+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 21:34-36
Theme: Vigilance and Anticipation
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
“Things could be worse!” Have you ever been told that? Did it provide much consolation? Advent reminds us things can get worse-much worse. They will also get better- much better! In the big picture things will get worse before they get better? Exactly when, no one can say? But the Lord is clear, “On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world.”1 Yet believers will also be overcome with joy in regards to what awaits us.
Today begins the season of Advent. Advent simply means ‘coming’. Advent is underpinned by anticipation. It is punctuated with prophetic promise. The barrier between heaven and earth has already been breached. The boundary between time and eternity has already been crossed. Christ, the heavenly Man, has already made His earthly pilgrimage. He dwells in human flesh and in that flesh He has been crucified, resurrected, and ascended on high. All that remains is for Him to cross that threshold one last time; not in humility, but in grandeur and triumph. This expectation is the focus of advent. “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’”2
In spite of our incessant complaining about all things that irritate us and don’t go our way it may still seem extreme to the average Christian to pray for Christ’s return. Isn’t there still so much to enjoy in the world, so much to experience? Do we want the world to end yet? Honest reflection on the topic is a test of our faith. The whole thought of it may seem too distant or far-fetched? Moreover, it may not resonate with what we really want. We may want to keep on living in the sinful condition we are both familiar and comfortable with? We’ll find ways to manage.
But the fact is we can’t finally manage the consequences or the condemnation of our sin. That’s where the whole enterprise breaks down. The criminal may have a great strategy of defence until the evidence is presented. The prisoner may have a great plan of escape until the guards are found at the end of the tunnel or on the other side of the fence. The disobedient child usually has its rebellion justified until the parents abolish all hope of vindication. Dear friends, it’s no different with us and God. We can’t escape the truth about ourselves. Sin isn’t an external reality. It is characterized by the deceit, the jealousy, meanness, the arrogance, the insensitivity, and the apathy that besets us, offends God and harms others. Repentance is always our posture. Forgiveness frees us now and gives us a preview of the future.
So Jesus teaches us to pray. Jesus tells us to pray for the Holy Spirit. His kingdom is extended wherever the Holy Spirit is at work. Jesus tells us to pray for ourselves and our families. Jesus tells us to pray for other Christians. Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies. And finally, Jesus tells us to pray with eagerness and alertness for His return. “Be always on the watch and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”3
The experience of the Second Coming of Christ will be incomparable. Jesus says, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”4 Christ has never left but His presence now is veiled. He works among us resolutely but subtly. He works through His word and sacraments. And He promises that His word will come to fulfillment. The challenge for us is to cling to His truth in the face of increasing opposition and marginalization from the world.
If we depart from God’s word then we are left only with the collective wisdom of humanity. The basis of truth shifts radically. The basis for decision-making changes accordingly. A different worldview is adopted. It doesn’t mean society can’t or won’t still function. God must rule the secular world through coercion that restrains evil anyway. We can still pursue careers, have children, and receive pensions. But the bigger questions about the origin, meaning, and future of life will have different answers. The struggle to come to terms with this shift is already well underway.
And so we pray for the Lord to come. And we ask the Lord to work in our hearts a genuine yearning. Is the desire of the persecuted Christian in Iraq or Syria for the Lord Jesus to come not more genuine than the pious wish of us in the West? Is their yearning not more palpable? Is their pining for refuge and redemption not more acute? Of course, this is the nature of circumstances, and thanks be to God that we still enjoy the freedom to worship. Thanks be to God that we still enjoy such a high measure of stability. But it’s not guaranteed. It’s not to be taken for granted. It’s not a birthright.
But God never leaves us without hope or a future. Even when we forget, God remembers. Consider your baptism. It’s not a matter of what you remember about your baptism. What matters is that in that sacrament God remembers you. He doesn’t leave us to fend for ourselves. We’re naturally apt to turn baptism into a sentimental ritual or a milestone of human accomplishment. But really it’s all God’s operation- His claim on us. His covenant! His promise! His reputation is at stake. Baptism isn’t about us or our abilities but about God’s promise and His grace. Do you think a mature adult scarred by the traumas of life is any more capable of believing than an infant sheltered since birth from life’s hardships? The Holy Spirit opens the heart at every age, in every condition. Times change but people don’t; that is, the nature of humanity doesn’t change.
Who knows what kind of world those born today will grow up in? We can see already how quickly society us changing. What was valued in the past is already sometimes scorned today. But we do know that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His grace doesn’t become obsolete. His love does not decay. His heart does not become brittle. His arms are always open. The door for the prodigal son- racing back in repentance- is always open. He has died and risen again for you and for your salvation.
There is no one more careful with the fragile than the Good Shepherd of our souls. There is no one more considerate of the sensitive than the One who can sympathize with every weakness. There is no one more reliable in defence of those on trial than the Advocate who has the authority to judge. The Scripture says Christ is our “Righteousness, holiness and redemption.”5
Throughout the Scriptures believers are constantly encouraged to support one another. St. Paul says today, “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. Me He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones.”6 This same Saviour intercedes for us even now. He suffered in our place. He rules on our behalf. A preview of what’s to come. Then anything that could get worse will be a distant memory. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
First Sunday of Advent
29 November, 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Luke 21:25-26
2 Revelation 22:17
3 Luke 21:36
4 Luke 21:28
5 1 Corinthians 1:30
6 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13