Sermon for Populus Zion, the Second Sunday in Advent, AD 2021

Luke 21:25-36

You heard last week that Advent is not only about the coming of Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem, but the coming of the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom came when Jesus was born, comes to you now through Word and Sacrament, and will come fully when Jesus returns. It should be no surprise then that while our church is now festively decorated, thank you Hannah Guild, we hear Jesus speak about the end of the world, his final coming.

Jesus’ second coming might be the topic that attracts Christians’ attention the quickest. If you search for “end times” on a major Christian book seller’s website, there are over 2000 results just in books. If you search for “crucifixion,” there are not even 200. It’s natural to be more interested in insights into the unknown, in knowing the future more than the past. Yet Jesus’ words here on the future, while intriguing, maybe mystifying, possibly terrifying, aren’t particularly detailed. The fact that you know the details of the future are not important, but what is important is your response. For Jesus says, “Now when these things take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Adversity is the sign that the kingdom is at hand.

Jesus speaks of signs in the sun, moon, and stars. From the beginning of creation, the Lord set these bodies in the heavens for the purpose of showing times and seasons. Even little children can interpret these signs in a natural way - when the sun has risen and set, a day has passed; when the moon has gone through its phases, a month has passed. The sign, the thing you see, points to an unseen reality, the passing of time. This is simple enough and known by all.

For Christians, these signs point to a spiritual reality. As Psalm 19 says, “the heavens declare the glory of God, the sky proclaims his handiwork.” And Psalm 74 “yours is the day, yours is also the night; you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.” When you see the signs in the sky as a Christian, you should be directed to the fact that it proclaims God’s glory and shows God as the ruler of all creation. As the sun rises every morning know that God’s mercies also are new every morning, that the One who has created the sun and moon to move surely has given even more sure promises to you.

These are the signs you see when you see as Christian, when your mind is trained by the Word of God. Having both the sign of nature and the Word of God is like having two points, you need two points to see a line, to know where it is pointing. The unbeliever only sees the one point, the sign. He does not know the Word of God. Like the Lord warned the children of Israel, “Beware, lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the Lord your God has allotted to all the people under the whole heaven” (Deut 4:19). Paganism is taking the good creation of God without the help of God’s Word, and making the creation, the sign, the ultimate thing. It is like having one point and trying to make a line. Where will the line go? To the corrupted mind, it will go to the created thing, whether the stars, sun, or self.

When Jesus speaks about these signs and terrors that show his coming, he is helping to give that point to guide you back to God. The adversity is a sign that the kingdom is at hand. You need to learn this because it goes against your natural fight or flight response. You learn to avoid pain, to avoid difficulty and suffering, because it can help self-preservation. It makes sense from a basic, animal viewpoint. Yet this is not even the response natural reason gives to adversity. Natural reason teaches us that discipline, hard work, and effort, though they are often painful and unpleasant help our survival more than simply avoiding pain. You may have the sign that your legs ache, but the higher reality, knowing that you had a good workout, is that your legs are getting stronger.

Christianity is not about avoiding adversity, but in becoming stronger in Christ. This strength is not created by your own working, like living as a monk, but in receiving from Christ. From Christ you receive His Word, and the strength and wisdom that comes through it by the Holy Spirit. By this He creates repentance and faith – trust in Him. He will strengthen and test this faith by sending adversity. This sounds very abstract, but it works out in concrete ways. Jesus says, look, these signs are going to happen, it will be terrible, people who do not believe me with be fainting with fear, but you instead will raise up your head. You will be glad in the face of this because, repenting of your sins, you know the predictions and promises that I have given are coming true!

Faith and hope are the insight that Christ’s Word gives into the adversity in the world. Imagine if people did not know that crops died in the winter and were replanted in the spring. They would look next door and say, “oh no! the corn is all dead! I only have so much corn for the rest of my life! How will I ever survive! I will starve!” This is obvious and silly to all of you who know that plants regrow in the spring. Jesus says the same thing about the fig tree. You do not fear corn dying in the winter because you know it is not the end. So you should not fear adversity in this life, because it leads to greater things.

Do not be like the pagans and assume God is there to help you escape all your troubles. There are thousands of books on the end times because people read what Jesus says about the end and need some guide on how to avoid it. The assumption is that the teaching of Christ has some hidden message on how to get away from the trouble in life and have success in the future. Christ is our refuge in trouble, he is our help in trouble, but He will not end all trouble in this life. So when these signs and distresses occur, disasters both natural and man-made, from world-wide to personal, do not respond as if they were the thing to fear. You know that they are under God’s control. You were told they would happen. Therefore repent and believe Him.

Straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. With every fire, earthquake, or hurricane, with every pandemic, war, or food shortage, lift up your head and say, my redemption is drawing near. The one who was crucified and risen has promised that these things will happen, but they just mean his return is nearer. They mean the signs are passing away, but God’s Word is becoming more obviously true. By the Word of God you are warned, and in keeping His commands there is great reward. The promise of the Lord is the true strength in present adversity and the hope of future escape at the coming of the Son of Man. For adversity is a sign that the kingdom is at hand. Amen.






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