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Sermon for Populus Sion – Advent 2
Romans 15:4-13 + Luke 21:25-36
The trees are almost bare in Las Cruces. The hard freeze this week brought down most of the leaves, a sign that winter is coming, just around the bend. But winter won’t last forever. It never does. It won’t be long before you see the trees starting to bud again, and when they’re full of leaves, you’ll know that summer is almost here.
We go through that cycle every year. And today in the Gospel, Jesus uses that familiar picture of leaves on a tree to keep us mindful of His coming. Because, as leaves on a tree are a sign that summer is near, so there will be terrible and tragic events in this world that serve as signs of the nearness of Christ’s coming, and the end of the world.
We don’t really need to wade too deeply through the list of signs every year, because all the things that Jesus tells us to watch for have been going on around us for a very long time; they really don’t change much from year to year.
Each year there are yet more signs in the sun, in the moon and in the stars, which may be no more significant than alignments of planets and solar eclipses, like the big one that ran across our country back in August.
Each year there are yet more signs in the earth—distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring, fear and dread filling the hearts of men, the love of most people growing cold. Or as Jesus adds in St. Matthew’s Gospel, famines, earthquakes, disease, wars and rumors of wars.
Each year there are yet more signs in the Church, as St. Matthew also records—persecution against Christians, the spread of false doctrine far and wide, false prophets deceiving many, and many being deceived. Apostasy, a great falling away from the truth of the Gospel. The man of lawlessness—the Antichrist—still pretending to be the head of the Christian Church and leading many astray. But also, the Gospel of Christ still being preached in all the world.
Tell me, which of these things is lacking? Which branches on the fig tree are still bare? Which word of Christ has fallen to the ground, unkept and unfulfilled? No, my friends, heaven and earth will pass away, but Jesus’ words will never pass away. The things going on around us in the world are the very signs that Jesus told us to watch for, to know that the kingdom of heaven is near. The tree is full of leaves, as in late spring. The only sign that is still lacking is the actual sign of the Son of Man coming in the clouds with power and great glory, descending from heaven for judgment, and for the final redemption of all who are waiting for Him in hope.
For as terrible as most of the signs are of Jesus’ coming, the danger that Jesus warns us of in the Gospel is not the danger posed by the signs themselves. Wars? Famines? Earthquakes? Hurricanes? Disease? False doctrine? Persecution? These things can’t harm us Christians. Not really. They can affect us. They can cause us suffering and pain. But they can’t rob us of the treasure that is laid up for us in heaven. They can’t steal Jesus away from us.
What is the danger, then? The danger is that, even though we see the signs of Christ’s coming all around us, we stop caring about what they’re pointing to.
“But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.
It’s understandable (though certainly not excusable) that the world—those who are still wallowing in sin and unbelief—should be busy carousing, partying, getting drunk, pursuing pleasure and accumulating wealth. Their god is their belly, after all. But their behavior is awfully attractive to our own sinful flesh. The temptation to go along with the world, to think like the world thinks, to plan like the world plans—those are strong temptations for us who are so weak, according to the flesh. You know how that overarching phrase, “the cares of this life,” fills your agenda every single day. But your daily agenda will be your undoing, if you don’t keep at least one eye on the leaves of the trees, and on the thing they’re intended to remind you of, the thing that comes shortly after the leaves have budded, the coming of the Son of Man.
Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.
Watch, therefore. Watch the signs taking place around you. But don’t get caught up in them. Remember that they must happen. They’re part of God’s own plan and prophecy for this world. Remember what they’re for—to keep you looking for Jesus’ coming.
Watch, therefore. Watch out for pleasure-seeking and for getting caught up in the cares of this life, because they will weigh you down so heavily that spiritual things—God, God’s Word, your soul, Christ, His righteousness, His forgiveness—will never be able to get your attention.
And pray always. It’s hard to forget about God if you’re praying to Him regularly with a heartfelt “Our Father.” It’s hard to forget about His name and His kingdom if you’re continually praying, “Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come.” It’s hard to forget about the danger of sin if you’re constantly praying, “Forgive us our trespasses.” It’s hard to get caught up in the cares of this life if you’re regularly praying, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
But it’s not just about remembering to pray the Lord’s Prayer. It’s about the reason why you need to pray it. Because whether you want to acknowledge it or not, this world, with all its cares and pleasures, is ripe for judgment. The Day is coming. And the truth is, God’s Law reveals you to be unworthy to stand before God in the coming judgment, just as unworthy as everyone else in the world. But God the Father, in His great love and mercy, gave His Son into death for your sins, because He wants you to escape the destruction that is coming on the world and to live with Him in joy and peace forever. Christ is the refuge God the Father has provided against all the accusations of the Law, the only Shelter that will be safe on the Day that is coming. He has brought you into that shelter through Holy Baptism and feeds you there in the Lord’s own Supper. By faith in Christ, God has made you worthy to stand before the Son of Man, who loved you and gave Himself for you. And because He knows that you are prone to wander, He keeps sending signs of His coming, and then calls out to you in the Gospel to see the signs and remember their meaning. Here His Spirit is working. Here His power is shielding you and strengthening you to look up from this dying world and to long for the redemption that is drawing near.
Christ is coming. The signs are everywhere. The trees are full of leaves. Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.