First Sunday of Advent, 3 December 2006
25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Sisters and brothers in Christ,
When there is a change in the weather, we can smell it. When someone has something they are going to surprise us with, we sense something is going on. When someone is very sick and failing, we will say, after they have died, “I could feel they were failing. I felt death was near.”
We can read the signs. Or, at least see them after the event happened. We will slap ourselves on the forehead and groan, “Oh, oh, I knew it! I knew this was going to happen! Why didn’t I get ready for it?”
Around here the signs that Christmas is coming are pretty obvious. The city has hung up decorations on the street lights. TV commercials picture Santa Claus and presents. The mail is full of catalogs. There is also simply the calendar going from November to December, and December’s days going from the first to the eighteenth and soon to the twenty-fifth. Some parts of the world expect snow, even saying that it won’t feel like Christmas without snow. Other parts of the world never think of snow with Christmas. For them, Christmas is the beginning of summer. Christmas could be fireworks and picnics.
All the different ways Christmas looks also have their own signs that Christmas is coming. The first Christmas had the sign of an old woman getting pregnant by her husband who suddenly was made mute, unable to talk. The second sign of Christmas was a virgin named Mary who became pregnant without sex and giving birth in a stable to her first-born son.
But why be alert for Christmas? Why be alert for the birth of Mary’s son? Why, to be practical minded about this, why get ready for an event of the past when the future and its last day is still coming? What about the signs in the sun and moon and stars? What about the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory? Should we not get ready for them? After all, this last day is the coming of God. This last day is the day of judgment, of us being judged.
How do we get ready for such a judgment? How do we get ready for God looking over our lives, the whole of our lives, and judging us? Not just judging for good deeds and judging us for the wrong we’ve done, but weighing us for the totality of our life. God will not just count the good deeds and subtract the bad ones and, hopefully, there will still be good deeds left to call us good. How can we be judged good if we have done evil? And if we have done wrong, could not our good deeds make up for them? Such a judgment is worrisome. Such a judgment makes us afraid of what God will do to us and afraid of God. How do we get ready for such a judgment?
We get ready for Christmas because Christmas is our redemption drawing near to us. Christmas, the birth of Jesus, is not judgment, but our redemption. Jesus is born to redeem us, to buy us back, to free us from the measuring of our lives. Jesus comes, not to measure or judge, but to forgive the wrong doers, to forgive those who have done evil, to forgive those who do not love God and fear God more than all other things. Jesus is doing a new thing with us. Instead of judging, he has mercy. Instead of condemning, he has mercy. Instead of accusing us he marks us with his love.
Jesus comes to be judged. Jesus comes to be condemned in our place. Jesus comes to die for us, in our place, taking that judgment that is coming and making it happen ahead of schedule. He suffers all of God’s judgment and then God, out of love for us and for Jesus, raised up Jesus to life. God thereby lifted up Jesus above judgment. God has put mercy over measuring, forgiveness over condemnation.
Look at the signs of this coming. Look at the leaves of the trees. Look at the leaves of mercy, seen in all the times we receive the Lord’s Supper, the meal of mercy for us. Look at the leaves of forgiveness, sprouting here amongst us each Sunday, sprouting here amongst us in our own words of forgiveness to one another. Look at the leaves of service, of time given to help one another.
Look at the leaves because it is too easy to get discouraged that judgment and evil and wars and rumors of wars are always present. We can be weighed down by family burdens, family secrets, family arguments and anger or a disregard of others. We can get caught up in running around in trying to be busy and making our lives worth something. We can despair of things going right and so try drinking or drugs or being a couch potato. When we are burdened, wearied, look at the signs of the end that is our redemption. When we feel that things are dark, look at the signs of the stars and suns that show us the new light of Christ coming. When we feel judged and condemned, at fault for the accident, for a death, for a crippling, look at the leaves sprouting. Look at the mercy springing forth in Christ. Look at Christ’s love. Look at the resurrection!
Those are the signs of hope in the midst of distress and confusion. Those signs will always be with us. Lift up your heads with hope! See, Christ is coming! Amen.
Pastor Timothy J. Hoyer