Signs so that you don’t miss the boat

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Sermon forPopulus Zion- Advent 2

Malachi 4:1-6  +  Romans 15:4-13  +  Luke 21:25-36

Everywhere you look the signs are there: Christmas is coming!  The signs have been out there in the stores since Halloween, really, but in full force since Black Friday.  The signs are there in people’s yards and on their houses and in their houses.  The signs are on the radio and on TV, in concerts and plays and productions.  Even if you didn’t know the date on the calendar, you would know from the signs that Christmas is coming.

But we do know the date on the calendar.  We don’t need signs to tell us that Christmas is coming.  What we do need is to understand what Christmas is and what it’s for.  The world has all kinds of answers to that question, but the Church has only one.  Christmas is the “mas” or the Mass on December five and twenty that remembers and ponders and celebrates the birth of Christ.  It’s the Mass on that day on which Christians receive the body and the blood of the one who was made flesh in the virgin’s womb.  And Christmas time is the twelve days from December 25th through January 5th during which the Church continually celebrates the birth of her heavenly Bridegroom in human flesh.

So even with all the signs around us, we’re not in Christmas time yet.  We’re in Advent time or Adventtide.  And there’s a much more important coming of Christ on which we focus during Advent time—His coming in the clouds at the end of days.  Why more important?  Because you don’t have to be ready for the birth of Christ, for the first coming of Christ.  You won’t miss it; the event of the birth of Christ is already over.  We already missed it by some 2000 years. The Church is not expecting the birth of a baby or the arrival of angels to sing to the shepherds in the fields.  We’re expecting the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds, and all His angels with Him.

The first time He came in the meekness of a manger and the angels sang, Peace on earth!  Goodwill toward men!  But when He comes again, it will not be in meekness and it will not be peace on earth.  It will be with power and great glory, and it will be destruction time for the earth and its inhabitants, a day of fire, burning like an oven, and the time for goodwill toward men will be over and past.  Only those who are found on that day in the safety of the lifeboat that is the Church will escape.  The message of Advent time is, “Beware!”  Beware, because the lifeboat is about to set sail from the fiery, blazing shores of this dying earth, and if you miss this boat, you’re stranded forever, and worse than stranded, you’re locked out of the kingdom forever and you get to spend eternity with the devil and his buddies, and it will not be like one big Christmas party.

So Jesus gives us signs—signs to encourage believers and to warn unbelievers, signs so that you don’t miss the boat.

I keep talking about this boat.  That’s on purpose.  Jesus compares His second coming to the days of Noah and the Great Flood and the lifeboat that was Noah’s ark.  For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

You notice, Jesus says that in the days leading up to the Flood, life went on as usual, and the whole unbelieving world was oblivious to the signs of the coming destruction.  What signs, you ask?  Were there signs in nature before the Flood?  Not that we know of.  What was the sign that the world ignored?  It was this one man and his family building a boat, a boat that got bigger and bigger until it was almost as long as two football fields.  Everyone in the vicinity saw the sign, saw the boat.  They heard Noah preaching to them, telling them what the boat was for. But no one believed him, and so what should have served as a sign for them to avoid the coming destruction, didn’t do them any good at all.

It will be the same way when Jesus comes again.  There will be signs, he says, in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves.  Signs in the heavens, from solar eclipses to lunar eclipses to comets to meteor showers to planetary alignments—all these are signs that destruction is coming, that the boat is leaving soon.  And as for the earth, some years it’s one earthquake after another.  Other years, it’s one hurricane after another (like super-storm Sandy), or a Tsunami, or tornadoes, or destructive wind storms, or volcanoes.  It always seems to be something, and the more we’re aware of things going on in other parts of the world, the more we’re forced to realize—the signs are all around us.

But those are natural phenomena!  There’s a scientific explanation for all those things!  That’s true, or at least, so far it has been true.  But who is the God of nature?  Who set the laws of science in place and timed the events of nature to work in perfect harmony with His will and with His foreknowledge of the wickedness of men?  The earth doesn’t spin apart from God’s will, nor do the galaxies rotate except for His permission. And the One who set all these things in motion calls them signs of the coming destruction.

