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LSB Advent 2H Sermon – Luke 21:25-36

December 5, 2016

December 4, 2016 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”

The signs tell you what is going to come. That’s how Jesus speaks about the Last Day. He mentions the events that will precede the Day of Judgment: “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” This apocalyptic description speaks of the end times as a period of destruction, a time of great distress. But Jesus wants His people to be prepared for it.

Jesus’ desire to have His people prepared is seen in the parable that He tells about signs: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” He uses nature as an example. The seasons can be determined by looking at the trees. Buds appearing on branches tell us that Spring is on its way, even if a chill is still in the air. The leaves that come out point to the long Summer days ahead. And the Autumn yellows, oranges, and reds that begin to decorate the hillsides give warning to the forthcoming Winter.

As someone knows the signs that precede the event, that person can prepare. They don’t need to be caught unawares. No, they have the key that brings understanding of what is happening. Because Jesus has revealed the signs to His disciples, they don’t need to be surprised when the Last Day comes. Instead, they can welcome it: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

But knowing which signs to look for is only part of the story. There is a second part, which is even more important. Knowing the signs allows you to prepare. But what does preparing for the Last Day look like? What is needed to make oneself ready for the time when the Son of Man comes in a cloud with power and glory?

One might consider the signs that Jesus mentions and figure out how to ride them out. Jesus speaks of the shaking of the heavens and the earth, the natural disasters. So the thoughts could arise: “I need to prepare a safe shelter. I’ll need stores of food and water. I should stock up on fuel and heating supplies. A stockpile of non-GMO seeds should be kept secure for future planting. Perhaps I should build a bunker to ride it out.” But that’s not the type of preparation that Jesus is talking about. He’s not telling His disciples to figure out how to survive the signs.

No, the signs are foretelling the arrival of the Last Day. And preparation for that is not done by becoming a survivalist of some sort. Preparation for the Last Day can involve adjustments to how one lives. But even more so, it necessitates adjustments to what one believes. That is seen in what Jesus says His disciples should do since they know the signs that will precede His return in glory: “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Jesus exhorts His disciples to pay attention to themselves—to their beliefs and their actions. For the Last Day will be a time of distinction, as the Risen Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead. The preparation for that Last Day is to ensure that one is on the right side of that judgment. The LORD warns about the wrong side, as He spoke through the prophet Malachi: “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” That is the fate which Jesus wants His disciples to avoid. That’s why He has been straightforward with them about the Last Day.

So how does one get on the right side of that judgment? The answer can be seen in Malachi’s prophecy: “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” The LORD’s message calls people to repent and turn back to Him and His ways of righteousness. That requires being hearers of the LORD’s Word, having them strike you and direct your hearts and minds. This is why the messages of repentance are spoken. As they are heard and heeded, the preparation for the Last Day begins.

More than that, the LORD’s Word points out where salvation is found. This is just as necessary to hear, because preparation for the Last Day is not just about cleaning up one’s act. No, it involves faith, trust, and hope. Where is security found? Not in having enough supplies to ride out the storm. Not in having a resumé that one shows to the LORD, saying: “I have nothing to repent of.” No, the security is found in having the LORD on one’s side, having Him be the source of all blessing, having Him as your Deliverer. That is also presented to you.

Think again on what the LORD revealed about the Last Day through Malachi: “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.” This is not a negative fate, but a blessed one. But the LORD is specific about who will receive it: those who fear His name. That is a way of speaking about those who trust in Him and love His righteousness. It notes the identity that people have as they belong to the LORD.

That way of speaking is echoed in the conclusion of the Psalm that was prayed this morning: “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” The LORD speaks of Himself as a source of help and deliverance. As people turn to Him for salvation, He grants it. That is done as they call on the LORD for assistance. For that act shows where their fear, love, and trust are placed.

So how are we going to prepare for the Last Day? We will see the signs that point to the forthcoming Day of Judgment and know that it will be arriving. But as we do, we will ask the LORD for assistance: “Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of Your only-begotten Son, that by His coming we may be enabled to serve You with pure minds.” We will ask for the LORD to turn our hearts and minds back to Him and His way of righteousness. We will pay more attention to what the LORD has spoken in His Word, including the instruction that He gives for our way of life and the revelation of His work of salvation performed for us: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” As that is done, the intended results will develop: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

What will such preparation mean? It will lead to our participation in the Last Day in the way that our Lord Jesus desires it. As our fear, love, and trust are placed in Him, as our hope is found in the death and resurrection of Jesus for our salvation, that Last Day will not be a day of trouble, but a day of joy. For us, the LORD’s people, the signs don’t point to a Winter of Destruction, but a Summer of Redemption: “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” So let us follow Jesus’ instruction and receive the end that He has provided for us: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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