THE FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT December 2, 2018 Luke 21: 25-36
“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 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.” (NIV 2011)
In the name of Jesus Christ giver of the world’s greatest gifts, dear friends washed and cleansed by his blood,
Did you notice the new parament colors today? Blue is the color of hope, not the kind of flimsy, wishful hope that your team will win on the gridiron later today or that the high temperature will reach 50 degrees tomorrow. Blue is the color of a confident, rock solid hope which is what Jesus was born to win for us and the reality of which he will bring us when he returns.
That reality is something we need to keep in mind because not many things in this world are sure and secure. I have two stacks of cups. One stacked end on end. The other is nested together. It’s obvious which of the two is more secure.
It would appear the sun, moon and stars are as secure as any thing there is in the universe. Adam and Eve received light from the same sun and moon we see in the sky. They could tell which direction was north at night the same way we can because Polaris, the North Star, was in the same place then as it is now. I am not 100 percent confident the stock market will be up or down tomorrow or if my car will start after worship. But we’ve all heard it said or maybe even said it ourselves after a bad day, “The sun will still come up in the morning.” That’s how unchangeable the sun, moon and stars seem to be.
But what if galaxies and stars begin to drop out of the night sky? What if the sun darkens and shines with half its usual light? What if the moon breaks loose from its orbit around the earth causing devastating high tides? Will that shake your confidence and sense of security? Such events are not a matter of if, they are a matter of when. The prophet Isaiah foretold the heavens being rolled up like a scroll and the stars falling like leaves from the vine. (Isaiah 34:4) Jesus echoes those words in our lesson today, “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” When the seemingly unshakeable heavenly bodies are shaken and are being switched off and the oceans are tearing apart coastlines, people will panic. With rapid breathing and pounding hearts the strong will faint. “What does all this mean?” they will wonder.
Jesus calls these events signs or indicators. When the right tail light of the car ahead of you is flashing he or she is telling you they intend to turn right. When the heavenly bodies and oceans are all out of wack it will be an indicator. “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Right before Jesus comes again he will begin switching off the stars and rolling up the planets. When everyone else is shaking and fainting with fear because they don’t know what it all means, we can stand up to begin cheering because we do know what it all means. It means we will soon see Jesus appear in the sky with mighty power, glory, and redemption.
When he returns Jesus’ redemption will not be for everyone. That’s not because some people are more worthy of heaven than others. You are not worthy of it. I am not worthy of it. No one born of a human father and mother deserves to stand in God’s presence. The psalmist asked the question: “Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place?” (Psalm 24:3). His inspired answer, “The one who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:4). Like puss from an infected cut our hearts fester with jealousy against those more gifted than we are, with obscene sexual fantasies, and with gruesome scenarios of vengeance against those who have wronged us. Our hands are dripping with slimy self-serving acts of kindness, “I am only helping you so you will be obligated to help me, if I fall on hard times.” Inwardly and outwardly we are offensive to God. If our mothers won’t let us walk on their just scrubbed floors with muddy shoes, how much less will God allow us into his holy presence with impure hearts and filthy hands! There’s only one appropriate place for us, the place of darkness prepared for Satan and all who live like him. That’s all of us. There’s no chance for us to make ourselves worthy of God’s love and acceptance.
That’s precisely why God’s Son, Jesus, was born in Bethlehem. His heart was pure with trust in his Father, as well as love and respect for other people. His hands were spotless with service to those who could never repay him. With him the Father was well pleased. He was worthy to stand in the Lord’s holy place. Instead the Lord cast Jesus out his presence on that Friday afternoon when the Sun stopped shining as Jesus hung between heaven and earth on a tree. That’s when Jesus won redemption for you and me and for every sinner. He satisfied God’s anger fully and he completely purified the world of sin. That’s the gift Jesus came to bring you. That’s the basis of the unshakeable hope he gives you. Your sins aren’t mostly paid; they are fully paid. God doesn’t have mixed feelings about you; he harbors nothing but love for you.
Sadly, not everyone accepts this as true or cares if it’s true. They go on thumbing their noses at God with carousing, drunkenness and living to satisfy their own desires rather than God’s. By their unbelief and ongoing love of wickedness, they are telling Jesus to stick his redemption in his ear. Jesus will not return with redemption for them but banishment. Unless they repent beforehand, there will be no hope for them. That’s why Jesus warns, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 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.”
This past week on top of all the fires out west a major earthquake shook Alaska. Don’t overlook the meaning of these events. Jesus said, “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” God is currently shaking the seemingly unshakeable things of this world as he has been doing for centuries. The signs were present already with the generation who heard Jesus speak these words. Jesus is shaking the things of this universe to remind us it will all pass away leaving only one unshakeable thing to stand upon—his word. It will never pass away.
So when the stars and galaxies begin to disappear, the sun darkens, and the moon causes devastating tidal surges don’t be shocked or caught off guard. Jesus told you it would happen and what it means. He is at the door. So let’s share the meaning of these signs now while there is still time for others to find unshakeable hope in Jesus. A special card was placed in your bulletin boxes this morning. It has the word FRAN written on it. FRAN stands for Friends, Relatives, Associates and Neighbors. Think about all the people you know who don’t know Jesus or who are currently ignoring him. Write their names on this card, then pray and plan how you can share your hope in Jesus with them and invite them to a Sunday or Christmas service here. Business card invitations are available by the dozens in the church entry. Take a bunch and pass them around.
Let’s let as many people as we can in on what we know. In this trembling, tottering world there is one unshakeable hope—Jesus. He’s your gift to keep and your gift to share. Amen.