Sunday, December 8, 2019

Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent - Populus Zion - Lk 21:25-36

                                                                                                Advent 2
                                                                                                Lk 21:25-36

            Before Thanksgiving, the city of Marion had put up their Christmas decorations on the light poles around the square and downtown.  Before Thanksgiving, I saw Christmas trees and Christmas lights up in my neighborhood and around Marion.
            For many people, that seems too early. And so they wait until after Thanksgiving.  That seems to be the “official” start of the Christmas season for many Christians.  This was in fact a topic of discussion at our family gathering during the Thanksgiving holiday.  Everyone there – with one exception - thought that the day after Thanksgiving was the time to start playing Christmas music.  When we returned from Thanksgiving Amy and Abigail led the charge in saying that it was time to put up the Christmas tree.  And now with tree up they have gone into full blown Christmas decoration mode around the house.
            As a pastor, I fight a losing battle every year as I try to emphasize that it’s the season of Advent, not Christmas.  Now when you look around the nave today you will see the violet color of the paraments, which is the color for Advent.  You will see the Advent wreath.  You will see a banner, also continuing the violet Advent theme, that focuses on God’s saving promises and plan in the Old Testament that was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus Christ.  You don’t see anything directly associated with Christmas.
            But even here at church, Christmas does show up early.  We had our congregation Christmas party last night - a fun event that takes place early in December so that it doesn’t conflict with the many other events that crowd the calendar this month.  The Christmas tree will in fact be up next Sunday because that is the day of the Sunday school Christmas program.  To have a Sunday school Christmas program, you need children to be here to take part, and if we had it any later families would already be leaving town to celebrate Christmas.
            But it is indeed Advent right now in the life of the Church and not Christmas.  Advent is not the celebration of the birth of Christ.  It is a time when we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ. The celebration of Christmas itself is a twelve day affair that only begins on Christmas Eve.
            The name Advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means coming.  We prepare to celebrate the Lord’s coming.  But this preparation is not focused solely on the Son of God’s coming as he was incarnate through the work of the Holy Spirit upon the virgin Mary.  Instead it also focused on his second coming. Advent has a broader scope than just the birth of Jesus Christ. We prepare to celebrate his birth, but this preparation sets the coming of Jesus at Christmas within the whole of our Lord’s saving work.
            This morning, the world around us in total Christmas mode. Everyone is getting into the “spirit of the season” as Hallmark Christmas movies run seven days a week.  As Christians too, we are fired up about Christmas as our houses are decorated and we seek to finish our Christmas shopping.
            It’s looking like Christmas everywhere you go, and then in our Gospel lesson this morning Jesus Christ talks about the end of the world.  People are focused on sentimental decorations that evoke “Christmas feelings,” and Jesus is talking about apocalyptic signs of cosmic distress that will announce his coming on the Last Day.  People are putting out crèche scenes with a cute baby Jesus in a manger, and Jesus is talking about the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
            Our text this morning is part of the conversation that Jesus had with his disciples during Holy Week. We learn that some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings.  Jesus replied to this, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”  He spoke about the destruction of the temple.
            Later Jesus said, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.”  And he gave instructions about what they were to do – they were to leave the city and flee to the mountains.  Our Lord spoke about the event that did in fact occur in 70 A.D. when the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem, took the city, and destroyed the temple.
            In the Old Testament the prophets often spoke about the “Day of the Lord.” These were acts of judgment by God against Israel or her enemies.  Yet these historical events were often described in language that pointed forward to something even bigger.  Each act of judgment by God – and when directed against Israel’s enemies this was rescue for his people – pointed forward to the great and final Day of the Lord.
            In the same way, Jesus shifts from talk about God’s judgment against Jerusalem in 70 A.D. through Roman army to the final and great Day of the Lord. We know this because he begins to speak about apocalyptic signs of cosmic distress that will come upon the whole world.
            Our Lord says, “And there will be signs 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, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”  Jesus describes a frightening scene as creation responds to the approach of the end – the Last Day.
