Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
During this Advent season in the church year, we’ve been working our way through this stole. It’s on the front of your bulletin as well, and it runs through four different ways in which Christ comes to be with His people. The word “advent” means “to come” so this sole represents four advents of Jesus. We started with the manger, Christ coming to be with you as a baby in Bethlehem. The following week, we saw the palm branch, representing Christ’s coming into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to die and rise for you. Last week, we looked at the chalice and the wafer, the bread and the wine, the two elements used in the Lord’ Supper. Even in this meal, Jesus comes to forgive. Today, we look at the final element, the trumpet. This trumpet is a symbol of Christ’s second coming, His return on the last day. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says that trumpets will sound on that day and everyone will know that Christ has returned.
But it’s a little strange to talk about Jesus’ second coming when we’re only two days away from celebrating his first coming. Here we are, hopefully done with all our Christmas shopping, frantically wrapping presents, baking cookies. The kids off of school and perhaps you’re even able to take the next couple of days off of work. We’ve been listening to Christmas music and watching Christmas movies for a month. We just saw the kids’ Christmas Program. We’re ready. We’re ready to celebrate Christ’s birth. And here we are, remembering Christ’s second coming.
Not only as Christians, but as human beings, you and I live in many different worlds. Your family is its own little world. Your workplace is another separate world all to itself. Perhaps you have friends from college that you still keep in touch with that are their own little world. Even your church family is another distinct world you live in. Each world is separate, connected by only you or perhaps another person or two. You and I live in these different realms without much of a problem until worlds start to collide. If your old family friends meet your co-workers, it might throw you off a bit. It feels a little strange.
That’s today and the Advent season in general. Worlds collide. As we’re getting ready to celebrate Christmas, we’re living in the world of the Church. The church has its own calendar that says that on December 25th, we celebrate Jesus’ birth. It’s good and right that we should be in that world. But we also live in the present day, in our own time, within our own culture. And here in the present, we are also waiting for Christ to come, not for the first time, but the second. Jesus has promised that he will return, and so even in this Advent season, we are preparing for Christ to come again.
That’s where today’s Gospel reading ended up. It took him a few verses to get to it, but Jesus says that He is coming back. This whole conversation takes place in response to a comment someone made about the Temple in Jerusalem. “It sure looks great!” But as the gospels describe Him, Jesus doesn’t seem to be one much for small talk. He turns this offhand remark into a teaching opportunity. “You see the stones of that Temple? They’re all coming down.” As you may well imagine, this freaks everyone out, so the disciples end up asking two questions. And even though Jesus answers them fully and completely, for some reason, we feel compelled to ask Him the same questions over and over again. “When is all this going to happen and how will we know—what signs will You give us—that it’s coming.”
We’ll take the “when” question first because it’s the easier one. When will these things take place? We don’t know and we won’t know. Right away Jesus tells His disciples some of what’s coming, and then he adds these words, “but the end will not be at once.” Even once all these signs are met, and they are, the end could still be a couple thousand years in the future. You don’t know. I don’t know. That guy on TV trying to sell you his latest book with his latest prediction doesn’t know. Already in my time here as your pastor, there have been at least a dozen Christian predictions of the end of the world. Jesus says, “do not be afraid” and “do not listen to those men.” Watch out for false teachers. For Jesus, the focus is not on the “when” but on the signs, the “how?”
First, the Temple will be destroyed, Christians will be persecuted for Jesus’ sake, and Jerusalem would fall. Verses 10-24 all deal with these events. And they were fulfilled only about 40 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The end of the city and the temple would happen. The ancient historian Josephus describes play by play the Roman invasion and destruction of the city. It was just as Jesus described.
But then in verse 25, the focus shifts. Jesus telescopes out and we hear some signs of The End. But they’re a little vague and unsatisfying to our ears. “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars.” Yes, but what signs?! We’ll know when we see them. “On the earth, there will be 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.” Nations in distress and perplexity. When are nations not in distress or perplexity. Especially in this country, the tradition of using vulgar and crude insults to attack people across the aisle goes back to the second ever presidential election. You think we’re especially bad? No, we’re just as bad now as we’ve always been. Nations in distress and perplexity.
So what are we waiting for? As far as we can tell, nothing. There is no sign yet to be met that is preventing Christ’s return. We are living in the End Times, but we have been for tens of thousands of years, so it takes some effort to feel like His return is all that imminent. But that is, in fact, the whole point of Jesus’ teaching about His return. He’s coming back, so be ready. “When these things begin to take place,” and they have, “straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” He goes on to say after today’s reading “watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with excess and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 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.”
Excess. Drunkenness. Cares of this life. I won’t ask for a show of hands how many people have seen Christmas celebrated like this, with excess, drunkenness, and cares of this life. Christ is coming, so let’s stay awake and keep our heads on straight. Yes, we need to work on getting rid of sin in our life, but more importantly, we need to confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness. That’s what sets us apart from those outside the church. We recognize and confess our sins, agreeing with God’s assessment of our actions. And with Him, there is forgiveness.
That’s what we celebrate at Christmas and throughout the year. Christ has come to be with us as a baby in Bethlehem, as a teacher in Galilee, as a condemned criminal on the cross, as the glorified Son of Man who rose from the dead, and as God Himself who will one day return to save His people. As we live in both the Christmas world and in the world of today, we focus on Jesus, the baby who is the man who is God who is coming again.
The King shall come when morning dawns and light and beauty brings. Hail, Christ the Lord! Your people pray: Come quickly, King of kings! Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell