Second Sunday in Advent (Luke 21:25-36)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Second Sunday in Advent (Populus Zion) + December 9, 2018

Text: Luke 21:25-36

29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

In these Last Days, Jesus gives us the signs to look for to know that His return is near.  And let’s check them off:

And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places… they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:6-12)

All of these things are happening this very moment.  It’s not just in the minds of the aged; the world really is worse than it has ever been.  Criminals are more brazen and more grotesque.  Children can’t play in their front yard because of perverts and human traffickers.  Terrorists are willing to commit more heinous acts in the name of their idea of god, or just to get attention.  This isn’t only because fewer people are going to church.  There is an increasing wickedness on the rise in the world, and we are witnesses or (and sometimes participants in) it.

But it’s important that our response is guided by our Lord, not by nostalgia.  Jesus doesn’t tell us simply to wring our hands and lament the loss of the “good old days.”  No, He tells us: “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.”  Those two words are a warning to us about what might happen in the face of times like this.  Dissipation is the evaporation of faith, as if our faith in Christ were a cloud that is here one minute and blows away the next.  The other, drunkenness, describes our joining in with those around us in an “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die”[1] attitude.  If things are getting rough, let’s just indulge in escapism and find distractions to take our minds off how bad things really are.

No, rather than follow the world in its downward spiral, Jesus tells us: “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.”  What sets us apart from the world as it’s going down the toilet is our faith.  Stay awake!  Don’t just go on autopilot with everyone around us, with a startled reaction that this world is beyond repair.  Don’t resign yourselves to the way things are and light a joint with the rest of the ignorant.  Instead, be at prayer that you would have the strength to escape these terrible conditions and faithless times.

These Last Days aren’t simply about weeding out the weak from the strong; they are a time for separating those who put their hope in the Lord and take Him at His Word and those who ultimately reject Him.  As things get worse in the world, the people of God look to Him for strength and deliverance.

The world, twisted and getting worse as it is, is a sign that we should be ever getting ready for His coming.  Free yourselves of the myth that God wouldn’t possibly let it get worse than we can handle.  This is the old saying, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”  That might be how your tame, blue-eyed Jesus on the wall works, but it’s not how the true God does.  Here Jesus is not telling us to pray that none of these things would happen, but that we would have strength to escape them.

Jesus is our best example of God’s will for us, so consider how He faced His hour of trial: When He was on the Mount of Olives and facing His passion and death, He prayed to His Father, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”  He knew full well that it was necessary for Him to endure the cross, or our salvation would be null and void.  But even still, He prayed.  And that’s what He commands His followers to do at times like this.

We are facing the end of the world, and whether or not we are witnesses to the last generation to be born on earth, Jesus commands us to pray, to continue meditating on His Word, and to endure these trials knowing that by them, God’s will is done.

Earlier in Luke’s Gospel (chapter 18), Jesus tells the parable of a widow “to the effect that [we] ought always pray and not lose heart.”  The widow implores an unrighteous judge for justice, but the message of the parable is that we not lose faith in God, for “will He delay long over [his elect who cry to Him]?” (Luke 18:1-8).  But about the end of the world, He says, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”

Our faith continues looking to God, even while the world is crashing down around us.  No matter whether times are prosperous or it’s the day before Jesus’ return, the faithful are still praying: “Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come…lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.”  Faith is what enables us to say Amen to that prayer, because it means that we trust God is actively bringing His good and gracious will to bear on earth as it is in heaven, and even as this world passes away, our Father in heaven has not changed or lost His hold on world history or our lives.  Why?  Because the bedrock of our salvation is God’s faithfulness—“He who did not spare His own Son but gave Himself up for us all, how will He not with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

Our Lord calls us to continued meditation on His Word. David might have seemed like a dull fellow because He wrote Psalm 119, but in times of deepest distress is when we need God’s Word to guide us the most.  “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your Word…Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will keep it to the end…The Lord is my portion, I promise to keep your words” (Psalm 119:9, 33, 57).  That’s because meditation on the will of God is how we don’t get swept away with our own ideas or those of the unbelieving world.  Jesus calls each of us to remember how weak we are—“the Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt. 26:41) If only we believed what that means, we would be blessed because we would humbly seek God’s will in His holy Word all the time, because that’s where the Spirit speaks to us!

Perhaps the most difficult part of these last days is that our God calls us to suffer.  From our Lord’s example, we learn there’s nothing wrong with praying to be spared the cup of suffering if there is another way.  Nevertheless, we children of God need to realize that sometimes His will is for us to suffer.  Consider the spiritual teaching of James: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4) Who among us would choose trials?  Nevertheless, God sends them as means of refining and firming up our faith. He sends them with the reward of becoming steadfast in Christ, and steadfast in our faith.

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:32

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