December 10, 2017
Last Sunday we heard how Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. This procession to the cheers of children and illiterate adults demonstrates how Jesus comes to us lowly, in humility. That is how he first joined our human race, in the womb of the Virgin, born in a stable and laid in rough straw, visited by unkempt shepherds, a helpless baby of no threat to anyone. And so, lowly Jesus processed into Jerusalem, where he would eat his last Passover before he would be betrayed, scourged, and nailed to a cross. He doesn't even lift a finger in his own defense. And lowly, Jesus comes to us now. Through the words of an ordinary man, in ordinary water, bread, and wine, as Pastor Rothchild taught us last week.
But our Gospel lesson today does not present a humble and lowly Jesus. Rather, Christ tells us that he will return in a cloud of power and glory. Malachi says that his coming will be like a hot oven, which will set the arrogant and evildoers ablaze. This is the final Judgment Day, where God will condemn all unbelievers and save all, who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. No one will be able to ignore this final coming. We will all see him. And there will be no doubt, who has the power and authority then.
The wise and arrogant of this world despised Jesus' humble arrival as a baby and his humiliating march to the cross, and his lowly and strange coming in Word and Sacrament, because Christ did not come with pomp and circumstance as they would expect a lord to come. Today they despise God's preaching and word, they despise the washing of baptism and the forgiveness offered through Christ. Now, they might object to me saying that they despise Jesus and his preaching and word. They might say they have nothing against Jesus. Well, they're disinterested. They don't care. They aren't impressed by Jesus. So, yes, they despise him. They won't accept him as their Lord. And Jesus said, "Whoever is not with me is against me." (Luke 11:23)
Yet, the same unbelieving generation that despised Jesus's coming for his lack of grandeur, now despise his final powerful and glorious coming in judgment. They either balk at the idea that Jesus would dare judge them. Or they laugh at the concept of a final judgment and the end of the world, as St. Peter writes, "They will say, 'Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation." (2 Peter 3:4)
But their scoffing will not prevent the coming of the Lord and his judgment any more than will denying you have cancer save you from dying. Christ will return in victory, just as he conquered sin, death, and hell for us on the cross and just as he rose victoriously from the grave. All the dead will be raised bodily and all will give an account of their deeds. Some will enter into everlasting life. Others will enter into everlasting punishment. This truly will be an awesome day.
But for us, who welcomed Christ's humble arrival, we look forward to Christ's return with hope. Jesus says, "When you see these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." Those who welcomed Jesus' humble arrival will also welcome his coming in glory, because they understand what Jesus' first coming meant. The humble baby lying in a manger was promised by God through the prophets to save his people from their sins. Jesus humbly went to the cross to pay the price for our sins. We do not despise his lowliness, but with thankful hearts we cherish it, because with such humility Christ won our salvation. And we are not scandalized that our exalted Lord is hidden behind ordinary means of preaching the Gospel. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we know that these words of forgiveness spoken on behalf of Christ are truly the words of eternal life, which our souls need. Truly, if you do not receive Christ in humility through faith, then you will not be able to stand when he comes in glory on the Last Day.
Talking about signs can get you sidetracked quickly. Many people claim this or that geopolitical event is another step before Jesus will come and set up an earthly kingdom or something like that. I'm sure may Millenialists are busy prophesying about the meaning of the United States recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. But signs do exist and they do have a meaning. The changes in the sun, moon, and stars; nations rising against nations, wars and rumors of wars, false teachers and prophets rising and dividing the church; these are signs of Christ's coming and the end of the age.
True, these signs will not tell us when Christ will come. But they do tell us Christ is coming. Be ready. Don't get distracted or caught up with the anxieties of the world when you see these things take place. Rather, as you look at the trees pushing out leaves and know that summer is near, so when you see these signs in the sky, sea, and land, know that Christ is near with healing in his wings! The answer to your prayer, "Thy kingdom come," and "Deliver us from evil," is coming to fruition.
And how do you lift up your head? How do you respond to these signs, which we are witnessing even today? You must always live as if Christ will return at any moment. Jesus says, "`But watch yourselves lest your heart be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap." So, what does this mean? Must we seclude ourselves from the world; spend every waking hour in church praying? Should we live like the Amish, away from temptations of this world and shun all people, who are not Christians? Will that even work? How can we shun the world? As St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 5, "I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people- not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world." (vss. 9-10)
No, we can't go out of this world! We must live in this world, even among unbelievers. Yet as we live in this world, we must not be of this world. For God has called us out of this world. (John 15:19) You must go to work, interact with people, do your civil and domestic duties. But these tasks must not rob Jesus from your heart. Even as your left hand is busy with your daily tasks, your right hand must grasp onto Jesus and his promise of forgiveness and salvation.
God intends for you work to earn your bread. He does not intend for you to worship money and trust in earthly wealth instead of him. Jesus says, "Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' Or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:31-33) Striving after earthly pleasure and needs certainly can choke out faith, as Jesus warns, "As for what was sown among the thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful." (Matthew 13:22)
Don't keep your eyes to the ground. Lift them up. See your redemption is drawing near! Receive your daily bread with thanksgiving and trust in the Lord to provide you with all you need. Do not think that your own labor alone has given you all you need or ever could. God provides you with all you need, so that you can be watchful for Christ's return.
Being watchful doesn't mean gazing into the sky. Being watchful means recognizing that you are a child of God and clinging to God's Word. Do not join in with the sins of this world, even as you must live here and endure much evil. What is socially acceptable is often not what is right. Being watchful means repenting of your sins daily and trusting in God's forgiveness for Christ's sake.
Being watchful involves recognizing Christ as he comes to you lowly. It is recognizing that the baby in the manger is not just a children's story, but God's work of salvation for you. Being watchful is not despising the blood Christ shed for you, but holding it as the most precious treasure within your heart. Being watchful means not despising God's holy Word, but gladly hearing and learning it. Being watchful means receiving your risen Christ now veiled under bread and wine with the certain hope that your eyes will behold him in his full glory. Being watchful is seeing with faith, so that you may stand when your eyes see the King of Glory coming near.
Dear Christians, you believe the Gospel. You believe that Jesus died for you, that God's love for you is greater than your sins. You come to church, because you believe that here God shows his mercy to you. God's attitude toward you will not change on that Final Day. The Jesus, who has come to forgive your sins a thousand times and more through his Word and Sacraments will come to rescue you once and for all in power and glory. Oh, what a blessed day that will be.
Let us pray. Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly. Amen.