Advent 2 Sermon, 2016
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
How do you know the end of something is coming?
If you like to watch movies, you know when a movie’s about to end. The tone changes, the music changes, everything is preparing you for the end.
Forrest Gump is a classic example of this. At the beginning of Forrest Gump, a single feather floats gently down, a beautiful musical score accentuates the feather’s every turn, and for two minutes you’re staring at a computer-generated feather—until—it lands softly at Forrest’s feet, his running shoes covered in mud.
Then, he picks the feather up, moves his box of chocolates, opens his suitcase, and with all the memorabilia of his life, he places it in his favorite book, Curious George. If you know what to look out for, the first three minutes of Forrest Gump tell you the entire story.
So the end, then, can’t possibly be a surprise.
The same book, the same feather, the same musical score, and…roll credits. The End.
There are so many differences from beginning and end, but there are also so many similarities.
In movies, this doesn’t surprise us. We’ve grown kind of used to it.
But what signs accompany the end times? What signs tell us that the end is near? How will you know?
We’ve been taught very well that no one knows the day nor the hour (cf. Matthew 24:36). But that doesn’t mean there aren’t signs to accompany the end.
You might be surprised at what Jesus says signals the end.
He says, “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” (Luke 21:25-26).
“So also, when you see [the fig tree and its leaves], you know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:31).
You might be surprised that Jesus lists relatively common things as signs of the end, but that’s the point. Since the first Pentecost, we’ve been living in the end times. We know neither the day nor the hour, but it could be today.
The day Jesus returns will bring utter disaster for the wicked and proud. They’ll suffer and know great terror, because—when Jesus comes—those who thought they mattered most will be humbled. And those who humbled themselves before God will be exalted.
But less than you think separates the righteous from the wicked.
The wicked love their families. They love Christmas and America and parades.
The wicked don’t love Jesus, not the real Jesus, anyway. Everyone loves the Jesus who goes around smiling, laughing, and giving hugs. But it’s tough to love the Jesus who calls us to repentance, and suffers, and dies, and bids us to pick up our cross and follow Him.
When Jesus comes, what separates wicked from righteous, one thing, is how they see the signs.
The wicked will and do see the signs. They just don’t pay attention to them. They skip the first three minutes of the movie, and are caught off guard when the ending comes.
So, when Jesus comes, the wicked will see the signs, too late, in the sun and moon and stars and earth and sea. They’ll see them as armies gathered on the horizon, against them, as imminent and painful death, as the end of all good things.
Jesus says, “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” (Luke 21:34).
What Jesus said and Matthew wrote was for our instruction, yet we live not for harmony and hope but for ourselves. We think it specifically Christian to love our families, to be thankful for them, but in this we’re no different than anyone else.
Loving Christmas and eggnog and feasting, loving presents and decorations and Rudolph doesn’t make you a Christian. Repent.
If we’re saved by our lives or works, by who or what we’ve loved, we’ll be in agony forever in unquenchable fire.
That terrible day is coming, but for us who have joy now in Christ, that day will be pure joy.
In His warning, Jesus directs our attention to what’s going on in the world now. In politics and climate change, in violent crime and loss of rights, in news of wars and reminders that sometimes the sky rains down bombs on young soldiers relaxing on a quiet Sunday morning in Hawaii. Jesus directs our attention to signs of the end. Signs that have always been and will always be. Signs that always say the same thing: the end is at hand!
Disasters, economic upheaval, and even the simple sorrow of being the target of gossip show us that this world will not endure.
But Jesus doesn’t say what He does so that we run around like so many Chicken Littles. He tells us to lift our heads and hearts in glad anticipation. Our redemption, our Jesus, is drawing near. For those of us who have joy now in Christ, that day will be pure joy.
The signs we see teach us to expect what’s coming, the Day of the Lord. Look to the signs in sun, moon, and stars—in earth, sea, and even in your own life. Look to the cross, to war, even to death, and see what God—in the midst of terror and loss—promises.
His Word promises tribulations now. And, His Word promises the end of all tribulation in Christ.
Your enemies will be no more. Sin will lose its appeal. Temptation will have no power. There’ll be no one to either accuse or hurt you. Death will be undone.
The good work begun in you will be complete.
Your justification and your sanctification will match perfectly. Creation itself will rejoice to see you revealed as a son of God.
And you’ll rejoice. You’ll be glad, for the kingdom of God will come to you and never be taken away.
Knowing how it will end, our struggle is making it to the end, believing what God promises while suffering, here and now, the tribulations of the world.
We have many hardships, secret and not. You endure in prayer and faith, by Word and Sacrament, waiting for the day of revelation, for the apocalyptic culmination of your hope. In Christ, the wrath of God will pass you over, for you are marked with the blood of the Lamb.
The Lord Himself is with you. He’s on your side. He loves you. And He’s coming back to get you.
This is that God has promised, the end that He’s won for us. It’s even the end that He’s shown us—we see in the Resurrection of Jesus what we have to look forward to. The resurrection of our bodies and the life everlasting.
When Jesus returns, There will be joy in heaven and on earth because of the glory of God and His just judgment. But there is also joy now in the assurance of your forgiveness for Christ’s sake. While we have much to look forward to, there’s much for which to give thanks, too.
The Lord, who came by the Virgin to lay down His life as a sacrifice for the sins of all the world and to take it up again as a renunciation of hell and death, He comes to you, here and now, in His Holy Word and Sacrament so that—while yet in this flesh, afflicted with the old Adam, even now, while you walk through death’s dark valley—even now, you have joy.
And if the Lord comes now and makes you His temple; if He visits you now in this painful, sad, and broken world despite your sins and doesn’t now look away from your nakedness and shame but comes now to cover and protect you; if He declares you righteous and holy now, then there’s nothing to fear, and much for which to rejoice, then, on the last day.
For if God comes now in grace and mercy according to His Word, then on the Last Day He’ll come in the same way—in grace and mercy—only then it’ll be visible and with power, and He’ll finish what He began in you at your baptism.
Thus says the Lord: “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. 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” (Luke 21:29-33).
When Jesus teaches regarding the fig tree, it was a different season than what we have here and now.
The fig tree, then, would’ve been in bloom, so summer was near, and the kingdom of God was near.
Our fig trees aren’t in bloom, so to speak, but there are other things to look at.
Remember your Baptism. Hear His Word. Believe His Absolution. Taste and see that the Lord is good, His Body and Blood is given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.
Christ our Lord visits you now.
He comes to you in your hour of need, now, in grace and mercy, the crucified and risen Lord, for your sake and for your good.
Tribulations we’ve got. Surrounded by danger, temptation, and constant injustice, we see clearly that the world is evil, but Jesus is faithful!
He has ascended, but He hasn’t abandoned you.
He comes to visit you, now, with mercy in His wings, with a promise and hope, with comfort.
He comes, now, with His Word and Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins.
Our Lord comes to serve and to save.
He is the fig leaf that foreshows the end.
His body and blood are the foretaste of the feast to come.
He covers your nakedness and shame.
You are, here and now, redeemed, washed clean in the blood of the Lamb and ready for the end.
We know how it will end. Straighten up. Lift up your head. Rejoice!
Our Lord, the Lord, comes in grace and mercy.
And in Him, even now, we have joy.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!