Sunday, December 2, 2018

Sermon -- 1st Sunday of Advent (December 2, 2018)

LUKE 21:25-36

KEEP WATCH; FOR YOUR 
REDEMPTION IS NEAR!

In the name + of Jesus.

     The Lord gives some specific instruction about the end of the world and what we can expect.  It is unnerving.  Basically, the creation will unravel and become unglued.  Jesus tells us that this will be more than a severe hurricane season or tsunami that follows an undersea earthquake.  This will be something that affects the entire world.  And all the people in the world will be in terror and panic because of it.  They won't know what is going on or why.  No doubt, there will be plans to fix it, but it will not work.  As the creation dies, the nations will be “fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.” (Luke 21:26) 
     This could also produce fear and panic in us as well.  This world is the only home we've known, and to see it fall apart—literally—would be disturbing.  But there is a great difference between you and the rest of the world.  You know it is coming, you know why it is coming, and you know what will come with it. 
     Jesus tells you, “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth...” (Matthew 21:25)  For many people, it will look like utter chaos.  But Jesus has foretold you so that you will know better.  These are signs.  They proclaim that the Lord's return is imminent.  But while many will be doubled over in fear, Jesus urges you: “When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28)  You know it is coming, you know why it is coming, and you know what will come with it.  Keep watch; for your redemption is near!
     Jesus tells you what is to come on the earth so that you will not be surprised when it comes, and so that you will prepare for the Last Day.  But it is more.  These signs show us that Jesus will come to deliver us from this sinful, broken world forever.  As these things are happening, all “will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” (Luke 21:27)  He will come again to judge the living and the dead.  And just as you need not fear the world falling apart, so you need not fear Jesus coming to judge; for, he has already delivered your judgment.
     Jesus came to earth long ago to rescue you from the horrors of death and judgment.  To rescue you from the power of death, Jesus went into death for you.  To rescue you from the curse of judgment and the fear of damnation, Jesus was damned at the cross for you.  The fear of death is that we don't know what is coming.  But you do—you are delivered from this world of sin to the joyful presence of the Lord.  You are taken from sorrow and stress to the peace and rest of heaven.  The fear of Judgment Day is the terror of being banished to hell fire because you have not been good enough.  And you and I know we have not been.  But Jesus has taken all guilt from you.  Jesus has cleansed you of sin in your baptism, continues to declare you forgiven through holy absolution, and feeds you his body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.  So, if you fear the judgment, then flee to holy absolution to hear your Savior's verdict again: “I forgive you.”  Flee to this altar to receive the body and blood which have paid for sin and conquered death.  Your redemption is very near—for it comes through these things.  And it puts an end to all fear, terror, and doubt. 
     This is why the Christian Church repeats the final prayer of the Bible over and over again: “Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20)  While the thoughts of the end of the world may be unnerving with all of the chaos of creation falling apart, you need not fear it.  For, you know it is coming, you know why it is coming, and you know what will come with it.  Yes, the world will come to an end, but that also means all of your troubles come to an end with it.  So keep watch; for your redemption is near. 
     The prayer of the Church is always that Jesus comes again to bring us to the heavenly home he prepares for us.  And it is essential that we devote ourselves to prayer and watchfulness.  Jesus urges us twice in this reading to be alert: “Watch yourselves.  Stay awake.” (Luke 21:34,36)  Keep watch, “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.” (Luke 21:34)  There is always a temptation to grow disinterested in Jesus and his return.  After all, it has been almost 2,000 years since Jesus ascended into heaven.  Though he has promised to return, and though he issues the warnings to us in our Gospel, it is easy to dismiss them.  We hear the world mock, as St. Peter writes, “Scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.  They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming?  For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:4,5)  And we acknowledge, “You know, that's true.”  Nevertheless, Jesus urges, “Keep watch; for your redemption is near.”
     If you need further warning, consider the story of Lot.  He was Abraham's nephew who moved from the tents of a nomadic shepherd into the big city.  As with most big cities, Sodom would have been home to a lot of action—shopping, trade, entertainment, and so on.  Lot and his family settled in at Sodom and made themselves active members of their community.  But since Sodom was a wicked city, the Lord was going to destroy it with fire.  He sent angels to tell Lot to leave the city with his family.  Instead, Lot went to bed.  In the early morning, the angels told him to go and flee.  Lot dragged his feet.  Finally, the angels took him and his family by the hand and thrust them out of the city and told them, “Run.  Feel to the hills.  Do not look back.  If you do, you will perish with the city.”  Lot's wife grieved over what she was going to lose.  She had made herself at home there, and she considered it too great to lose the comforts she had grown to love.  So, she turned to see her beloved home, against the Lord's specific word.  She was turned into a pillar of salt and perished with the place and the life she loved.
     Take heed of the warning of Lot's wife.  Like her, you, too, have been warned of the coming destruction on the earth.  Like her, you, too, are urged not to love the world or to dedicate yourself to its comforts, pleasures, wealth, and so on.  We all invest a lot of time and energy in making a home here.  We can make ourselves very comfortable and invest in all kinds of luxuries.  We do not need to give ourselves over to immoral behavior to find ourselves unprepared for the Last Day.  All that is needed is the neglect of God's word and sacraments.  Lot's wife did not have to become a prostitute to perish; she only needed to ignore God's word.  So beware.  Keep watch.  Stay alert.  Watch yourselves, lest you insist that you are too busy to pray or to come to church to hear God's word and to receive the Lord's Supper.  For, if you love this world, you can make yourself very comfortable here, but you will also perish with it. 
     Keep watch; for the end is coming.  If you love this world, there is no worse news you can hear.  If, however, you recognize that the world is broken and corrupt, you will look forward to a new heaven and a new earth.  If you understand that everything—everything—in this world is temporary and fleeting, you will long for something permanent.  If you know and feel the guilt, the shame, and the frustration of being a sinner, you will long to be delivered from your sin forever, to be confirmed in holiness, and to take up residence in the home of righteousness.  If you know and feel in your body the aches, pains, sorrows, and frailty of your mortal condition, you will yearn for the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  And if you truly desire to have all of these blessings, then you will not only not fear the end of the world, you will pray for it.  And you will continue to flee to Jesus' word and sacraments where he will sustain you in the faith until he takes you to be with him.
     Keep watch.  For you know the end is coming.  You know why it is coming, and you know what will come with it.  Keep watch; for your redemption is near.  Jesus shall come back to take you to be with him where he is.  The world will end, and so will all of the problems in it.  But you shall live with Jesus forever.  Jesus assures you: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Luke 21:33)  And just as the word of the Lord endures forever, so will those who hear it, believe it, and take refuge in it.

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