Zion Lutheran Church, Harbine, Nebraska
[Jesus said,] "Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." [v. 28]
IN NOMINE JESU
Many years ago there was a musical movie called Funny Lady, the sequel to Funny Girl. It starred Barbra Streisand, James Caan, Omar Sharif, Roddy McDowall, and Ben Vereen. This 1975 movie met with moderate success at the box office and mixed reviews from the critics. The soundtrack was certified gold. One of the songs on the soundtrack has remained popular, one called "Great Day." Most of us don't know the words to this song; I admit I don't and probably won't, but we are familiar with the first few lines to the song: "When you're down and out Lift up your head and shout There's gonna be a great day…." While one may think this song could possibly have something to do with the power of positive thinking, it is, in fact, a song that sings of the end of the world. That's the great day that is sung about in this song, perhaps with a few liberties taken (a practice often called "artistic license"): And on Judgment Day If you believe he will receive you and me Gabriel will warn you Some early morn You will [hear] his horn, his horn It's not far away Lift up your head and say There's gonna be a great We're gonna see a great There's gonna be, Be a great day.
This song is a bit similar to many of the hymns we sing during Advent, in that it encourages us to lift up our heads and look forward to the Last Day, when our Lord will make His final coming, descending on clouds with great power and might. But there is no need to fear. Let not your heart be troubled. We believe that He shall come to be our Judge, and our heavenly Father has declared us forgiven for His Son's sake. This is cause for us to rejoice, to lift up our heads, for our redemption is near.
When you're driving down the road, you know you can't look down at just the control panel or the floor. You need to look up, so you can see what is coming toward you, whether it's a car, a truck, or even a deer. You need to be on the lookout. You need to be aware. You need to watch. Lift up your heads, for an accident may well be near. You don't know when or where those deer will appear or when or where your car's appearance will be severely altered. It's crucial to keep your head up, to be alert, whether you're on the road or as you wait for the Last Day.
Our Lord has warned us numerous times to watch, because we don't know when He will come for the final time. He'll come quickly, like a thief in the night. For that reason we are to watch, to be ready, to be alert, to lift up our heads. You see, when He does return on the Last Day, He will gather all the faithful to Himself. The Lord promises us through the prophet Malachi in our Old Testament Reading for today: "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" (Mal. 4:2-3). Behold, your salvation comes, and blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!
But are we ready to receive our Lord as He comes to us, both sacramentally (as He does today) and eschatologically (that is, on the Last Day)? Are we alert and watchful for the return of the Lord? It's really hard for us to get our eyes fixed on Jesus, especially at this time of the year. It's hard enough to do that anytime. But as we make Christmas preparations, it gets even harder. We seldom, if at all, look for the Lord to come to us, but we are busy looking at other things. We're looking at all the sales that the stores are having because we're looking at our gift lists and what everyone on it wants for Christmas. We're looking at great buys on groceries, especially if we're hosting that big family get-together this year or even if we're bringing a dish or two for it. We're looking at the Christmas light displays and ooh-ing and ahh-ing over them. Some of would travel considerable distances to look at the pretty lights. We're looking school programs and gathering at friends' places for parties. All of these things are worthwhile; please don't misunderstand me. It's wonderful to be able to do all of these things, but we cannot do so at the expense of the coming of our Lord. We like to look at nativity scenes and see some doll dressed as the baby Jesus lying there, but are we ready to see this same Jesus come on clouds descending to judge both the living and the dead?
Are we ready to see this same Jesus as He comes to us today? Our sinful nature would have us look at everything else but Him. Satan would have us look at only those things that concern ourselves, our wants, and our desires—to look in at ourselves. And so we are curved in on ourselves, seeking to satisfy the desires of the flesh, rather than the needs of the soul. To this our Lord warns us in our text: "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" (vv. 34-35).
Take heart, fellow redeemed, for that Day, the Last Day, will be a great day for us, for the Lord will come one last time and gather all the faithful, including us, to Himself in heaven, thanks be to God the Holy Spirit, who has created, sustained, and strengthened this saving faith within us. We confess that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him; so He comes to us, bringing His redemption with Him. This is the same redemption He made for us on the cross, when He purchased and won us "from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death" (2nd Article). He paid for us, paying the price of our great and many sins, with His very life. His body was pierced as He was nailed to the cross, and His blood poured out from the whipping, the piercing, and the crown of thorns. His body was on the cross, bruised, beaten, and bloody—and dead. Christ bled for you. Christ died for you. Christ also rose for you, leaving the grave behind and empty, as the Victor over sin, death, and hell forever. Christ redeemed you from the throes of hell when He took your place on the cross and died. That redemption He won for you on Mt. Calvary He brings to you this day, as He comes to you in His Means of Grace.
Lift up your heads, for your redemption is near. See it at the font, where your sins were washed away and the Holy Spirit made His entry to work in you saving faith in Christ. Lift up your heads, for your redemption is near. Hear it from the chancel step, from whence you heard me announce to you that God has forgiven you all your sins for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ, from whence you once again lived your Baptism in the forgiveness of sins, and we continue to pray with the Psalmist in our Introit, "Restore us, O God; let Your face shine, that we may be saved" (Ps. 80:3). Lift up your heads, for your redemption is near. Hear it again from the lectern and the pulpit, from whence you hear your redemption is near—and here—in the person and work of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, who is present among us now! Lift up your heads, for your redemption is near. Look to the altar, where your Lord desires to feed you on His body and blood, His true body given on the cross and His very blood shed there—His body and blood—given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Where there is forgiveness of your sins, there is also eternal life and salvation—there is your redemption! Lift up your heads, and taste and see that the Lord is good. Lift up your heads, and hear the Lord place His Name on you in the Benediction, that you, forgiven and blessed, would be strengthened to face the uncertainties of this life as well as the certainty of the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come, that you would be ready for our Lord's final coming on the Last Day and to stand before the Son of Man. So lift up your head and say, "It's gonna be a great day!"
In a few moments we will get to receive the body and blood of the Lord, and so it is fitting to "say to the daughter of Zion," to the people of Zion, to the saints of Zion Lutheran Church, "Behold, your salvation comes." Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Send Pastor Mark Schlamann an email.