All the Signs Point to Christ

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December 2, 2018. Be prepared, for Jesus is coming. Jon Heerboth preaches on this first day of Advent about the preparations we Christians make for the Christmas celebration.


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Be prepared, for Jesus is coming. It’s the first Sunday in Advent, as we’ve been hearing all morning. And for us it’s the beginning of a new church year and the time when we prepare for Christmas, which is our celebration of the first coming of Jesus Christ. When I think about getting ready for Christmas, I think about the little baby Jesus in the manger, the stable, the peaceful quiet night, the choir of angels, the pretty things that make me want to go home and set up my tree and my humble decorations and get out my Christmas Lego. I don’t think about things that are mentioned in the lesson today. So we have to be prepared because there are no gentle images in today’s gospel lesson. In fact, those images are anything but gentle. They’re pretty brutal, and they were pretty brutal in Luke’s time as well, when he read them. The people who heard this story from Luke the first time were worried, because the city of Jerusalem had been destroyed and the temple had been sacked, and the walls were pulled down stone by stone. It was a complete disaster.


But today, it’s not the helpless infant, but more of that. Images of the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. In the Christmas story, we see almost a paradox. The humble baby Jesus and then in today’s gospel, the coming in clouds. Power and might. Glory. Maybe the destruction of the earth. God keeping the rest of his promises. And so we have to be prepared, because as Jesus tells us in Luke, the signs are all around us. Signs in the sun, the moon, the stars. Signs in the news, in shootings, in tragedies. Earthquakes in Alaska. Fires in California. Mayhem everywhere. Corruption. Hunger. And if you look at today’s Post Dispatch, homelessness. Signs in the distress in families. Signs in the tragedies caused by a warming planet. What in the world is going on? What’s the world coming to, we ask?


Well, what happens to you when you’re frightened, when you’re pressed down or dismayed? I know sometimes we can’t even concentrate because of what Jesus called the “roaring of the sea and the waves,” or to us, the many distractions and stresses of our lives in a sinful world. We even have trouble in the month of December just getting ready for the Christmas holiday, which should be a time of peace and joy and families thinking about the first coming of Jesus Christ. It seems like everything can be difficult. In verse 26 today, Jesus said that people will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaking. What is my life coming to? I ask when I’m weighed down by cares and worries. I might walk more slowly. My shoulders sag. I might be burdened by my own actions or behaviors that I wish I could set aside.


Earlier in chapter 21, Luke warned that things will not be easy as the end times approach. They’re not going to be easy for Christians, either. Our lives will fall apart, he said. We will face hostility from neighbors, legal problems even, or even conflict within our own families. But for us though — and this is almost a paradox — all of these signs, all of these troubles, all of these trials in our lives point to Christ. When these things happen, our redemption is drawing near.


Now, redemption already came to us in the past once and for all, with the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Now that redemption is available to us, now and into the future. Even though the world around us may fall apart, that’s not a sign of God’s absence or lack of concern for us. We are still God’s people. We have the promise of God’s presence in our midst, even in the middle of all of our problems that we face from day to day.


Now after Jesus listed all the depressing signs in his world, he stopped for a minute and spoke to his listeners in a very pastoral way. God’s words, his reassuring promise of salvation, will last and will not fail. He said that while Heaven and Earth will pass away, his promises to us, his assurance that he is with us, God will remain with us always, and his promises will not fail. What the world sees as signs of despair, and heaven knows there are plenty of signs of despair out there, we see as signs of hope, because our redemption is here and now and will come again, Luke says, in power and majesty. Because everything points to Jesus Christ. Now we are all God’s children, claimed and named in baptism. We are assured of eternal salvation by faith, in the death and resurrection of Jesus. By God’s grace our sins are forgiven. We are redeemed and reconciled before Christ because of what Christ has done for us. This morning here in church we confessed our sins once again and received absolution, God’s reassurance that our sins are forgiven. We are redeemed now before God so we can pray “Thy kingdom come” and mean it.


