Second Sunday in Advent
December 7, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“These are the last and mad times of a world grown old,” wrote the Lutheran pastor and theologian, Martin Chemnitz, some 450 years ago. Although, every time I turn on the evening news or scroll through an online news feed, it seems as if he could have written these words just yesterday. With all the collected wisdom of the ages, it’s still impossible to explain why people do the things they do and say the things they say. From the absurd to the malicious, I find it kinda funny; I find it kinda sad. It’s a very, very mad world.
Jesus identifies the signs that will precede His final judgment: And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth distress of the nations in despair of the sound of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and expectation of that which is coming upon the inhabited world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken (vv 25-26).
The celestial signs recur every so often—eclipses, blood moons, meteor showers; you could go out tonight and if you watch the sky long enough you’re bound to see a falling star. Often times these heavenly events are linked with behavior here on earth. The word “lunatic” is related to the word “lunar,” reflecting the belief that a full moon causes people to go mad, and there’s a sort of an urban legend that during full moons there’s more visits to psychiatrists and emergency rooms than at other times of the month. Whether there are objectively more injuries and illnesses during a full moon, or the full moon just makes us more attuned to them, both the irregular heavenly phenomena and the distress among the nations are signs of the times.
Do you feel as though these signs have intensified lately? Do you recall unusual heavenly events this past year? Does it feel like things here on earth are unravelling and spiraling out of control, like a giant wave crashing over you on the seashore?
These are the signs that we are in the last and mad times of a world grown old. You don’t need lunar eclipses or stars falling from the sky to tell that all of creation appears to be toward the end of its run.
We tend to look at the past with rose colored lenses and imagine that the bad stuff that we see happening right now, right at this very moment is the worst that things have ever been. But in reality, Christians have been living in the last and mad times of a world grown old ever since Jesus uttered His warning in the days leading up to His crucifixion. Because it is on account of this crucifixion that world is behaving like it is.
The world would be a much happier if God would just stay out of its affairs. This is why agnosticism is such a popular spiritual choice. Humanity craves spirituality because a vague knowledge of God is written on our hearts and revealed in creation. But most people find the most comfort in God being safely removed by at least a couple of galaxies from our day to day lives. Agnostics believe that some sort of god or higher power exists, but that he (or she; we really can’t know) has so far removed himself (or herself; we really can’t know) that there is no real way to know him (or her; we really can’t know). This frees us human subjects into ruling our own lives creating our own spiritualities according to the emotions that drive us.
But it’s not just agnostics. The entire American Evangelical religious experience is built upon God being far away. There’s a praise song that I used to sing when I was caught up in the new charismatic movement that is the praise and worship culture called God of Wonders. The chorus goes like this: God of wonders beyond our galaxy/You are holy, holy/The universe declares Your Majesty/You are holy, holy. See what I’m saying? The universe declares your majesty, which I prefer to be safely located outside of my galaxy.
This sort of thinking is rooted firmly in the Calvinist conception of God. Calvinist theology teaches that, for the entire history of the world, God was only really here for some 30 plus years—from the time of the first Christmas until Jesus ascended into heaven. Before then, and ever since, God is removed from this creation, only involved from afar like a conductor conducting his orchestra from the very back of the auditorium.
The world would be much happier if God just stayed out of its affairs. This is why, just months after the Son of God is born of the Virgin Mary, King Herod orders the slaughter of the holy innocents in an attempt to put an end to this kingdom. This is why, when the crowds want to make Jesus a king and He gives them a taste of His kingdom, they leave Him in droves. This is why, when Jesus rides into Jerusalem in a king’s procession, His coronation is with thorns and whips and nails and mockery.
Creation trembles and revolts against the coming of Christ into the world, because even though His reign is gracious and kind and beneficent, we simply can’t stand having a king. The coming of Christ into the world means an end to our own kingdoms, it means an end to our own autonomy, it means an end to the world as we know it. And as much as we lament what the world has come to in these last and mad times, we are still overly attached to it because of our sinful flesh.
The signs—sun, moon, and stars; distress of the nations and roaring seas; the powers of the earth trembling—the signs point to the fact that the advent of the Kingdom of God is of cosmic significance. It’s not just one more kingdom among many others, but it’s the Kingdom that puts an end to every kingdom we’ve known here on earth. The powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see for themselves the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and much glory (v 26b-27).
And that is a frightening thought.
Frightening, unless you know that these signs point to your redemption. When these things begin to happen, straighten up and raise your heads, for your redemption is drawing near (v 28). Don’t lament the state of the world today. Don’t be frightened by its trembling and distress, by the violence and chaos that seems to be getting the upper hand. These are signs that the Kingdom of God indeed comes. And He said a parable to them, “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees, when they at last put out leaves, you see for yourselves and know that at last summer is near. In this way also you, when you see these things happening, know that the Kingdom of God is near” (vv 29-31).
The fact that the world is reacting the way that it does is the sign that the Kingdom of God is not far. God is not beyond our galaxy, He’s not off in a celestial heavenly realm. He is near with His Kingdom. Because every day thousands of times over again, God’s people continue praying, Thy Kingdom come. How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace, we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.
Even now, here in time, as creation trembles and the nations are in distress, God’s Kingdom comes. It comes when His Word is taught and preached and treasured and trusted. Where His Word is, there the Holy Spirit also is, renewing this world grown old. Amen, I say to you, that this generation will certainly not pass away until all has happened. The heavens and the earth will pass away, but My words will certainly not pass away (v 32-33).
The Word of God here in time leads you to a godly life there in eternity. Here in time, though, it is still imperfect; your sinful flesh still clings to you. And so it’s necessary to keep watch—to keep watch for Christ’s coming, and to keep watch upon your own flesh. Watch yourselves, lest your hearts be burdened in intoxication and drunkenness and cares of life, and that day come upon you suddenly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth. Be alert in all times, praying that you have strength to escape all these things that are going to happen and to stand before the Son of Man (vv 34-36).
“Dear Father, we pray, give us first Your Word, so that the Gospel may be preached properly throughout the world. Second, may the Gospel be received in faith and work and live in us, so that through the Word and the Holy Spirit’s power, Your kingdom may triumph among us. And we pray that the devil’s kingdom be put down, so that he may have no right or power over us, until at last his power may be utterly destroyed. So sin, death, and hell shall be exterminated. Then we may live forever in perfect righteousness and blessedness” (LC III.54).
Lift Up Your Head; the Kingdom of God Comes Near
In + Jesus’ name. Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard