Sunday, December 4, 2011

Homily for Populus Zion (The Second Sunday in Advent)



Luke 21:25-36; Romans 15:4-13; Malachi 4:1-6

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

In whom or what do you place your fear, your love, and your trust? If your fear, love, and trust is not in God, the Lord of heaven and earth, then your fear, love, and trust is misplaced, for your idols will not stand on the Last Day, at the coming of the Lord. All material things in the heavens and upon the earth will be shaken, all the things in which men place their fear, love, and trust will be reduced to stubble, leaving neither root nor branch. For, there is one God and one Lord who made the heavens and the earth and all things, who still preserves and sustains them, and who will make His presence known in judgment to all who dwell on the face of the earth.

How do you take these words? Do they make you uncomfortable? Do they seem to you to be harsh? Do they strike terror in your hearts? They should. And, they shouldn’t. But, it depends upon in whom and in what you place your fear, your love, and your trust. The fact that our Lord will return in judgment should not cause you fear or concern at all, that is, if you fear, love, and trust in Him now. If you fear, love, and trust in Him now, then the signs of this world passing away are not cause for alarm or terror, but rather for rejoicing, for your redemption is drawing near. But, indeed, they will be terrified who have placed their fear, love, and trust in other things, in material things, worldly things, and fleshly men, for all these will begin to crumble and pass away and they will be left with nothing in which to place their fear, love, and trust, and yet they will know, unequivocally, that Jesus Christ is Lord, and God the Father will be glorified.

However, the great and tragic irony in all of this, of course, is that Jesus Christ was sent for them, as well as for you, even for the entire world. Indeed, the coming of the Son of Man means that your redemption is drawing near. So, rather than cowering in fear, you should lift up your heads in confidence and joy. But, the difference between those who will cower in fear and those who will lift up their heads then is the object, or objects, of your fear, love, and trust now. The temptation of the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh is to take the Lord’s delay in returning as proof that He is not returning at all, that He doesn’t exist at all. And so, you are tempted to value only the material things, the now things, caring not, believing not in the then things. You see, the devil isn’t so concerned about your worshipping him, but only that you divert your attention to something other than the Christ. Be it money, success, fame, family, health, sex, possessions, whatever, he doesn’t care; the devil wants only that your eyes and your heart are not focused upon Jesus, for then he has you, and, though you may not think of it that way, you are serving and worshipping him.

Thus, your Lord warns, “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. […] 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.” Dissipation, drunkenness, and cares of this life – these are the things your Lord warns you against, for they are distractions from the narrow Way that leads to eternal life. They are the means that the devil uses to divert your eyes and your heart from the cross of Jesus Christ. It’s not that worldly and material things are evil, it’s not even that men are evil, for God has made all things good, but it’s really just the same old sin, the only sin, idolatry, creatures fearing, loving, and trusting in the creation more than, or instead of, the Creator of all things. Money isn’t evil, but if money is what you fear losing, love keeping, and trust in for your security, then you have made it your idol, you have made it your god. Same goes for success, fame, family, health, sex, possessions, or whatever. Whatever you place your fear, love, and trust in before or in place of God, that is your god. And, when the true and only God returns in judgment and glory, none of these will remain, and then your misplaced and foolish fear, love, and trust will be left naked and exposed.

But, it’s not like you didn’t know this was coming, right? The Lord has been consistent in His message that this world and this life will not last. Ever since the Fall the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth because of sin, waiting for redemption and re-creation. Indeed, the signs are all around you, they are even in your own flesh which ages, grows weak, and dies. “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees,” Jesus says, “As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know the summer is already near.” Everyone reads the signs of the change of the seasons and so prepares accordingly. Why do you not read the signs that this world’s time is passing quickly, that the end will come, if not tomorrow, the day after that, and so prepare yourself? In the very midst of life, death has us surrounded. Everyone knows that you can’t take it with you. There are no hearse’s pulling U-Hauls. Indeed, Jesus says, “this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.” “Ah!” The scoffers will say. “Many generations have passed, and things continue as they always have. This word of your lord is foolishness!” Yes, indeed, many generations of men have passed, and judgment has come upon them all, they have all died and all their possessions have decayed, their deeds and reputations have been, or will be, forgotten. But, what about the generation of all humanity descended from Adam? What about the generation of the Christian Church birthed from Jesus’ death and resurrection? These have not fully passed away, nor will they until all the things that our Lord prophesied take place. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” He has said, “but My Words will not pass away.”

“My Words will not pass away.” That is key. Life can be hard at times. We each experience life passing away in all sorts of ways, every day of our lives. There is a constant temptation to divert our eyes and our hearts away from Jesus’ Words to all manner of distractions or to deaden our sensory experiences with drug or drink. But we are not like those without hope. We have God’s Word and His promises kept and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. His Word never changes, it never passes away, but it remains constant, trustworthy, certain, and true. It was “written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” When you see and experience the signs of change and decay in your life, in this world, do not despair, but turn to His Word and see that all things are just as He said they would be. Then, “straighten up and raise up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Even now you can experience a foretaste of your redemption as you are released from the chains and bondage of fleshly and worldly possessions and values, as you die to yourself and selfish desires and passions and live to Christ in loving service of your brother and neighbor.

“Stay awake at all times, praying,” and greet the rising sun each day with hopefulness, knowing that your redemption is drawing near. Then you may leap into each day like calves from the stall. And, “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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