Those who believe Him will recognize these things as signs and will take the opportunity to prepare for His coming.  Those who don’t believe His Word will be like the people in Noah’s day who will see the same signs we see, but will not take them as the harbingers of destruction they are meant to be.

And there are the other signs that Jesus mentions elsewhere: war and unrest in the world, the moral decay of society, the love of most growing cold, the persecution of Christians from outside the Church and from within, and the false doctrine that will spread like gangrene.  Aren’t these things all around us?  Don’t we see the fabric of society unraveling around us?  Jesus summarizes it for us, People fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

You see that fear and foreboding all around.  Fear of the devil.  Fear of ghosts.  Fear of traveling because of the unrest in the world.  Fear of storms and natural disaster and of random asteroids colliding with the earth.  Fear of going over the fiscal cliff into chaos and poverty.  And because of all this fear, people turn from one spiritual gimmick to another to try to become more spiritual, to try to make things right with the God whom they don’t really know.  People crave a solution.  They crave an answer.  They crave peace.  They turn to drink.  They turn to song.  They turn to clothing and food and drug and entertainment and pleasure and gadget and technology, to this philosophy and to that false doctrine—anything to soothe their troubled consciences, something to make them feel better about themselves, because for as much as we try to drown it out, our conscience screams the truth.  You are a sinner!  You must die!

Those who finally realize that they are helpless, that their best efforts cannot help them on the day of the Lord are left with one desperate question. How can I escape the coming destruction?  How can I possibly stand before the Son of Man?

Jesus has one answer to that question.  The true Church has only one answer to that question.  Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved! 

The Apostle Peter teaches us For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.  Then he talks about a boat: God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. The same water that brought destruction on the whole earth brought salvation to Noah and his family.  Why?  Because they were on the boat.  They were on the ark.  And the water of the flood that drowned the unbelieving world pushed up the ark and the believers who were on it so that they rose above the destruction and survived.

And you know what that has to do with you?  Peter says, This corresponds to something which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him. Through the waters of Holy Baptism God now saves people from the coming destruction.  He rescues them from their sins and from the condemnation our sins deserve and brings us into the ark that is the Holy Christian Church, the communion of saints.

But see, he says that Baptism now saves us.  Baptism doesn’t just put you on the ark.  It keeps you on the ark as you continue to trust in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in whose name you were baptized.  It saves us right now as the answer of a good conscience—good, not because we haven’t sinned, but good because our sins are covered in Jesus’ blood.  God has called us to trust in the saving power that He has placed in Baptism, so that, when you see the signs of the coming destruction and of the coming of the Son of Man, you should cling in faith to your Baptism and not doubt that, since you have been baptized into Christ, you have therefore clothed yourself with Christ.  In Him there is no more condemnation.  In Him there is no destruction to fear on the day of the Lord, but only forgiveness of sins and redemption and safety and eternal life to look forward to.

Now, will things get worse on this earth before Christ comes?  Will the signs become more spectacular and more frightening? Can things on this earth get much worse?  I’ll tell you the truth:  I don’t know.  But I don’t have to know.  Jesus says, Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.  It doesn’t matter whether or not the final sign has taken place.  Have these things begun to take place?  Yes, they have.  So, Jesus says, straighten up.  Raise your heads.  Your redemption is drawing near.  Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed, as the Apostle says. See the signs.  Live in eager expectation of that day.  Take comfort in God’s promises made to you in Holy Baptism, but don’t take your position in the boat for granted, as if you don’t need to stay awake and watch.  Jesus says, Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  But 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. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.

That’s what Advent is for.  To hear the word of Jesus that will not pass away.  To stay awake and to pray for His strength to stand on the day of His coming.  His first coming at Christmas provided the once-for-all sacrifice that pays for sins, and that’s where our peace comes from to endure His second coming.  He’s brought you into that sacrifice through Holy Baptism.  He’s given you signs so that you don’t miss the boat.  And now, in Word and Sacrament, He gives you signs that continually make you ready for His coming. Amen.

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