"And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon 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. But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
And He told them a parable: "Behold the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near. Even so you, too, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.
"Be on guard, that your hearts may not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day come on you suddenly like a trap; for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. But keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
We played a game when I was a child. Perhaps you played it too. It worked best just at twilight. We would let the "wolf" hide somewhere, and then we would walk together as a group toward the "wolf", unable to see him or where he was hidden, but knowing that he was there and that he was near. What time is it, Mr. Wolf? we would cry, and he would tell us the time, later the closer we got, until he cried out "Twelve O'clock midnight, hope to see a ghost tonight!" And then he would chase us and we would flee toward the goal and safety, trying not to be caught by the "wolf".
That is also the point of the Gospel Lesson this morning. There is a day coming which we be unlike any other, for it will not be followed by any other. We don't know when, exactly, but we know it grows ever closer. The end of the world, the final day of reckoning, the day of our salvation or the day of our doom, is coming. Jesus tells us how we should stand in readiness for that great and terrible day, always being alert to the signs of the times. Our theme this morning is, "What time is it Mr. Wolf?"
According to the words of Jesus, the signs of this coming cataclysm are pretty clear and pretty dramatic. There will be signs in the sun and the moon and the stars. Of course what those signs are isn't spelled out, and we are no longer a people who read signs in the stars as they did back then. We are too scientific. The signs could be as simple as modern man's sudden certainty that a meteor or a comet will strike the earth and annihilate mankind. Or, the signs could be as unexpected as man's footprints on the moon, and the wonders of the galaxy that we behold through the Hubble Telescope. But the attention of mankind on the celestial bodies is one sign. "What time is it Mr. Wolf?"
Then Jesus says another sign is dismay on earth among the nations, identified with a perplexity at the roaring of the seas and the waves. Now that sounds distinctly environmentalistic, doesn't it? The dismay at the seas. Nations have become extremely agitated of late at the Ocean. The ice caps are said to be melting. The ocean is said to be polluted. Life forms are disappearing from it. It seems like the last five years all we have heard on the weather is El Niņo and La Niņa, both oceanic conditions one is the water at the surface being too hot and one is the water being unusually cold. Everyone is getting a crash course on how these phenomena effect our weather dramatically. And we have seen a remarkable increase in hurricane activity. Everyone is alarmed.
Which is another sign Jesus gave, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world. If there is anything we have no shortage of today, it is people quaking with fear over what is happening or what they think is about to happen. If anything, the coming of the new millennium has heightened all those fears. Men are afraid of the dissolution of our society. Men are frightened by the meaning of the changes in information technology , and the changes that will make in our world. Men are afraid of running out of resources, afraid of global warming, afraid of terrorists, and afraid that some natural disaster, like those meteors or some new super epidemic, will wipe out mankind, or life itself from this world. "What time is it Mr. Wolf?"
Of course, they are afraid because they have lost the knowledge of God and of His great love for us. They do not recognize His reality, and they have no sense of divine providence. So they are afraid. And that fear, that dismay, and that perplexity is the sign that Jesus pointed to as the sure and certain sign that He is coming back.
Well, it will happen for sure, but not the way the doom and gloomers say. The end of the world is a certainty. The end of our participation in it is a far nearer certainty. But it is not the cause of fear or at least it ought not to be for us. When I described the evils which cause terror in the hearts of men today, how did you respond? Was it fear? Were there moments of dread? You would have to be a pretty remarkable person if there wasn't even a twinge. Our society trains us to that fear. "What time is it Mr. Wolf?"
But the response Jesus invites us to is different. "But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." Rather than fear, Jesus invites us to confidence and hope. Lift up your heads! Don't cower in fear as though something unexpected is happening. Straighten up and lift up your heads. You know what is happening, and what it means. It means that we are following the carefully laid plan of God. The end is coming, and soon. It is not going to be global flooding, or global warming, or a monster rock from outer space. It will be the return of Jesus Christ with the fulfillment of your salvation in His hands!
Jesus even tells the parable of the fig tree to make His point. Just as you recognize the signs of the seasons, and know that everything is happening just as it should, Jesus invites you to know the signs of the ages, and understand that it is not a terror for us. Nothing bad is happening. They are the signs of the return of the Lord that you see.
He is the same Lord who loved you so much that He became man for you. It is the same Lord who suffered such agonies so that you would not need to. It is the same Lord who forgives you all your sins, and gives you eternal life. Remember that for the child of God the worst thing that can happen I mean death here is also the best thing that can happen, for it is the door to life everlasting in glory with Him!
Jesus said that it will happen, and then He reminds us that His promises and His salvation and His love is more permanent than the earth below us or the sky above us. Even as we see this world come unraveled and undone, His love and His promises and His salvation are unshaken and sure! Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.
So, Jesus says, be prepared. Be on guard. Those are the words He used. Be on guard against the unrealistic and unbelieving fears. Be on guard against the foolishness which cannot understand the events around us. Be on guard, that your hearts may not be weighted down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of life, and that day come on you suddenly like a trap. "What time is it Mr. Wolf?"
Keep alert against the things which will destroy you. For example, Jesus lists dissipation and drunkenness. I believe these are examples, not the whole list, or the only things we need to be on guard against. Dissipation is that squandering of one's self and one's resources on something less that wholesome. It can be as vile as debauchery or as mild as laziness. It is, in fact, letting it slip away. And in this case "IT" is life itself lost in this world by wasting it on things which have no real value, and lost for eternity by losing sight of that which has eternal value.
There is no need to elaborate on drunkenness with all that it can do to you, and all that it can destroy though you. We know drunkenness, the escape from reality into a bottle, and the loss of self control and, well, the loss of self so many encounter in too much to drink, or too much of any other drug.
We are also warned not to allow the worries of life to weigh us down. The worries of life are the car payments and the dock repairs, the opinion of our neighbors about us, and the endless stream of health scares that the media confront us with. Jesus doesn't say not to take care of such things, He simply warns us not to be crushed by them or so distracted that we do not see the coming of the day of the Lord, so clearly indicated by the signs.
The signs have always been with us. Forty years ago I would have described them differently, perhaps, but they were still there. They were there because God has so arranged this world that they would be there for His people to see because that day is coming, and God would not have us be distressed by its approach, or surprised by its arrival.
It will happen Jesus said so, for it will come upon all those who dwell on the face of all the earth. How to prepare? Pray for strength and endurance in all the many circumstance of this world. "But keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."
Jesus is all the preparation that you need. He did what you needed done. He paid for your sins. He forgives you all your guilt. He has given you eternal life in your Baptism. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved. In this world, among all the challenges and pains and sorrows of this life, trust in the will of God toward you is all the preparation you really need to endure. And what is the will of God for you?
And when the Son of Man stands in that great day, trust in His righteousness, trust in His love, and trust in His promises is all that you will need to stand in His presence both on that day and eternally. Jesus points out the signs of the time so we can judge for ourselves and see how late the hour and cast ourselves completely on Him. What time is it, Mr. Wolf?
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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