For this week’s bulletin, click here: 2nd Sunday in Advent

For this month’s church calendar, click here: Dec 2011 – Calendar[1]

“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

32 “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” (luke 21.25-36 niv84)

If you’re out and about, you’ll see some pretty funny sayings on bumper stickers. There’s a few that have caught my eye lately. One said, “Where am I going and why am I in this handbasket?” The other is a little more irreverent. I wouldn’t put it on my truck, but someone else might. It says, “Jesus is coming. Look busy.” As snide and even disrespectful as those bumper stickers might be – especially the second one – there’s still a grain of truth in them. Both of those slogans fit well with our gospel for today. Advent is the time where we think about Jesus’ various comings, and today we’re looking at His second coming. Jesus will tell us what to expect from His second coming, and we’ll learn how we can be ready for it. Jesus is coming – look up and be ready.

Many times after yet another natural disaster, another fire or flood or earthquake, I’ll be talking with someone and they comment with a shake of their head, “How much longer can this go on? The world’s got to end soon.” And people who say that are right. Jesus tells us what the signs of His coming will be: “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.” All these things are happening right now, and they have been for a long time. Eclipses, solar flares, meteor showers, comets, are all happening already. The nations of the world are in a permanent froth about one thing or another, whether it’s their economies or their borders or something else. Tsunamis and giant waves and storms still happen in the ocean – one hit Chile in 2010, and the earthquake that hit Japan last March, the biggest in their recorded history, also sent a tsunami that crashed into Hawaii, Oregon and northern California. We might wonder, “How will we pick out the right signs of the end from all the tragedies and disasters that go on all the time? How will we be able to tell?” By pointing us to these signs, Jesus is telling us: You’ll know. Don’t worry, you won’t miss it. You’ll be able to tell, because all these signs are signs of My coming. They all point to Me.

Jesus tells us to stand tall and lift up our heads at His coming because we won’t feel like being bold or confident then. He tells us that the Last Day will be painful, frightening, and terrible for everyone on earth – not just the wicked. Heaven and earth will pass away, He tells us simply, and it’s hard for us to picture what that will be like. Few things seem more stable or permanent to us than the earth or the sky, but Isaiah tells us that “all the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree” (34:4). St. John was permitted to see a vision of that day, and he describes it this way: “There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars fell to earth, as late figs drop when  shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up…every island fled away and the mountains could not be found” (Rev 6:12-14; 16:20). That sounds like a pretty terrible thing to live through. No wonder Jesus says that nearly everyone will lose their nerve, will totally become demoralized and lose heart. Even though we trust in the Lord, we’ll still be apprehensive at the terrible things that are to come.

But Jesus encourages us not to be afraid. We can already, right now, lift up our heads unafraid of that great day, ready to leave this ruined world for heaven. Right now – today – tomorrow – the rest of the work week; in every situation in your life, you can lift up your head. Do not be afraid. You are a child of the King and no one can touch you. Not a hair of your head will be harmed. Jesus promises it.

Jesus urges us to stand tall and lift up our heads because His return means that we’re done! Done with guilt, done with fear, done with doubt and dread and death; done with heartache and crying and pain, done with sorrow and misery – forever! We will finally have everything He’s promised us. Everything that we have to trust is ours now, we will finally see with our own eyes. We will be sinless, holy, happy and free! Our full glory, our final adoption as heirs of salvation will finally be complete! What a day of rejoicing that will be! What are you looking forward to most about that day? For me, it will be great to finally be rid of the sin that lives in me – to not have it touch and ruin everything good I try to do. It will be great to be free to serve God the way we were always meant to, without anything getting in the way.

Everyday life can often get in the way of our being watchful. The world’s brand of fun, and the thousand little frustrations and big pressures of life in this world, can take our attention away from Christ. The terrible things Jesus describes seem very remote, or even like they won’t happen at all – so we let ourselves get too busy with everything that needs to get done. Then, when it’s time to relax, we might get a little carried away.

People often think that a few drinks (or a lot of drinks, sometimes) will free them, make their problems smaller or more manageable, lift their burden, help them cope – at least for a little while. We can be tempted to overindulge because we’re among friends and we want to let our hair down, or as a way to make it through stressful social situations like those family gatherings you know are going to be tense. If you’re thinking about reaching for the alcohol to get you by, don’t do it. We each need to keep Jesus’ words here in mind, especially heading into a season of parties and get-togethers. Drunkenness burdens you, drags you down, until eventually you’re enslaved by it and you become a prisoner to it. Some might say, “Aw, c’mon preacher – you’re just trying to ruin my fun.” It’s exactly that equating of fun with alcohol that Jesus is warning us against here. Eagerness for alcohol is not a good thing. This whole attitude of “we’re drinking, so we must be having fun” or “we need to have alcohol to have a good time” is nonsense, and dangerous nonsense at that.

Jesus’ warning goes deeper than the stupid things people blurt out when they’ve had too much to drink, or the dumb or dangerous things alcohol can get people to do – if you’re drunk you won’t be ready for Judgment Day. That day will close on the entire world like a trap, He says, and if we aren’t ready we might not escape. If we’re living like the world – stressed out by the cares of everyday life and the need to make a living, then looking to alcohol or other means to help us deal with our problems – then we could very well be judged along with the world, because we’ll be just like them.

A lot of times people drink so they won’t have to think about the future. Some people, it’s the only way they can handle life. We don’t need to go that route. “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away.” He has given us the words of eternal life, and that means that we have eternal life. We are meant to live for more than the people of the world live for. We are meant to watch with anticipation and joy for our returning King, to long for His coming and to speed it with our prayers, to live lives of good works and stay faithful until He returns.

Jesus gives us a wonderful picture to help us look forward with anticipation. All these terrible signs of the end that Jesus mentions are like the trees beginning to bud, He says. We haven’t had a lot of snow or cold yet this winter, but we’ve all experienced enough of it that we can instantly understand what Jesus means. At the end of every winter comes my favorite moment, when the breeze is not quite so cold, the days are a little longer – and then you realize the trees are beginning to bud again. There’s definitely a sense of happiness and even relief – “oh good, the earth won’t stay cold and dead forever.” You see those tender green buds, and you look forward even more to summer. All these signs of Jesus’ coming are like that. We know that what’s coming for us is so much better than anything we have here on earth. It’ll be like the warmest, most beautiful summer ever after the coldest, darkest, longest Minnesota winter. This time summer will last forever.

In every season of our lives we should be in readiness. We should live our whole lives in readiness for our Lord’s return. And if we die before He comes back, so what? Then we have done no more than what our Lord asks of us. We have done our duty. But if He does come! He will reward those who are ready and will welcome us into the endless joy of heaven. So look up! Lift up your heads with joy and watch for your Lord, for you do not know the day or hour when He will return.

The early Christians took these words of our Lord to heart, which is why they lived the way they did: with constant deeds of love for their neighbors and those around them, lives of Christian service, and piety and faith that focused on the Lord’s Supper as their forgiveness, strength, and nourishment for life and eternity. Receiving the Lord’s Supper often was the way they kept themselves ready for the return of the Lord. When we receive the Lord’s Supper frequently and joyfully, we are more alive and more spiritually ready for the coming of His Son again. (Think about it.)

“Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming…so then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with Him.” God grant that each of us may be able to lift up our heads and to stand before the Son of Man. Amen.