Sunday, December 6, 2015
Homily for Populus Zion - The Second Sunday In Advent (Advent 2)
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.
If you needed a reminder that Advent is not Christmas, today’s Gospel and Old Testament readings surely ought to set you straight. Both texts describe the end of the world in terms of solar, lunar, and planetary cataclysm, global natural catastrophe, and scorching fire leaving neither root nor branch. Our Lord states that “heaven and earth will pass away,” and, to illustrate, St. Peter adds that the very elements themselves, of which all things are made, shall melt with fervent heat so that the heavens and the earth will be dissolved. What our Lord and the Holy Scriptures describe is nothing short of the undoing of Creation. He who made all things will unmake all things that He might make all things new once again.
Do these things frighten you? Do they fill you with terror? They should not. They must not. Indeed, your Lord Jesus exhorts you and encourages you, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Truly, if these things frighten you and terrify you, that should be a sign to you that you just might have some misunderstanding about this world and the things in it, and your God who made this world and all things. You just might have a misunderstanding about what constitutes your life and what does not. Jesus says that you should be encouraged, happy, even joyful that this world and everything in it is passing away. Understand, this includes your very own flesh and blood body, and the flesh and blood bodies of your husband, your wife, your children, your friends, and all those you love.
But, this is a good thing! How is it a good thing? It is good that your flesh will be destroyed, for it is your flesh and its passions and desires that are at war with your spirit in Christ so that the good you would do you do not do, while the bad that you would not do you continually find yourself doing. “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” It is good that material things and worldly wealth, which tempt you so to sin and to idolatry, will be destroyed. If you are fearful of losing these things, if you are fearful of losing your life, then this Word is for you – “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.”
Please note, your Lord does not want you to be terrified. Your Lord wants you to be watching and waiting in hopeful expectation. If you are baptized, and your fear, love, and trust is in your Lord Jesus, then there is no reason for you to be afraid. The day of His coming is not a day of dread and terror for you. It is not a day of judgment and condemnation for you, but it is the day of your salvation, your vindication, and your justification. Because you are watching and waiting each and every day of your life, you cannot possibly be surprised when your Lord Jesus comes, but you must fully expect to see Him coming soon, perhaps very soon, perhaps today, or tomorrow, or the day after that. Why? Look at the signs! Look at the signs all around you! Are there not wars and rumors of wars all around you? Are not nations rising up against nations? Are not peoples and nations in distress and perplexity? Are not your neighbors fainting with fear and foreboding of what is coming on the world? Are there not signs in sun, moon, and stars? Is not the earth itself in distress? Yes! Surely, yes!
But, then, such has always been the case. Such was the case in the days of Jesus and the Apostles. It was to them in first century Israel that your Lord spoke these words, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.” Surely Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled within forty years, a biblical generation, when the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem and destroyed the city and its temple. Indeed, the signs of the end have always been, and always will be, until the Last Day actually comes. That is why Jesus teaches the parable of the fig tree and all trees: “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.” Just as the fig tree and all trees go through annual cycles of budding, leafing, bearing fruit, and returning to dormancy each year, so the signs of the decay of the universe, of the heavens and the earth, and of your own bodies are self-evident to all who will simply wake up and pay attention. Truly, the signs of the end are self-evident in your own flesh, in your failing ears and eyes, knees and backs. On a personal level, there is no denying that the end is coming soon and is, in fact, a little closer each day.
And so it is with the coming of your Lord. You are a deluded fool if you deny or fail to take seriously that the day of judgment is drawing ever nearer. But, again, that day should not terrify you, but you should watch for that day in hopeful expectation. No, I am not suggesting that you should walk around in detached and aloof manner, careless of the concerns of the world you inhabit. Many Christians do this and thereby neglect their God-given vocations in this world. No, you must not merely sit back and wait for Christ’s return, refusing to get involved in the messy worldliness of politics and society and culture, but you are to be actively involved in the world, without being of the world, as the salt, leaven, and light of Christ that others may walk in the light of Christ and not in the darkness of sin and death.
No, aloof detachment is not the appropriate response, but peaceful contentment most certainly is. “When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” “For you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” Because you have nothing to fear at the Lord’s coming, for His coming means for you redemption and salvation, you may view these things the way a mother views the pangs of childbirth – as a light momentary affliction that is preparing you for an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison. Truly, contentment and peace are more precious and valuable than are happiness and joy, though the Lord may grant that these accompany them. Moreover, your contentment and peace are a powerful witness to your faith in the promises of the LORD fulfilled and kept in your Savior Jesus Christ.
Indeed, no small measure of your contentment and your peace comes from the fact that you are not enslaved to the desires of the flesh and to material and worldly possessions and pursuits, but you are truly free in the knowledge that this world and everything in it is passing away. You have made your treasure in heaven and not on earth, and it cannot be moved or be taken from you. Therefore, you are free to live in contentment and peace with all, even with unbelievers, and with those who hate you. There is nothing for you to lose. There is nothing that they can take from you that will endure, not even your life. For, your hope is not in holding on to things that are fleeting and passing away, but in holding on to the eternal and unchangeable things – to Jesus, His Word, eternal life, and salvation.
Even God’s holy and perfect Law is no longer a threat to you. No longer does it terrify you with its threats of punishment and damnation, but you actually love it and want to keep it, for you know its wisdom and its goodness. The Law is no longer your fearsome taskmaster and judge, but it is the LORD’s righteous, holy, good, and loving rule and order of things. Your new man, the new spirit created within you by the Holy Spirit through baptism and faith knows God’s Law, agrees with God’s Law, loves God’s Law, desires to keep God’s Law, and actually does works according to God’s Law, works that are truly good before the LORD because they are purified in the blood of Jesus through faith. Thus St. Paul exhorts you to good works saying, “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” For the faithful, the Law is not a source of terror, but it is a cause for encouragement. Thanks be to God that the Law will never pass away, but, rather, that it has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ!
“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.” This is the LORD’s exhortation to you this Advent – Hope. Christ has come. Christ comes. And, Christ is coming. This truth is our hope at Advent, and at all times in the Church’s Year of Grace. Because of our fear, love, and trust in God’s Word of promise, we have hope for the fulfilling of all things. Therefore, we wait and watch hopefully and expectantly for Christ’s coming and do not get weighed down with worldly and fleshly pursuits, cares, and pleasures. In truth, you are more useful to the world in sharing the reason for the hope that is in you than you are quarreling with your neighbors about politics and the latest social or moral disagreement. In truth, you are more useful to the world when you stay a course of constancy and contentment and peace while the world around you is in perplexity and distress because of what is happening as it slips speedily into inevitable decline and decay.
And so, this Adventide is a time of peace and contentment and of hopeful expectation, even as it exhorts you to wakefulness and watchfulness, for the temptations the world and your own flesh set before you to dissipation and drunkenness are many and ceaseless. Thus, the Church of Jesus Christ prays in the Advent collects, “Stir up our hearts, O Lord,” that we might be roused from slumber to heed the signs of the time and to watch hopefully and expectantly for His coming. “Stir up our hearts, O Lord,” that we might be found awake and watching when He comes.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.