Sermon for Populus Zion – Advent 2
Luke 21:25-36 + Malachi 4:1-6 + Romans 15:4-13
Populus Zion! People of Zion! Does Christmas ever sort of just sneak up on you? I mean, you know it’s coming at the same time every year, and yet suddenly, now it’s December and then December is almost over and you still have shopping and baking and decorating and cleaning and planning to do, and – how did a fixed date that never changes manage to catch you off guard? And yet, it does.
If the celebration of the First Coming of Christ at Christmas can catch you off guard, how much more his Second Coming, which isn’t found on any calendar? That’s why we have the season of Advent – so that neither Christmas and its significance nor Christ’s Second Coming and its significance should catch us off guard.
People of Zion – members of the Church of Christ – behold! Surely your salvation is coming! Last week’s Gospel saw Jesus, the King, coming to Jerusalem on Psalm Sunday to bring salvation to his people through his death on the cross. We considered, too, how Jesus keeps bringing salvation to his people in the Means of Grace – Word and Sacrament.
But in this season of Advent, God also has us looking forward to a future salvation, a final salvation at the end of time – a time that isn’t too far away anymore. That salvation isn’t a myth or a bedtime story. It’s really coming. It’s coming when Christ comes again. Advent points us to Christ’s Second Coming at the end of the age. “Lo, he comes with clouds descending.”
He tells his disciples that in today’s Gospel. Look! Your salvation is coming! Look around at the signs! Look up when you see him coming! Look out that you don’t fall asleep while you wait!
LOOK AROUND AT THE SIGNS!
“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”
Look around at the signs in nature! They tell you that your salvation is coming. What is Jesus talking about here? Natural phenomena in nature like solar and lunar eclipses and meteor showers and storms at sea? Or miraculous events like the actual sun, moon and stars falling out of the sky? The answer is, “Yes!” On the day when Jesus returns, this present universe will be rolled up like a scroll. But until then, every solar, lunar and stellar event, every storm at sea, every hurricane, every tsunami, every earthquake is meant to be a sign – a very specific sign that signals a very specific event: Jesus is coming! Just like new leaves on the trees signal the coming of summer, so the upheaval of nature signals the coming of Christ, and God wants his waiting people, the People of Zion, to understand and to know what it means. Look around and see! Your salvation really is coming! Remember! Believe it!
But the world will never understand or see it that way. The world will not believe the signs until it’s too late. When the unbelieving world sees nature doing crazy things, people get scared and confused. They come up with wild explanations and scary, scientific theories. Aliens are coming! A super volcano is coming! A super earthquake is coming! Climate change is coming! A magnetic pole reversal! A terrorist attack! A nuclear holocaust!
The people of the world look around at nature’s upheaval and are ready to believe that anything and everything is coming – except for what is really coming – The Son of Man coming in the clouds with power and great glory. No, no! Not that! It can’t be that!
“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire.” You know what people have to be afraid of on that day? Justice. Justice. Because “at that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory,” and he will come with justice. And all people will finally, finally have to answer for everything they’ve ever thought, said or done – for every harsh word spoken, for every infraction of God’s commandments, for every sexual sin, for every joke at the expense of Christ or his people, for every bitter attack against the Church. People will be judged by their deeds, and not a single human being will escape condemnation who is judged by his or her deeds, because they will all be found wanting, deficient, worthy of condemnation.
That’s why the Word of God calls out to the world so urgently, “Repent! Repent of everything! Repent of your entire record of behavior and be judged by Christ’s record instead, by his deeds, by his righteousness! Trust that his condemnation on the cross sets you free from condemnation when the Son of Man comes in the clouds.” Faith in Christ means that you don’t wish to be judged by your deeds or condemned for your sins. It means you recognize that your judge is your Savior. Look! Your salvation is coming!
And when you see the signs, and especially when you finally see the Son of Man coming in the clouds – if you’re alive on the earth at that time – you don’t have to run. You don’t have to hide. You don’t have to scramble with the unbelieving world to look for shelter, because He who is your Shelter is coming in the clouds. Stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
Look! Your salvation is coming! Look up! Jesus’ Second Advent won’t bring any destruction or condemnation for those who are found waiting for him. You don’t have to wonder if your sins have been washed away. You have been baptized into Christ, after all. You have his Means of Grace now. Look for Jesus there! He comes to you there with free and full salvation! You’re baptized and forgiven now. You’re alive in Christ by faith now. You’re in God’s kingdom now.
And so we eagerly await Christ’s coming in the clouds, because for us who believe in him, it means final redemption. It means the end of every single one of our enemies – no more sin. No more temptation. No more death. No more devil to pursue us. No more being the victims of the world’s persecution. It means the beginning of the great Wedding Banquet for Christ and his Bride, Zion, the Church.
But in the meantime, while you look around and see the signs, while you get ready to look up and welcome the Bridegroom who comes in the clouds, Jesus also warns you to look out. “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.”
Jesus knows that waiting isn’t easy. He knows that his Church is in danger every moment until he comes in the clouds, because, for as eager as you may be on Sunday morning for him to return, by the time Sunday afternoon rolls around – not to mention Monday through Saturday – you’ve got all sorts of worldly matters competing for your attention.
Jesus mentions being weighed down with dissipation – basically, a hangover, and drunkenness, and the anxieties of life. You’re not looking for your coming salvation if you’re in a drunken stupor. You’re not looking for your coming salvation if your head keeps pounding with reminders of last night’s party. You’re not looking for your coming salvation if your heart is wrapped up in the things of this life.
Look out, Jesus says, be careful! Because when your hearts are weighed down to this earth, then repentance and faith float away. Then you’re so distracted that you can’t hear him calling out to you in the gospel. Then Christ is shoved to the backburner of your heart, and that is dangerous. That is deadly.
Ever have one of those moments when you were doing something, saying something, dwelling on something that you knew you shouldn’t be – maybe even thought to yourself, “I sure hope Jesus doesn’t come back right now”? In his grace, he didn’t. He gave you the opportunity to be convicted of your sin and forgiven of it. But if you tempt him – “Oh, I can get away with this. He won’t come back yet. What are the odds?” Then you’ll have only yourself to blame when he comes like a thief and judgment sneaks up on you, as it will sneak up on the unbelieving world. The real tragedy is, the unbelieving world never knew or believed he was coming. But you, Christian, you do know and believe he is coming. Why would you live a life unprepared?
Understand, God is not playing games with you. He isn’t just waiting for you to get distracted and then, snap!, the trap goes shut. He isn’t playing games with you. But don’t you play games with him, either. You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.
Instead, “Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” Be always on the watch. Or another way to translate it, “Stay awake!” Look out that you don’t slip into spiritual sleep. Look out, so that in every moment of every day, you’re expecting your Savior’s return. Even while you tend to the daily chores you have to tend to, do it with one eye on the chore and one eye on the sky, as it were.
If you know that heaven and earth will pass away but the words of Jesus will never pass away, then you’ll hear his words regularly – in preaching, in teaching, in the Lord’s Supper. These are the things that will never pass away. Look out for the things that do pass away.
And pray – pray like your life depends on it, because if you’re praying constantly that you may be able to escape the trap that will close on the world, then that means you’re awake – you’re watching, you’re looking, for your salvation is coming. You’re living in daily repentance and faith in Christ, and shielded by faith from God’s wrath, you will be able to stand before the Son of Man.
Look, people of Zion! Your salvation is coming! It won’t delay, not much longer now. Don’t let that day or Christmas Day sneak up on you. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.