by The Rev. Mark Buetow
St. Luke 21:25-36
Maybe this so-called recession is frightening you. But are you praying? Maybe you’re worried about your job or if your job is secure, how you’ll pay your bills. But are you watching and waiting for Jesus to return? Maybe you are depressed or worried by all the things you hear on the news: companies going under, retirement savings being wiped out and all that. But are you longing for the day of our Lord’s return? Perhaps you don’t care about all that financial stuff and you’re just living for today: partying and spending your money as fast as you make it and doing whatever things make you feel good and comfortable. But are you giving any time to prayer and hearing and learning God’s Word? Maybe things are generally fine and your main concern is just getting the parties planned and prepared and all the Christmas shopping done. But do you begin each day with the sign of the cross and your baptismal name? Maybe your biggest problem is how to fit all the people around the table for dinner. But are you coming to the Lord’s table to receive His feast of salvation? The world is going crazy right now: on the one hand, everything seems like it’s collapsing. But its the “Holiday Season” out there and that means doing tons of things that take up all our time and money. Perhaps that’s why we hear this Gospel during Advent. We hear our Lord say not to get caught up in drunkenness and useless living and the worries and cares of this world—precisely during that time of year that we’re doing that stuff!
Jesus will return soon and the world will be surprised and terrified. How about you, dear Christian? Will the coming of Christ catch you off guard? It shouldn’t. Jesus’ words tell us that it’s going to happen. You know that summer is near when the fig trees starting getting their leaves. When kids get antsy to get out of school and the Farmers Market starts up—those are all signs of summer. So look around: you see wars, and eclipses, and disasters and all kinds of other terrible things in this world. What do you think when you see that? The world has gone around trying to get as much stuff as it can even when it can’t afford it. Now we’re in a huge mess and markets are falling and there’s chaos and turmoil. What do you think when you see and hear all that? Do you think, as the world does, “How will I avoid this? How can I survive this? How can I get through this? How will I protect myself and weather the storm?” Is it all about you? Your problems and worries. Jesus is teaching us to think this way, to say, “I see all these terrible things happening. The Lord must be near. This world is passing away and if I am to survive it’s passing away, I shall cling to Christ and His Word which never pass away.” The world, brothers and sisters in Christ, is doomed. It is falling apart and coming undone. And it will keep doing so and getting worse until our Lord comes. But it does so in order that you will repent of clinging to this world and it’s stuff. The Lord allows the world to come unraveled so that you will cling to nothing but that which will save you: Christ’s Word.
Jesus says, when you see these signs, and when you see Him come again, “Stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near.” That’s right. When all this is going on, stand tall as a Christian and know that your Lord is on His Way. Stand tall in a world that is shrinking away from trouble and terror. Stand tall and lift up your heads! Because Jesus was lifted up for you. Because our Lord was stood up on a cross for our sins. To a world that is only concerned about itself and doesn’t want to hear that it’s sinful, Christ came and bore our sins. Christ came preaching and teaching and bearing our sins. He came to stand us up and lift up our heads away from looking at ourselves and worrying about this crumbling world. He lifts up our heads to look at Him on the cross in faith. To “stand up and lift up your heads” is another way of telling us to believe and trust in Him. When the world is going to hell in a hand basket, you stand tall and confess that Jesus is your redemption, your salvation, your life, and your deliverance. When you see Christ coming, don’t be afraid! He’s not coming to destroy you but to rescue you once and for all! He who bore your sins on the tree of the cross is here to bear you home to paradise!
So how do you stand tall and lift up your head in a world that is falling apart? When we are surrounded by a world that would rather drink itself into oblivion and run around worrying and scurrying about all its problems, how do we stand tall and lift up our heads? How do you live in faith and stand tall and lift up your head when you are surrounded by a world that is trying to drag you down and get you to only think of yourself, so that when Jesus comes you are swept away? You stand and lift up your head by coming to the Divine Service. You stand and lift up you head as you hear the Lord’s Name put upon you in Holy Baptism spoken again into your ears. You stand and lift up your head as your pastor absolves you of your sins. You stand and lift up your head as you hear God’s Word read, the Scriptures written, as St. Paul says, to comfort you. You stand and lift up your head by giving attention to the preaching of Christ’s word and as we confidently bring our petitions before the Lord in prayer. You stand and lift your head as you open wide your mouth to receive Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Just as the fig tree is a sign that summer is near, so Christ’s Word and Sacraments are a sign and pledge and promise that Christ Himself is already hear with us so that when He comes again it will not be a day of terror but a day of joy and celebration. You stand and lift up your head in faith by living in the gifts of Christ which prepare us for His coming in glory on the Last Day.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, this world is passing away. Here today, gone tomorrow. As fast as the Halloween candy and decorations give way to the Christmas candy and decorations, this world is passing away. As fast as a disaster or war or attack can end the lives of people who never saw it coming, this world is passing away. As fast as the money comes in on payday and is gone the next on our bills and pleasures, this world is passing away. As fast as the food we eat is digested or as fast as the gas gauge goes from “Full” to “Empty,” this world is passing away. As fast as your children grow up or your parents age and die, this world is passing away. But Christ’s Word does not pass away! The world is clinging to all these things, finding security and hope in things that are gone so quickly! Don’t you do the same, dear Christian. You, cling to the one thing that will never pass away: the Words of Jesus. Cling to the Words of the Gospels which set before you Jesus as your redemption and salvation. Cling to the words of your Baptism and absolution and the Supper which deliver to you gifts that you never need to exchange or for which you never have to buy the extra warranty. This world is passing away so that you don’t try to hang on to it. Jesus knows this. It’s why He came in the flesh to give us His Word so that we may won’t pass away with this world.
The holy season of Advent helps us to live as Christians because it teaches us to stop running around like the world in its flurry of holiday activity and instead preaches Jesus who comes to save us. Think for just a minute about how the world does things versus how the church does. The world gets all geared up for Christmas, or as it is called now the Holiday Season. The world throws itself into spending more than it has and partying like there’s not tomorrow. Then suddenly it’s all gone. December 26 arrives and there’s nothing left but long lines to return the junk we don’t want. The Holiday Season has passed away and there’s nothing left. What a picture of this world! But in the church we celebrate Advent, the time of repentance and faith leading us up to the Twelve Days of Christmas. When the world’s holiday is over and done, the celebration is just getting started for Christ’s people. That’s how it will be when the Lord returns. For the world it will be the end of all things. For God’s people in Jesus Christ, our Lord’s return is just he beginning of our everlasting life. So stand up, lift up your heads and sing! Our Lord is coming. Amen.
Rev. Mark Buetow is Pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in Du Quoin, IL. Pr. Buetow is the editor of the Higher Things Reflections and Internet Services Executive. He has also been a guest on Higher Things Radio.