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Advent 2 – Luke 21:25-36

by pastorjuhl ~ December 2nd, 2010

Revised from 2006.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

Every natural disaster is a glimpse of the end times. The prophet Haggai writes thus says the LORD of hosts: “Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,” says the LORD of hosts. Isaiah also prophecies the earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall totter like a hut; its transgression shall be heavy upon it, and it will fall, and not rise again.

Natural disasters are scary thing. If an earthquake, fire, flood, ice storm, blizzard, tornado, or tsunami doesn’t prove the world is ending, nothing will. Jesus says in today’s Gospel, when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.

Waiting for redemption is perhaps the last thing on your mind when disaster strikes. You’re taught to be prepared. Some of you might recall the days of “duck and cover” in preparation for a nuclear bomb. Now and then, you might see a sign for a “fallout shelter”. Perhaps you keep a stash of food and water just in case of a terrorist attack on our country or some other unforeseen calamity. The Cold War may be over and the Iron Curtain may have fallen, but the End Times still looms large.

Why are we so scared of the end of the world? It is the great unknown. Our sin-sick brain cannot understand what it means to see the powers of the heavens…shaken. We don’t understand what it will be like to have a new body and soul. We have not seen someone rise from the dead on command. Never before have we seen what life is like beyond what life is like right now. Living in the presence of Almighty God in the heavenly mansions is beyond even our imagination. Your heart fails…from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth.

Saint Clement is one of the earliest of Church Fathers. He wrote the following concerning those who wish to remain ignorant of our Lord’s imminent coming: Far from us be that which is written, “Wretched are they who are of a double mind, and of a doubting heart; who say, ‘These things we have heard even in the times of our fathers; but behold, we have grown old and none of them has happened to us.'” Fools, compare yourselves to a tree: take the vine. First it sheds, then it buds, then leaves, then flowers, and after that the sour grape, then the ripened fruit.

That last bit about the tree sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Clement stole it from our Lord’s Words in today’s Holy Gospel. Jesus uses an illustration about a fig tree and all trees to explain the signs that precede His final advent. When a tree buds, you know summer is near. So it is with our Lord’s coming. When unexplainable things in nature happen, you know that this world will pass away and a new world is coming soon.

Look up and lift up your heads. Do not catch yourself saying Jesus is a liar when He bids you consider the fig tree and all trees. The great Elijah prophesied by Malachi has come. John the Baptizer is his name. He prepares the way of the Lord in the preaching of repentance, not the preaching of complacency. The last words of the Old Testament bid you remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. The fig tree is turning green even though winter is a few days away.

We have a summer sort of Savior. Jesus Christ takes those languishing in the winter of discontent and shakes them awake with the preaching of the Law. You either remain discontent and die for all eternity or repent and are renewed through the forgiveness of sins. No tree surgeon takes a dead branch, bores a hole in a living tree, sticks the dead branch into the living tree, and makes the branch alive.

Yet Jesus Christ does this very thing. The living God sows His Word into your life. His living Word turns your heart of stone into a heart of flesh. The living Word draws you to the font of Holy Baptism, where sin is washed away. The washing of repentance and renewal draws close once again in the words of Holy Absolution. Sin is forgiven, washed away. Your transgressions are as far from you as the east is from the west. He grafts you through baptism into His Vine of righteousness. Jesus says, I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

The living Word draws you to the Altar to receive nourishment of forgiveness and life in Christ’s True Body and True Blood. As often as you eat His Body and drink His Blood, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. As you’ll sing in the Communion hymn:

My Savior paid the debt I owe
And for my sin was smitten
Within the Book of Life I know
My name has now been written.
I will not doubt, for I am free,
And Satan cannot threaten me;
There is no condemnation! (LSB 508:5)

What a day it will bring when the Bridegroom calls us! All the worrying and fretting about the world crumbling around us will be forgotten. When the earth quakes, when stars fall from heaven, when nation rises against nation, when waves roar and foam out of control, and when all the world has no idea what’s happening, you will look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near. This may not sound like a message of hope, but it is. What is here today is gone tomorrow. We are wayfaring strangers passing through a pilgrim land. You are counted worthy to escape all these thing that will come to pass. The birth pangs of the end of the world are the birth pangs of a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. Even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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