Responses to the Advent of our King
Did the Gospel reading sound familiar? We read Mark's account just 2 weeks ago at the end of the Church Year. Do you think we exhausted this text the first time? I don't. Listen to the words Luke but not Mark records Jesus saying. "When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close upon you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man."
Do you see there are 2 different responses in this text to the Advent or coming of our King? Heads are lifted up because redemption approaches and hearts are burdened because judgment approaches. One and the same Jesus brings salvation and damnation. The poet Tennyson refused such a God as this in his poem "Despair." "But the God of Love and Hell together they cannot be thought,/ If there be such a God, may the Great God curse him and bring him to nought." Tennyson won't live with the paradox of a God of love and mercy who judges and damns.and that leads him to despair. We revel in such a God and so lift up our heads and hearts.
Most don't revel; with Tennyson, they despair. Why? Why do they respond to Jesus' coming with hearts weighed down with dissipation (which is being hung over), drunkenness, and the anxieties of life? First note that Jesus places these in reverse order. A hangover comes from drunkenness and drunkenness often starts with anxiety and all 3 weigh the heart down. Now jump back to the opening words of the text. The indications of the Advent of our King bring anguish and perplexity on the nations and cause men to faint from terror.
Some respond to the Advent of our King in anguish, perplexity, and terror which leads to drunkenness and hangovers. That's because when Jesus comes again this created order is finished. No more sun, moon, or stars. No more sea or earth. No more tomorrow. No more letting people get by with their sins. No more prospering of the wicked. This present age is over and done with.
What if this age is all you have? What if the wealth, health, and happiness you have here is all you have? What if your plans and future are all under this sun, on this earth, in this present reality? Then how can you not have anxieties about your life as you see it threatened. What will you eat when there is no more food? What will you wear when everything material is burned? The text says, "Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on (literally) the inhabited world." They're not concerned with the physical world coming to an end but their world. Their buying, selling, partying, and prospering are threatened by the approaching judgment, and as animals get fidgety and anxious when their home is threatened, so do men whose only home is here.
O come on. Most people go on as if this world will last forever, as if Jesus is not returning at all let alone to judge. Particularly during this season of good will, you look like a nut carrying a sign saying, "The end is near." Watch closely. Watch what happens when the Lord shakes a person's world just a little. The Lord doesn't even have to shake the whole world just a piece, the piece a person is sitting on, and they tumble. I chose the words "sitting on" because that's what Jesus literally says. The ones His Advent rushes suddenly upon shaking them to the core are those literally sitting upon the earth. They are like Jabba the Hutt from "Star Wars." Seated firmly on the ground they gorge themselves on the things of this earth. They neither know nor care about anything beyond their appetites and the things on this earth that satisfy them.
When the earth people are sitting on shakes, they do too. They become anxious about the future, what they're going to do, where they're going to go. Drink makes them forget, but they must take ever increasing doses till they're drunk, and then follows the hangover. They only know a God of judgment. They only know a God who should send them to hell. Like Tennyson, with such a God they cannot live. So, like Tennyson, they push Him out of their thoughts with a greater god who sends no one to hell, lets people live forever, and doesn't return to judge or end the earth. But every tremble of the tiny piece of earth they're sitting on, every shaking of the world they inhabit, testifies to them that no such god as that exists.
The Advent of our King means the end, judgment, and hell to most people, but it doesn't mean that to us. The anguish, the perplexity, the terror you find in the world today, even on the pieces where we live, testify to us that our redemption is drawing near.
Redemption the buying back of a slave. Redemption - making a slave free by the payment of money. Redemption being set free from the sin, the death, and the devil that stalks us. Redemption grows nearer is what the nations in anguish and perplexity tell us. Redemption draws closer is what men fainting from terror indicates to us. Redemption is at hand is what drunkenness and dissipation are telling us.
Your redemption is what the first Advent of Jesus accomplished. Sold in slavery to sin, to death, and to the power of the devil, we were eternally lost. Sold into slavery we had to obey sin, had to obey death, had to obey the devil, and these are brutal taskmasters. Sinning is like drinking saltwater. The more we drank the thirstier for it we became. Death played with us like a cat plays with a mouse. It let us think we were free for this or that good time, but then slapped us down again under its heavy, sharp claws. And the devil tormented us like the Greek gods tormented humans. Giving us hopes and dreams, joys and life only to crush them or lead us to hell with them.
Sin, death, and the devil owned us because God said they did. "He who sins is a slave of sin," He said. "He who sins must die," He said. "He that commits sin belongs to the devil," He said. God's own Words enslaved us. Only a person who never sinned wouldn't be a slave of sin, death, or the devil, but every one of us is conceived in sin. Every one of us has been enslaved from birth on.
Not every one of us. God the Son was born of the Virgin Mary, holy, without sin. Born under the Law that condemns us, yet He never sinned, so He never was a slave of sin, didn't have to die, and didn't belong to the devil. This is where the story gets good. Though un-condemned Himself, He was punished as a condemned sinner, tortured by the devil as a sinner, and died as a sinner. But His suffering and death were totally innocent. He didn't have to do it; He did it for us and for our salvation.
When Jesus cried out in a loud voice from the cross, "It is finished." He was speaking of your redemption. It's a done deal; it's been done sense Calvary. It's yours right now. You've been brought back from your slavery to sin, to death and to the devil. You're a free man or woman, but why then does Jesus say your redemption draws near? What you have now by faith in what Jesus did on the cross and does in His Word and Sacraments, you are about to have by sight. With the second Advent of your King, you will see yourself cleansed of sin, youthful, healthful, alive forever, and the devil actually under your feet.
We wait, we watch, we pray for His Advent. While it is a fearful day for all those planted on the earth, in their sins, in slavery to death and the devil, it's not a fearful day for us. We are not watching our world progressively crumble; we are watching our Redeemer coming ever closer. We see Him now wrapped up in Water, Words, Bread and Wine, but we're watching, waiting for the day when He will drop those garments.
Is it an ordeal or tedious for the child watching and waiting for his loving father to come home? I can remember when my father went away on business only coming home on weekends. I couldn't wait to watch all Friday afternoon and evening. I would be out in the sandbox as it grew ever darker. Was I bored? No I was excited. Was I fearful because of all the things that I had done wrong that week? No, my father never returned in wrath or judgment but in love because He missed me as much as I did him. So at every approaching set of headlights my head popped up and I stretched my neck out. Why didn't the growing darkness frighten me? Because it indicated my dad was closer than ever before.
This growing darkness that you sense all about you, doesn't have to frighten you either. It indicates your Lord is closer than ever. But it's not easy to watch in faith and hope. That's why our Lord warns us about weighed down hearts, anxious hearts, unrepentant hearts. These are ever present temptations for those who sit upon the earth to fall into. That's why Jesus says to your watching add praying so that rather than sitting on the earth when your king returns you will be found standing before Him.
Friends, only those who know they were redeemed the first time Jesus came can pray at all in the face of His Second Coming. Only those who know they've been redeemed from slavery to sin, death and the devil can pray in the face of the ominous judgment that is coming. And what do they pray? The prayer Jesus taught us: "Thy kingdom come, Forgive us our sins, Lead us not into temptation, and Deliver us from evil."
In the Tennyson poem "Despair," there is no God of both love and hell because he says such a God "cannot be thought." He's right. You can't make up such a god as this. In pagan mythology there is no god who is both Lord of life and death, of heaven and hell, of judgment and redemption. This God can only be known by revelation. He revealed Himself in His first Advent so we might look forward to and rejoice at His second. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
First Sunday in Advent (20061203); Luke 21: 25-36