Sunday, December 4, 2016
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 Advent, when we speak of the three-fold coming of Jesus – that He came as the Babe of Bethlehem; that He is coming as Lord, King, and Judge; and, that He comes to us now in Word and Sacrament – we must remember that we are dealing first and foremost with a great mystery. Thus, we understand the three-fold coming of Jesus incorrectly, or, at least, incompletely, if we understand His coming as three unique and unrelated events. For, the Son of God did not come into being only upon His incarnation in the conception and birth of Jesus, but He has always been with God, in the beginning, begotten of the Father before all worlds; and He was God before the incarnation, and He is God still after becoming a man, having died and having been raised. Likewise, His death and resurrection did not happen merely in Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago, but He is the Lamb of God that was slain from the very foundation of the world. Further, to say that Christ is coming again, a second time, is not to make Him to be a liar when He says, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.”
Thus, when we consider Jesus’ teaching concerning the end times and His parousia – a word commonly translated as second coming, but which literally means presence – we must submit our reason and our linear conception of time and events and, with ears to hear, listen to the Word of God in faith. For, what Jesus is teaching us is that His kingdom, which is coming, is in fact, already near and already present.
Jesus spoke the Words of our Gospel lesson to His disciples just two days before His crucifixion and death on Good Friday. He spoke of signs in the 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. These signs, Jesus says, indicate that the Son of Man is coming and that redemption is drawing near. Now, the common interpretation of these words of Jesus is that these signs of celestial and earthly turmoil will come at some time in the future before the second coming of the Lord in glory. And, yes, that is certainly a part of Jesus’ meaning. However, at the same time, we cannot help but observe that these signs are present in our world today: Wars and rumors of wars, the threat of global warming, tsunamis, earthquakes, terrorism, the economic crash, etc. Further, such signs have been common to every age. Are we then to conclude that our Jesus is a liar? That He has failed to come? By no means! For, listen to His Word and what He truly says: Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.
Jesus’ Word to His disciples, that very generation, was that all these things would happen within their lifetime – and they most certainly did! Within thirty years the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem, surrounding the city and forbidding the carrying in of food and other necessities and the carrying out of refuse. Within a few weeks, hunger, disease, and death began to ravage the population so that the people resorted to the abandonment of children and even cannibalism. Surely, for the people then, it must have seemed like the end of the world. However, such signs are common to every generation at all times and in all places.
Thus, Jesus compares these signs to that of common flora – the fig tree: 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. Each year, decade after decade, century after century, millennia after millennia, the trees bud out, leaf, bear fruit, and wither, and then the cycle continues: this has happened in the past, it is happening now, and it will continue to happen until the Last Day. In a similar way comes the kingdom of God: the kingdom of God has come, it is coming now, and it will come. Therefore, we can watch the signs and be prepared, for the signs are as obvious as those of the fig tree and of all trees. The kingdom of God is already, even now, present, in hidden and veiled forms to sustain and keep you in the faith. Even now, you stand in the kingdom of God as you live in this generation, thus you have nothing to fear from what is coming on the world.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. This is the three-fold mystery of faith. For, you too have died with Christ and have risen with Him through baptism into His death and resurrection. For you, to live is Christ and to die is gain. The life you now live you live to God, and nothing can separate you from Him but yourself. Now, the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh will tempt you to not believe this, thus you must remain vigilant and watchful for the signs of the Lord’s parousia, His coming, His presence. Those signs are in heaven and they are in earth, for Christ fills all things. Those signs are in His death and in the death of all things, and those signs are in His resurrection and the resurrection of all things. And those signs are in His Word, preached and taught in its truth and purity. Those signs are in the water by the power of His Word and Spirit. And those signs are in the bread which is His body, and the wine which is His blood – because He has spoken so by his Word – for the forgiveness of your sins, for the strengthening of your faith, and for life everlasting – past, present, and future.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.