The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
We began the season of Advent last week by noting the tone of the appointed lessons. Advent, as you remember, isn’t just about the past-tense adventing of Christ in His nativity, but it’s also about His present-tense adventing with us through His Word and Sacraments, as well as His future-tense adventing; that time when He will return in all glory to judge both the living and the dead. Those lessons wasted no time in making all this clear. Today’s lessons keep the foot on the gas, so to speak. In fact, the lessons for today actually ramp up the focus on the future-tense adventing of Jesus. The Judgment Day imagery that our Lord gives us through the prophet Malachi is powerful and unmistakable. Our Lord will advent with us again, and if you’re on the wrong side of Jesus, it’s not going to end well. The faithful have nothing to fear. Resurrected to life in Christ, they will go about in joy, leaping like young calves cut loose from the stall and into the spring-time pasture. What a beautiful picture, right? The enemies of Christ, however, won’t fare so well. They will be turned to ash and scattered about for the faithful to trod underfoot. It’s not a pretty picture.
Jesus Himself speaks of this same future-tense adventing, using language that paints a very terrifying image. In the days leading up to that great and glorious return, the sun, moon, and stars will be going dark. The seas will be raging and roaring. All of nature is going to be coming undone at the seams. It will be Al Gore’s worst nightmare. All the recycling, solar panels, and electric cars in the world won’t be able to stop all this from happening. Fear and foreboding and straight-up terror will grip the masses.
Now, I’m not saying that Judgment Day is upon us, but just look at all the terrifying things already happening in our present day and age. Just look in the past couple of months. I’m not even pointing to the terrible things brought about as a direct result of man’s sinfulness; e.g., wars and terrorism, anarchy and violence and rioting simply because someone is offended by someone else’s political affiliation or Halloween costume or because that other person eats bacon and not grass clippings. “They must die!” I’m not even pointing to all that terrible sin. Let’s just look in the natural world. Multiple hurricanes completely leveled, not just cities, but entire regions. The seas and winds raged and roared. What about the wildfires that scorched and incinerated everything in their paths in a matter of mere hours. Terrifying. What about the 7.0 earthquake that rocked Alaska just last week and spawned tsunami warnings up and down the west coast? Folks: This is just in the past few weeks! Just think of all the devastation we’ve witnessed over the past year, ten years, twenty years. It’s all so absolutely terrifying. And Jesus says that this is just the beginning of the birth pains! It’s going to get worse!
But…what else does Jesus say about all this? “When you see these signs, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Now, before we go any further, I need to point out the fact that Jesus calls these natural disasters “signs.” The word that is used here in the original Greek is seimeion. This is important. This is the same word that gets translated as “miracles” elsewhere in Scripture; e.g., Jesus turns water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana, and “this was the first of His signs/miracles that Jesus did, manifesting His glory, and His disciples believed in Him” (John 2:11).
Why did Jesus do miracles? Answer: To manifest/make known His glory. “Here is God in the flesh! Here is your redemption, in your midst! Turn and believe and live!” The disciples saw these miracles and believed. Many, however, saw those same miracles and refused to believe; e.g, Scribes and Pharisees. They saw…and yet they didn’t see. They refused to see. And this is nothing new. Looking back throughout the Old Testament, we see God working great and mighty miracles/signs. God desires the death of no one. He gives signs so that all may see and turn and hold fast to Him. Some see these signs and repent and rejoice. Many more do not. They see the same exact thing that the repentant believers do, and yet they don’t recognize what God is showing them.
Think about the ten plagues. God gave ten unmistakable and unavoidable signs that Pharaoh and Egypt should repent. Some saw and turned to Yahweh, but most did not. It didn’t turn out well for them, did it? Think about the bronze serpent account. God gives the bronze serpent to His rebellious and sinful people, promising that whoever looks upon that bronze serpent when they’re bitten by the fiery snakes will live. Some believe and look and live…and some do not. They refused to believe that simply looking at a statue of the very thing killing them would save them. They all saw the same thing, and yet some saw God’s promise of life, and some did not. Those who refused to see, died.
