The Summertime of Christ’s Return Is Coming.
The Second Sunday in Advent – Pr. Faugstad sermon
Text: St. Luke 21:25-36
In Christ Jesus, our Light in the darkness, our Joy in sorrow, our Hope in times of distress, dear fellow redeemed:
Well it’s that time of year. Major changes are just around the corner. It’s time for us to get ready! It’s time to put away our winter coats and snow shovels, take out the patio table and chairs, and tune up the lawnmower. If it were April or May, what I just said would make sense. But it’s not, it’s December. Our minds are not set on summer; we are focused on getting through the cold, dark days of winter.
But Jesus calls us to have a springtime mindset. He doesn’t want us to get sleepy in the long autumn and winter months. He wants us to be watchful, prepared. He wants us to recognize that His coming on the last day is drawing near. The signs of His return are all around us, just as budding trees and plants in springtime give evidence that “summer is already near.”
Jesus tells us what to watch for. A few verses before today’s text, He says that as His second advent approaches, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences” (Luk. 21:10-11). These things are all happening, and they have been for a long time. We have not experienced all of them ourselves, but they are certainly taking place around the world. And like we have learned this year with “pestilences,” these troubles can strike at any time and place.
Jesus identifies still more signs that will come before His return—“signs in 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. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
Some signs are welcome. When lights are hung outside, a tree is set up in the house, and beautifully wrapped gifts start to appear, children know that Christmas is coming. They look forward to it with great excitement. But the signs before Jesus’ second coming sound terrifying: roaring sea and waves, people fainting with fear, the powers of the heavens shaken. And then Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, will come “in a cloud with great power and glory.”
Why does the Lord have to choose such distressing signs to come before His return? Well they certainly get people’s attention. Jesus describes life-altering events that force people to reckon with their own mortality, to realize that they are not in control. But experiencing or observing a sign and correctly interpreting it are two different things.
When God knocks us sinners off our pedestals of power and pride, we usually just resolve to build bigger pedestals. Earthquakes, floods, or other disasters in nature happen, and we say we have to try to stop them somehow. The same goes for sickness and aging and maybe even death. Instead of understanding these things as reminders from God to get ready and stay focused on Christ’s return, we sinners stay focused on ourselves.
We look to other gods to help us, false gods. So when illness spreads in a community or on a larger scale like we have witnessed this year, people look first to medical practitioners for help and not to the almighty God. Their fervent commitment to this false god is even expressed in a creed-like way: “We believe in science,” as though science has never or could never fail.
Or we trust in some elected official as our god—he or she will make everything right. For many, nature is their god. They say that if we take better care of it, it will take better care of us. Some live as though the troubling signs that Jesus describes aren’t even happening. All they care about is their stuff, their prosperity, their pleasure-seeking. That is their god.
All of the gods we set up for ourselves are a corruption of what God intended for our good. He is the one who gives us medicine and skilled doctors and nurses, and we are most grateful for their care. He gives governing authorities to maintain order in society and to promote what is right. He gives us the beauty and abundance of nature which also sustains our life. He gives us the gifts of home and property. But instead of glorifying Him, our Creator, for these wonderful blessings, we want to give glory to the created thing.
Do you see why God needs to shake the world a bit? Why He needs to shake us? None of the false gods we look to can keep us from dying. None of them can save our soul. Only He can. He gives the terrifying signs He does because He loves us. He doesn’t want to let the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh “pull the wool over our eyes.” When troubles come our way, He wants us to look to Him, eyes wide open, focused on His promise to be merciful and gracious toward us.
Notice that when Jesus describes the signs of the end times, He doesn’t tell us to go find a bunker somewhere and hide. He doesn’t tell us to cower in fear. He says, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Now to “redeem” is to “buy back.” We have already been redeemed through Jesus’ death for us. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7).
So what “redemption” do we still have to look forward to? The redemption that draws near is our final deliverance from sin and every evil. When Jesus comes on the last day, we will no longer be troubled by the weakness of our flesh, the sorrow of death, or the devil’s temptations. All those things will be ended. Jesus will call His people, both the ones who are sleeping in the tomb and the ones who are yet alive, to come forth in glory. We “groan inwardly” waiting for this day, “[waiting] eagerly for… the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23).
We should look eagerly for our Savior’s return and our final redemption. But it’s hard to stay focused on spring and summer when there is so much winter to live through. Winter drags us down. The cold, wind, and snow force us inside. We feel less hopeful. The dark, dreary days seem like they will never end. Worry gets the better of us, and we might try to address it by overindulging in food or drink or some other drug.
Jesus warns us to beware of such things in our physical life and our spiritual life. He warns us about being dragged down by the devil’s discouragements, closing ourselves off from others, feeling hopeless in the face of death. He tells us to “watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation [with the distractions of worldly living] and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.”
Some get so stuck in spiritual winter that they stop looking for springtime. They stop trusting their Lord’s promise of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. They stop trusting God’s unchanging love and mercy toward them. They give themselves over to the darkness of the world.
But this winter will pass. Already the days before Christ’s return are getting longer and warmer. The birds are starting to sing. The green blades of grass are poking their heads through the soil. Bright leaves and blossoms are pushing out from the tips of hard, brown branches. It’s difficult to imagine this right now, but it’s true. The springtime of our salvation is here, which means summertime is right around the corner.
We know Christ’s return is coming because of the signs all around us. He told us these things would take place, and He told us how to interpret them. He does not send them to make us fearful, but hopeful. A much better future is in store for us. The Lord has made sure of it.
God the Father saw how we run after other gods, and how they leave us in despair. So He sent His only Son into our world as a Man. Jesus came to expose the impotence of those false gods, to destroy the power of the devil, to shine the light of life into darkened minds and hearts.
God’s Son came for you, to save your soul. He loved you so completely that He gladly accepted the punishment for all your wrongs. He died for you, and then He rose again to show you that death cannot win. Death will not keep you forever. As flowers emerge even after a long, frozen winter and come out in great beauty and splendor, so you will rise from your grave in glory when Christ returns.
The Summertime of Christ’s Return Is Coming. There are sorrows now, but joy is on the horizon. Now is the time for watchfulness and prayer. Winter does not last forever and neither will our trials. The world can mock us for our springtime mindset in these dark and dreary days. But we will stay dressed for action and keep our lamps burning (Luk. 12:35), because we know our Lord is coming, and that He is coming soon. We join the hymnwriter in singing with hope and joy:
O blessed Jesus, what You have given,
Through dying on the cross in bitter pain,
Has filled my heart with the peace of heaven;
My winter’s gone, and spring is mine again.
O Christian friends, let our song ascending
Give honor, praise to Him who set us free!
Our tribulations may seem unending;
But soon with Him we shall forever be. Amen. (ELH #61, vv. 2-3)
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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(picture from stained glass at Jerico Lutheran Church)