The text for the sermon is the Second Epistle of Saint Peter, the third chapter, especially these words: "The Lord...is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. The Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night. ... Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the Day of the Lord? ... Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless."
The Day is coming when the Lord returns. It will be a fearsome and terrifying Day, when fire will burn up everything.
How, then, should we act?
The End may come at any time. Can you say that you are ready, at any time?
As we will say soon in Advent, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord." Prepare for His Second Coming, on clouds of glory.
But how could you ever be ready for that Day? Who can stand confidently when the pure holiness of Christ appears? For we are stained and ugly sinners before His immaculate glory.
We want to be found without spot and blameless, as St. Peter writes. But the more we try to clean up our lives, the more we become aware that our ability to purify ourselves is severely limited. It is like we are trying to clean a stain using a muddy cloth. Our very efforts make matters worse.
The evil wickedness of this world will be cleansed by fire. How can we escape that fate when we know that we are as wicked as anyone else? For the fire of Judgment Day will be followed by eternal flames for the unrighteous.
How do we escape? Strictly speaking, we do not. It is God who wills and plans and executes. He rescues us from eternal judgment.
First, He brings us to repentance. He shows us our sin and creates sorrow in us over our guilt, so that we may desire the coming of Christ in Word and Sacrament to redeem us.
Without repentance, the Gospel cannot do its work. If you do not believe that you are a sinner, then from what does the Cross free you? If you do not have faith in Christ, then how can you cling in trust to His redemption?
On the other hand, we know that repentance is God's work and gift to us. We cannot come to repentance by our own efforts. But on the other hand, we know that we sinners can resist repentance, even now that we believe.
To encourage you in repentance, let me speak briefly about Private Confession. I know that most of us are still not used to Private Confession. But I am talking now to a select group of you. You are taking the Word of God seriously enough to come here tonight. The temptation for you may be to think that thereby you are somehow better than others. Religious pride is a great invention of satan, which you must strongly resist.
Therefore, to you especially, I encourage attendance at Private Confession. Do not think that sins are too large or too small. Come, and be released by the Holy Absolution of our Lord.
The second thing God does for us is to cause us to grow in grace and knowledge in Jesus Christ.
We can never know enough. But growing in Christ is far more than knowledge. Whenever we receive forgiveness, our soul is renewed. I am not talking about emotions, but about the life-giving power of the Spirit. Every time you receive life in Word and Sacrament, you are being taught where your life is: Not in this frail, clumsy flesh, but in Christ and His Gospel. Your strength, your maturity, your courage to live the Christian life, all depend on what the Spirit does whenever you receive forgiveness, as He erases every spot and blemish from God's record.
That brings us also to the third thing God does: to strengthen us in holy conduct and godliness. The more we are forgiven, the more we realize how much we need forgiveness, because of our many sins. Since we are sorry for our sins, the new man in us resists sin. But since we also have the old man, the sinful flesh, then our efforts at avoiding sin are like trying to bail out a sinking boat - you can never fully succeed. There are always more sins to work on.
But we do not despair, since we already have forgiveness and life in Christ. Our salvation does not depend on our ability to avoid sin. So we fight temptation from a safe refuge. We are free to fight hard because we know that we already have victory in Christ. His mighty Blood allows no defeat.
The last thing God does is to preserve us to everlasting life. Resurrection awaits us on the Last Day. So we are not fearful of judgment. No, we are eager as we anticipate the return of our dearest Friend, Jesus Christ. We yearn for the gifts He will come to bring. He keeps us safe from the flames of destruction. Much more, He delivers perfect life in the New Heaven and the New Earth, where nothing bad will ever exist.
So we "hasten" that Day, as St. Peter says. Not that we can make the End come sooner, but that we eagerly desire its coming. That Day will be the best of all Days for us.
God keep your eyes anxiously looking to the clouds, where Christ will appear with all His holy angels to take you home forever. Amen.
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