Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 21:25–21:36
First Sunday of Advent
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
We’re pretty good at watching. It’s a lot of what we do. We watch football and basketball. We watch parades and pageants. We watch movies and concerts. And this time of year, there’s a lot out there to watch! If you choose to watch the news, what you’re watching can get pretty depressing. I’ve seen reports of people injured in Black Friday shopping chaos. I’ve seen segments on the uncertain state of our economy here at home, and the worsening troubles of millions of people abroad. Usually at the tail end of a newscast, however, they’ll throw in something I’ve heard called a “jumping porpoise” story. This closing segment usually shows something cheerful or encouraging, giving viewers an upbeat ending as they leave the newscast. People like happy endings.
If you’re watching the news and popular culture in America this month, you’re probably going to encounter people talking about a different kind of ending. It seems that a lot of people are under the impression that the ancient Mayan calendar predicts that December 21, 2012 will be the end of the world. They don’t know how or why, but they figure that the Mayans might have been on to something. The simple truth, however, is that the Mayan calendar merely wraps up one long cycle of numbering, kind of like how people around the world celebrated the turning of the millennium. The Mayans had no special knowledge about the end of the world; yet no matter how many times historians, mathematicians, or astronomers might explain that December 21 would merely be a calendar change for that ancient people, speculation about that date a few weeks away will continue – and turn up in news reports and conversations with your friends.
People are concerned about the end of the world. They might not admit to it, but there’s a reason that so-called doomsday predictions and blockbuster movies catch interest. That great and final day is coming, and no one will be able to avoid it.
Jesus’ words in our text today mark the only time that he speaks of the end of the world in Luke’s Gospel account. He doesn’t say when the end will come, but he does tell his hearers what awaits. He speaks of the signs that will point towards that Last Day, and they’d certainly be at home in the most epic blockbuster: oceans of chaos roaring, the powers of the heavens shaken. The signs that Jesus foretells will cause panic and despair, but only in those who do not hear his word. When Jesus speaks of “this generation,” he’s referring to all those who look to themselves for salvation rather than to God. That generation wasn’t just confined to the first century, for it continues to this day. That’s the generation in which we live and from which we have been called.
The signs of the end of the world will definitely have an effect, but Jesus tells us that effect will be markedly different for two different sets of people. The first set, everyone who does not hear and listen to his word, will be caught up in increasing fear and foreboding, watching the signs that shake the heavens, worrying over what is to come. That makes sense: they’d have nothing to hold them up when their world is falling down. Everything that they’d look to would leave them uncertain and desperate. Those who believe the word of life that Jesus brings need not be afraid of what’s coming on that day; however, because Jesus is the one that’s on his way.
Jesus’ words are meant for you and me today as we enter into the season of Advent. This is a time of preparation, looking ahead to Jesus’ entry among us – not just remembering his birth some two thousand years ago, but watching and waiting for his return. That day is not something you need to fear when you have been called to faith in Christ. Last weekend, we celebrated Christ as King of all creation, all heaven and earth, the Alpha and Omega. He is the King. He is the Redeemer. As he tells his audience, when the Son of Man comes at the end of the world, your redemption is drawing near. The Last Day is bringing the fullness of Jesus’ victory into our world, driving out sin and death once and for all. Instead of fainting with fear, know that you can follow Jesus’ instruction to stand up straight.
This Advent, we celebrate that God is making us ready to stand in the presence of the Son of Man. That’s what this season is all about. When Christians sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” we’re doing so in the knowledge that his return will make a very happy ending – and beginning – for his people. The crucified and glorified Christ will come from heaven and put a final end to all the brokenness of our world. Violence and hate, greed and want, uncertainty and anxiety will no longer burden creation once Jesus returns. We’re looking ahead to life with God-with-us. And during Advent, you and I get to focus on watching for Jesus.
When you watch for Jesus in this season, look to and through the cross. Much of our watching, be it of sports, entertainment, or news, is passive. Advent watching, however, is active. Jesus is calling you to make ready by watching your life, to beware those things in life that cloud your awareness of his imminent return and of the end of the world. The blinders of dissipation, drunkenness, and the anxieties of daily life are just as present today as they were two thousand years ago, if not more so – especially for you who live in this time and place. Distractions abound, all seeking to take your eyes off the cross, coaxing you to think that you need to look to yourself for salvation. This Advent, follow Jesus’ instruction to watch your life with his cross firmly in view, because it is the sign of who God is and what His love does for you. Examine the choices that you are making and how you are spending your days, going to the cross for forgiveness and life. Look to the cross, and let it be a reference point for how you live, reminded that Jesus, your King, has won the victory and is coming to redeem you.
In the days ahead as you stand up straight in preparation for the Lord’s coming, know that His word is here for you. The earth and heavens may be shaken, Jesus’ word will not pass away: the word of the Lord endures forever. His promise to be your Savior stands firm. God’s word of encouragement, correction, and comfort is here to support you and build you up, even if the world is falling down. Do not neglect it, for Jesus’ words keep his hearers prepared: living, looking ahead, and watching.
December 21, 2012 is just a date. Jesus might return well before then, or he might not return for hundreds of years beyond then. But in this time in between as you watch for the Lord’s Advent, know that he is coming to bring salvation. Be watching; the time is short. Your redemption is drawing near – and that’s happy ending, indeed!