            Yet these cosmic signs are simply the preparation – the announcement of a coming that will change everything.  Jesus says, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”  Our Lord describes his coming on the day of judgment. 
            Jesus is the divine Son of Man first seen in Daniel’s vision of chapter seven. There Daniel sees a vision of God’s end time judgment. He sees the Ancient of Days taking his seat on the throne, surround by thousands of angels.     After this he sees one like a son of man coming to the Ancient of Days as he receives an everlasting dominion, kingdom and glory that all peoples and nations may worship and serve him.  Jesus declares that he is the Son of Man who will come in a cloud with glory to judge.
            How are the believers in Christ to respond?  Jesus says, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” While others are fainting with fear, Christians are to straighten up and raise our heads looking in joyful expectation because our final redemption is drawing near.
            We don’t know when Jesus Christ will return.  However, our Lord tells us that there will be no doubts about the sign of when it is coming.  We hear in our text, “And he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”
            Guess what?  When there are signs 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, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world, and the powers of the heavens are shaken, Jesus is about to return.  When the cosmic apocalyptic show starts, you know the kingdom of God is near – you know that Jesus, the Son of Man, is about to return.
            Now God’s kingdom, his reign has in fact already come.  We are preparing during Advent to celebrate its arrival as the Son of God entered into the world.  In the person of Jesus, the reign of God was present to defeat sin and death.  It was the powerful and mighty work of God. Yet paradoxically, it never appeared this way.  The Lord, the Savior will arrive at Christmas as a tiny, helpless infant in a manger.
            And as Christ’s saving work reached its culmination this appearance never changed. God’s reign arrived as Jesus was mocked, scourged and crucified.  He was lifted up on a cross to die by the most humiliating means that the Romans had at their disposal – a means of execution the Romans embraced because it was horrific, painful, slow and public.  It was a warning to all who passed by – don’t mess with us or you will end up like this pathetic schmuck.
            That is how God worked in Christ to bring his saving reign for you.  Jesus died in weakness and humiliation.  Yet the external, physical appearances only reflect a glimpse of the true spiritual depths of the event.  For Jesus the sinless Son of God died on the cross as The Sinner.  He took all your sins.  He took the sins of all who will ever live and received God’s condemnation against them as he died for you.  And then they buried him in a tomb.
            But on the third day – on Easter - something happened that demonstrated once and for all that the cross had not been weakness and failure.  God raised Jesus from the dead. For forty days the risen Lord was with his disciples as they ate and drank with him.  In the resurrection God the Father vindicated Jesus as the Messiah – as the Servant of the Lord who had conquered sin and death for us by passing through it. And then in his ascension he was exalted to right hand of God.
            During Advent, we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ first coming at Christmas.  But let us now forget about how that time of Jesus’ visible presence ended. The book of Acts tells us about the ascension: “And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” After the resurrection Jesus had the ability to appear and disappear in rooms. Why didn’t he just tell the disciples that this was the last time they would see him for now, and then disappear?  Why does he ascend until a cloud takes him out of sight?  It is because Jesus the risen and exalted Lord is the Son of Man who will come in a cloud with power and great glory.  Jesus first coming took place in weakness.  It ended in a way that that pointed to the fact that his second coming will be one of power, might and glory.
            Jesus will return in power and glory on the Last Day. But we don’t know when that day will be. So what does this mean for us? Jesus tells us at the end of our text when he says, “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.” 
            Jesus warns against getting caught up in the pleasures and cares of life – where they become our focus instead of Christ; where they crowd out our attention and devotion to Christ. This is the same thing that Jesus described in the parable of the sower when he said, “And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.”  The cares and riches and pleasures of life? That almost sounds like the “Christmas season” that surrounds us.  We need Advent to prepare us for Christmas, because ironically, all that is associated with the “Christmas season” in our world today easily becomes something that dulls our focus on Christ.
            It is Advent, not Christmas.  We prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ – his first coming – by considering his second coming.  The One who came in humility and weakness in a manger, will come as the Son of Man in a cloud with power and great glory. We must be ready for him, focused on Christ in faith, and not distracted by the world. When we bear this in mind, we are prepared to celebrate Christmas as the birth of Christ – the entrance of the Son of God into the world to bring God’s reign as he died on the cross and rose from the dead for us.


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