In Advent, we remember God’s coming in history, God’s presence among us now, and we prepare for Jesus’ return in majesty at the end of time. We pay attention to so much more than just the birth of Jesus. But how do we prepare for Christmas with the deep sense that God’s work is still unfinished? There are still promises that we expect God to keep, so we have a sense of longing inside of us for the ultimate redemption and fulfillment of all God’s promises that we encounter in the Bible. And we pray for him to come and fulfill those promises.


We Christians prepare for Christmas in lots of ways. We go ahead and decorate our homes, light up the street even, go shopping for gifts, and we celebrate like everybody else. But we are also nonconformist. Our preparations, and you can see them here — the blue paraments, the color of hope we say, we can come to church and see that. We can attend Advent services, the Holden Evening Prayer — that beautiful, short reminder of God’s promises to us. We can read daily Advent devotions. We come and practice for the cantata once a week, sometimes twice a week — which I would recommend to anyone. (You know, the choir pays for advertising, so…) So we decorate the church, and we do what we have to do to remember God’s promises to us. Our goal as Christians is to find God in our preparations for the Christmas celebration. We have to be able to see the coming of Christ, even though we have cares, burdens, fears, and sins — even though it’s often very hard to see God’s work in the morning paper. We have to remember that for us, all of the signs point to Christ.


In the reading from Thessalonians this morning, Paul explained to his readers what it means to be waiting for the Lord’s return. Now, he wrote directly to the Christians at Thessalonica. He also speaks to his brothers and sisters at Christ Lutheran Church in Webster Groves. In verse 12 and 13 he hoped that the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. Here at Christ, we will prepare by being a distinctive and loving community while we await the Lord’s return. We will pursue holiness by obedience to God’s wishes, and through everyday discipleship within our community and out in our daily lives. So, we prepare for this upcoming event, the final turning point in Christians’ experience: the second and final coming of Christ. So we may go shopping for Christmas gifts. Let us also find God this Advent season by attending church.


We find God by hearing the word. We find God in the bread and in the wine. We find God in our prayers for one another and for the people of the world at large. We will surely find God in each other, in our sisters and brothers who wish us God’s peace every Sunday. In verse 28 of our text today, Jesus says that when the signs of his second coming appear, we should stand up and raise our heads because redemption is drawing near.


Here at Christ Lutheran Church, when we raise our heads and look up (you can do that now, raise your heads and look up) who do you see? You see the face of Christ over this incredibly beautiful altar. So we encounter Christ here the same way we should be encountering Christ everywhere, a constant reminder of God’s promise of salvation and God’s love for all people. Most important, we have to remember that Jesus, who died and rose, is still here with us and will return again at the end.


Now before we end, I ran across something. My dad died about six-and-a-half years ago, and he was quite a scholar. He loved languages and spent a lot of his time studying. And he left a pile of books. Ordinarily you would just pass them on or get rid of them, but I don’t think he wanted us to do that because in the books, he left notes. He left his old textbooks. He had cartoons of his professors that he drew. He left little notes here and there. Even in the pages of the book there would be little nuggets. But when I was preparing for this, I took his relatively new Greek New Testament and I opened the front cover, and as he would do there was a paragraph and so I ran into it. I hadn’t seen it before, and it was in Latin. Of course. He knew that would drive me crazy. So I got his old lexicon out — it’s literally almost 200 years old — and started trying to translate it. And then I realized my translation was no good, but I recognized what he had written. And it was the prayer for the first Sunday in Advent. And next to it, he wrote, “This prayer is the gateway to Eden for people who study the word of God.” And I just thought we should end today by repeating this little prayer that we’ve already said. I like the little different translation of it better than what we said earlier. So let’s pray together the words of the prayer for the day:


Stir up your power, O Lord, and come. Rescue and protect us from the threatening perils of our sins by your might. For you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.


The hymn for the day is 246, “Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding!” Take a look as you sing. Concentrate on verse 4, the words of comfort:


When next he comes in glory
And the world is wrapped in fear,
He will shield us with his mercy
And with Words of Love draw near.


And so we rise, if we’re able, for the hymn.


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2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Jon Heerboth