Think about the crossing of the Red Sea. God brings Israel safely through the torrent of waters onto dry land, and yet these same torrential waters are the very means that God uses to bring about the destruction of mighty Pharaoh’s mighty army. It’s the same event. It’s the same water. Some were saved through this water and many were also destroyed because of this water. Years later, the Israelite spies enter into Canaan to scout out the Promised Land before entering into it. They encounter a prostitute named Rahab. A Canaanite prostitute: This is about as bad as you can get! And yet…she tells Joshua, “We have heard what your God—Yahweh—did to those Egyptians in the Red Sea. We have heard how He saved you and destroyed them. I’m on your side! Your God is my God!” Think about that. That disaster—more specifically, word of the disaster—worked the miracle of faith in the lowest of the low. She recognized God’s sign.
I bring all this up because St. Paul writes, “These things were written in the former days for our instruction,” or as the liturgy of DS 4 says, “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Alleluia!” Alleluia, indeed! All of these signs are recorded for us! God gives us these things so that we can learn from the past. We can look to the present as well as the future in the full confidence of faith. God worked these great and mighty signs—even wrath and death and destruction—for the good of His people. How many times was Israel saved?
Look around. Look to all these calamities and terrors in our midst. Everyone sees them. But…what do they see? Do they see these signs of God’s judgment against sin? Do they see God’s call to turn and cleave to Him (and Him alone)? Some do, but many do not. God is NOT okay with sin, and the natural world, which was cursed as a result of man’s fall into sin, bears witness to this. In fact, we don’t even have to look to the natural disasters to see it. Look no further than the barren trees and the dead leaves on the ground. Look no further than the thorns and thistles in your gardens and lawns. Look no further than the sweat of your brow and the pains you feel in childbirth. Look no further than the aches in your bones. Hospitals and cemeteries are filled with signs/proofs that God is not okay with sin! Sickness, death, pain, suffering, despair, depression…all signs and symptoms of the deadliness of sin that infects each and every person borne from Adam.
Folks: The signs are all around. We all see the same signs, but not everybody sees the same thing, do they? Some rightly recognize God’s call to repentance; His loving call to turn and hold fast to Him, even as all hell breaks loose. Others, however, refuse to see. They see problems they think they can fix. They take God out of the equation and substitute Him with their own reason and intellect. They substitute God with solar panels and $50 light bulbs and carbon taxes and government regulations. And yet…it only continues to get worse. So, like the fool who finds himself trapped in a hole, he tries to dig himself out by digging deeper. The fool sees the signs that God gives him, and yet he doesn’t see. Luther words it like this: “What wanders through the heavens in the usual way God causes to be seen as a sign of His wrath…. Let the unbelievers doubt and despise God’s signs and say they are only ‘natural.’ You hold fast to the Gospel!”
And that’s where I direct you right now—the Gospel. Folks: Here is God in your midst, bringing to you His life and peace that surpasses all understanding. Notice: Faith in God doesn’t magically take away the calamities, the sorrows, and the suffering! No one is immune from sin and the symptoms of sin. God never promises you a “cross-less” life; that is, a life without fear or suffering or pain or despair. “Take up your cross and follow Me.” I say this because plenty of people will offer you a different gospel; a gospel that promises pain-free prosperity in the here-and-now. “You just gotta do this, that, and the other thing.” That’s garbage straight out of the devil’s mouth! “It is finished.” Christ has done it all…for you. Yes, you will have sufferings and pains and sorrows. I’m not going to tell you different. You are a sinner living in a sinful world. So am I. The signs and proofs of this are all around us. Straighten up. Raise your head. Look to and hold fast to God. Look no further than right here; right where He tells you to seek Him.
Look to the font. Look to the altar. Look to the Word. Recognized through the God-given eyes and ears of faith, you do recognize your God and Lord, not in some far distant heavenly corner at the end of some cosmic maze, but right here, right now. In spite of your pains and sorrows and sufferings, here is God, holding out to you His mercy and grace and peace. God is right here, even as the fires rage and winds and seas roar; even as earth quakes; even as the droughts kill and the floods drown. God is right here in the midst of crumbling twin towers and sedition and mob violence in the name of “progressive wokeness.” The gates of hell will not prevail, so neither will wildfires, hurricanes, or any other natural disaster. The gates of hell will not prevail, so neither will terrorists or crooked politicians and judges or godless acolytes of climate change or cancer or custody battles or anything else under the sun.
Here is Christ. In spite of all this sin and sinful terror and fear and foreboding, here is Christ. Richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, in good times and in the worst of times, here is Christ. Do you see? Straighten up. Hold your head high…and rejoice. Give thanks unto the Lord, for He IS good, and His steadfast love endures forever.
In His holy and precious name…AMEN
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