10. December 2023
Then He spoke to them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. 31 So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near.
In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.
The season of Advent is for preparing for our Lord Jesus when He comes. He advented, He advents, He will advent again. He came and was incarnate of the Virgin Mary to suffer and die for you. He comes to you in Word preached and taught for your edification and exhortation and comfort (1 Cor 14:3). He comes in His body and blood in the Holy Supper to forgive, strengthen, and encourage. And He will come on the final day to judge both you and all the living and the dead.
There are signs that He came all around us. We are just weeks away from our annual remembrance and celebration of the feast of the Nativity of our Lord. Creches, trees, wreaths, and lights bear witness that we haven’t forgotten His incarnation and birth. And we won’t forget to recognize the visit of the angels, shepherds, and magi. We won’t forget to remember His three-year ministry of preaching, teaching, and accompanying signs. We’ll come again to Holy Week and the feast of the Resurrection in the spring, dutifully recalling Jesus’s cross and passion. You might even gather with the saints to rejoice in Christ’s ascension. This is our annual cycle, the church year, that began last week. I hope you’ll stick with Him through it all again, lest you forget.
These last weeks, we’ve also spoken of how He will come. From the Scriptures, we have heard and learned again what we mean when we confess, “From thence He will come to judge the quick and the dead.” Today, He tells us there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars. There will be distress and confusion among the nations. The creation itself will groan with birth pains, the sea and waves roaring. The cataclysmic events of the world will lead our hearts to fail from fear. We will be caught up in the thoughts about the end and the expectation of the day of judgment.
That sounds familiar. Our kings and court jesters, the aristocracy and their puppets, boldly proclaim these things for fear and control. They take what Jesus says for your comfort and use it to tyrannize your soul. We’ve known nothing but fear from those who have long promised peace. As a youth, it was the Communists and the threat of nuclear armageddon. And there was the war on drugs and obesity and tobacco and a litany of other stuff. Then, it was planes flying to buildings and terrorism around every corner. Then, it was bank failure and a housing crisis. Now it’s China or Russia or Hamas or ISIS, ISIL, Al-Qaeda, or something. And all the while, we were afraid of the next ice age and global cooling…or wait, it was global warming and ice caps melting…or was it hairspray and the ozone layer? I can’t remember, but I know I’m supposed to be afraid of everyone and everything.
These are all, whether real or not, pale imitations of the true end that Jesus speaks of, and we confess. Instead of being proclaimed for fear of God and faith in His Son, these themes of judgment are used for control, manipulation, power, and profit by those who do not want you to hallow God’s name or pray His kingdom come. They want you to fear them, trust them, and maybe even give worshipful devotion to them. They can forestall the judgment for you and maybe for most people. They can see the signs and read the tea leaves and, through their savage wizardry, can defeat all enemies, even death. We went through a whole psychological operation to convince ourselves that we could delay and even escape the inevitable by doing the current thing. But notice that every time the crisis comes, who is telling you to trust in God the Father or our Lord Jesus Christ? Who is speaking by the Spirit of God to direct you to what Jesus gives for faith, hope, and comfort when in distress?
Jesus gives you a Word that I want you to say every time a media pundit, climate prophet, or warmonger politician declares, “If you don’t do something, change this behavior, or support this thing, we’re all going to die.” Are you listening? Good. Every time, say to them what Jesus said, “When these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads because your redemption draws near.” Fear and foreboding at what is coming in the world can to you around to faith in Jesus for salvation, or it can be the faith-killer that leads to unbelief. Jesus tells you what it will be like (and yes, just like it is). But He also gives you a Word to speak that will shut up the lying mouths of those possessed by the satanic lies of unbelieving tyrants. Even if all the fear and expectations are true, Jesus told you beforehand and gave you His eternal truth, “When these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” I don’t need to fear. I don’t need to worry. Because Jesus told me this would happen, and He’s promised to save me through it all.
So Jesus catechizes you, His Church: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” This He said, too, for our comfort. Yet, there’s a warning in the parable. You might think Jesus wants you to look for the signs and seasons and to determine when He is coming. No, He says that these things happen so that you know that He’s coming again.
But what about the meantime? Where does that leave us? That last statement of the parable is the clincher. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” The only way through this life, with all its pain, loss, distress, and fear, is to remain steadfast in Jesus as He comes. We look back to how He came, speaking and doing everything necessary for our salvation. He will come to bring us home to our eternal dwellings. But let’s not neglect what He gives now as He comes.
It might seem pedantic for me to tell you again that Jesus wants you in Church. But He wants you here because He promises to be here for you. You can look for Him in the skies, but no one knows the day or the hour. You can search for Him in your life, but there’s little to no evidence that you’re forgiven, holy, resurrected, and eternal. But listen to Jesus, hold tight to the promises of His Word, and receive Him as His promises to come. He says, “I made you by a Word, knitting you in your mother’s womb. I made you God’s child in the washing of Baptism. I sustain you day to day with daily bread. I forgave you by suffering and dying for you. I defeated death and raised you to live through my resurrection. I keep forgiving you by my body and blood under bread and wine. I encourage you daily by the Bread from Heaven, my Word proclaimed and taught. I come to you, even now, so that you may never fear.”
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin