can all agree that we may very well be seeing some of them now – we are to “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
The normal reaction of those who are crushed by fear is to stoop over, and curl up, and hide. But our response, Jesus says, to these things is to know what is happening and to stand up straight, without fear — and instead of fear, to look towards the heavens, as the place of God’s appearing, and to confidently expect our Lord Jesus to come and rescue us! In other words, we are not to allow the world to frighten us with its fears and uncertainty, but to trust God. Instead of curling up, we are to show by our actions that we possess the public secret of what is really happening around us and the we have confidence 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 neighbours, and perhaps even our own families – are our mission field!
Today the Christian Church, so-called, is pretty comfortable in this world. Very few who call themselves ‘Christian’ actually expect Jesus to return at just any moment now. We have the time, according to our expectations, to make plans a year or more in advance, seemingly 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 quarrel with one another, and form parties in the church, and develop their own agendas for the church – all of which militates against the command of Jesus to love one another
Some people feel such a lack of urgency about faith and salvation that we can set aside the Word of God whenever it is inconvenient, or it accuses us of sin, or it makes us uncomfortable about the spiritual well-being of our children or other family members. We can make worship into what pleases our tastes, take or leave communion, and consider Bible Study an optional activity meant only for those who have nothing they prefer to do. We need to face it, be honest with ourselves, 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 so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.
Jesus tells us that these days are coming, and that they will come upon everyone who lives on this planet. The temptations will be to fold up in fear, panic into unbelief, or to surrender your expectation that the day of the Lord 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 the victory. Your sins have been forgiven! Jesus has poured out on you the gift of everlasting life . He poured those gifts out on you in your Baptism, and He feeds you with His body and blood each week in the blessed Sacrament for the strengthening of your faith, and to regularly cleanse you of your sins.”
The one thing we want to be sure to do, is to stand firm, that is, to be faithful. To do that we need to watch – and see in the world around us, particularly in the things that cause fear and trembling among men, the promised signals of our heavenly Father – intended to remind us of the truth and refocus us on the task at hand, and comfort us by showing His faithfulness – and the certainty of the end.
Mostly, we want to deliberately and consciously to trust God, because “he that believes and is baptized shall be saved.” And in order to accomplish all of that, we need to do as Jesus said, “watch and pray”.
give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light,
now in the time of this mortal life,
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day,
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.