Sunday, December 6, 2009

Advent I Midweek Sermon

The Rev. Paul J Cain

St. Luke 21:25-36

The Kingdom of God is Near

Wednesday of Advent I, 02 December 2009

Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Near. A word of Law. A Word of Gospel. Did you ever hear your mother say, “Just wait until your father gets home!” How you dreaded hearing his vehicle drive up! In that case, “being near” wasn’t a good thing from your perspective. And yet, when you were scared, stuck on a roof or in a tree, struggling to stay afloat in the water, or, as a teenager in some other kind of deep water, how comforting it was to see dad drive up, look at you with care and concern and say, “Don’t worry. I’m here.” In those situations, “being near” is a wonderful thing.

The message of our Lord in the alternate Holy Gospel according to St. Luke is that “the kingdom of God is near.” That could be a frightening or comforting word—that all depends upon your perspective. As you hear Jesus’ words, ask, “Who are those who are afraid? And, Who are those who are comforted?” Those answers will help us all understand the most difficult part of the text.

"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. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

Who are the ones afraid? Nations. Men. People. Anguish. Perplexity. Fainting, fear, and foreboding. Who are those comforted? You are. “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." What’s the difference? Unbelief and belief. Unfaith and faith. Trust in the things of this world versus trust in Christ. Christ’s coming means judgment for unbelievers. For you, it means redemption.

And he [Jesus] 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.

Nahum and Habakkuk both use fig trees in conjunction with prophecies of judgment. We should sit up and pay attention. Look at the sign. You know what’s coming next. When trees in Wyoming turn from green to a rainbow of colors, you know that fall and winter are coming—not another summer. When the stores get in extra toys, gifts, and a large supply of artificial trees, you know what season is near. When the signs in heaven and on earth have been fulfilled and are being fulfilled before your eyes, know that the kingdom of God is near.

Sunday was the First Sunday in Advent, the first Sunday in a new Church Year. The Sunday closest to November 30th, St. Andrew’s Day, is the First Sunday in Advent. Advent means “Coming.” And the color of the paraments, blue, tells you about who is coming—a king. The Season of Advent is one of preparation. We prepare both for the first coming of Christ on Christmas, as we celebrate the anniversary of His birth, and prepare for His Second Coming on the Last Day—and that Day won’t be pre-announced on any of your calendars!

Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

This is one of the most difficult passages in Luke. Good thing we have it on the very first Sunday of Lectionary Year C—the year where we focus upon St. Luke’s Gospel account. The words, “Truly, I say to you,” are words Jesus uses to get our attention. If all we had to work on were these two sentences about what will and will not pass away, we would be and remain quite puzzled. We would be tempted to engage in speculation about what “generation” meant.

In His Wisdom, the Holy Spirit gives us an entire Gospel account authored by St. Luke, not to mention the entire book of Acts. We have more to work with than just one word, one phrase, one pericope. The word “generation,” taken by itself has varied meanings throughout Luke. But, the specific phrase, “this generation,” three words in Greek, has a very specific meaning in all of its nine specific uses in Luke. Here is where reading Scripture in context again comes to our rescue. The phrase “this generation” in Luke always denotes an unbelieving portion of humanity. They rejected John the Baptizer, keep asking for a sign as an evil generation, and still will not repent after seeing the signs Jesus does provide. “This generation,” at least according to Lukan usage, refers to the continuing line of all unbelievers. Unbelievers will always be with us. And they have reason to fear the coming of the kingdom.

"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. 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."

Unbelievers are known for dissipation—wasteful and excessive lifestyles, drunkenness, and being weighed down by anxiety. Don’t they have opportunity to drag us down with them? Sure! What Christian hasn’t been anxious or fallen into sin? Does it have to be just a one-way influence? If one parent is a believer, but the other is an unbeliever, the children often follow the path of least resistance—they’ll often acquire the habits and attitudes of the unbelieving parent. We can’t give up on our children or grandchildren without a fight! This holiday season, how can you reach out to those who are near to you? What invitations or gifts can you give that would help slow or stop the cycle of unbelief? How can you encourage your family and godchildren to remember their baptism into Christ? Christmas is not just for the children, but for all ages—all the children of our Heavenly Father. How can you snatch those you love out of the anxieties of life and the many addictions that threaten their life and spiritual life?

Near. Your redemption is drawing near. We will soon remember the incarnation—the enfleshment of Christ on Christmas. We are vigilant, always on the watch, expecting Christ’s return and pray that we who believe may escape all that is about to happen, according to Jesus’ promise. We abide in Him and in His love, where He has promised to be in Word and Sacrament, that we may be able to stand before the Son of Man. The Kingdom of God is near. Now is His time of salvation.

Will we sin? Unfortunately, yes. In Christ there is forgiveness for all repented sin! Will we, at times, be anxious? Of course! But our anxiety is not to be all-consuming as it is for those without Christ. Have you seen the difference? Do you see the difference? It is all over / this sermon text of the new Church Year. It all comes down to belief and unbelief.

Those without Christ have reason to be anxious. No wonder nations and people get so perplexed about problems in this world and natural disasters. They may think that this life is all that there is. No wonder they tremble at the thought of the Son of Man coming with power and great glory. They may be uncertain about whether they’ve done enough to merit God’s favor. They will, deep down, if they’re honest with themselves, doubt whether they’ll really go to heaven. There’s a lot to be anxious about. Outside of Christ and the certainty of forgiveness and heaven, there’s reason for drunkenness. In such a depressing life, no wonder they often live in dissipation, spending what they don’t have on things they don’t need which won’t make them any happier than before. Those kind of things are all that unbelief has to hold on to.

Unbelief is the sin that condemns. It condemns because it rejects Christ. Christ is redemption. Christ is the world’s redeemer. Christ is the kingdom. For one without Christ there is no kingdom of grace, no redeemer, no redemption. And there is reason for fear, fainting, and foreboding. Outside of Christianity there is no hope.

The Advent/Christmas/Epiphany season is one of hope. Blue reflects that Advent expectation of a coming King. The music of the season is filled with joyful, hopeful praise. And, until Christmas, we will refrain from singing the Gloria, the song of the Christmas angels announcing Jesus’ birth. Instead, we will rejoice in O Come, O Come Emmanuel at Divine Service. During the Service of Prayer and Preaching we will close with an Advent canticle, the song of Zechariah, his song of praise to God at the birth of his son, John the Baptizer.

On this First week in Advent and the beginning of a new church year, the Scripture readings point to the Lord, who comes to us and who promises to come again. Be always on the watch, pray, and remain in His love, His Word and Sacraments.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! See, Your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you. The kingdom of God is near. And His “being near” is a wonderful thing. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.