Readings: Jer 33:14 – 16 1 Thess 3:9-13 Luke 21:25-36
So it’s the beginning of Advent. The season of silliness for some – but for Christians a time of serious reflection and preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Advent means “arrival”.
Today we look at the second coming of Jesus as we prepare for the celebration of his first coming.
The reading today from Luke 21 is scary apolcalyptic stuff. Followed by
- A parable
- Some warnings
- Some great encouragement.
The bonus parable of the fig tree is not very exciting or profound like other parables which are rich in meaning.
It’s really a warning. Jesus really is telling his listeners in this Luke passage to read the signs. They were signs of the Kingdom. He goes on in verse 31: Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
Remember last week – Christ the King Sunday? The Kingdom concept his central again. The Kingdom had come and was still coming
The Gospel reading is full of interesting bits today of course: Like the next verses.
Luk 21:32 “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.
Some of this is fulfilled already. Some things did happen in that generation – like the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple by the Romans. (See verses 20-21). Most Bible scholars believe that these passages have prophetic parts that are already fulfilled and major apocalyptic parts that point us to the future.
For both the people of that day and for us and followers in the future there is encouragement and hope. Take for example that most encouraging and Presbyterian verse focusing on the words of Jesus (Presbyterians place the Bible at the centre of life and faith):
Luk 21:33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
The power of the word of God – the word of Christ – its unchanging nature and truth. This in itself is a sermon brewing away. For now – what Jesus says remains true forever! So don’t give up on him! Trust and believe!
And especially for today and our generation – with patience and watchfulness, I think that God does have a word for us. It’s verse 34. Listen and look carefully:
Luk 21:34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.
We always think of Lent as a solemn time of reflection as we prepare to face the terrible truth that it was for our miserable skins and sins that Jesus died.
Advent is also a time of reflection and a stark reminder that people were supposed to get ready when Jesus came. In fact the Eastern Orthodox Church treats it just like Lent. Very seriously and not in the Christmassy kind of tinselly way that we do.
Of course at that first Christmas there were people who were ready and open to God and did respond – the Marys and Josephs listen to the Spirit speaking through dreams and the clear voice of angels, the shepherds who had heaps of singing angels getting their attention, and later the wise men who were carefully studying signs as well.
We could be enjoying those nice stories today but no – we are faced with the prospect of his second coming – and the piercing question about our lack of readiness.
Listen again to verse 34: “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap”.
This is another one of those sermons where we think “if only so and so were here to listen to this!).
Warning 1: Don’t let your hearts be weighed down with Dissipation (gluttony, self-indulgence and wastefulness).
Our hearts may not be weighed down with dissipation (which is self-indulgence and wasteful living) but there is something for all here – ESPECIALLY at Christmas where people do overdo things. And of course in the wealthy parts of the world we do waste so much!
Warning 2: Don’t let your hearts be weighed down by drunkenness. That needs little explanation.
There is a local problem in our nation of too much alcohol – and especially binge drinking. It’s a scourge – an affliction.
If this does not really involve us – look at Petersen’s translation The Message here which goes like this: “But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping.”
The third one is for the purists and tea totallers here who are not often gluttonous and don’t drink:
Warning 3: Don’t let your hearts be weighed down by the the anxieties of life.
The anxieties of life do weigh down our hearts.
Anxious about so much, we forget Paul’s injunction in Philippians 4:6-7: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
So again: Luke 21:34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.
You will be caught unawares. The day will come.
Here’s the thing. I don’t believe in speculating about when the day will come. After all Mark in a similar passage adds this reminder to stop speculation: “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32)
It seems to me, however, that if it does not come in our lifetime, there’s this amazing leveller called death that will come. Remember John 14 from the funeral this week (for those who were here)? I go to prepare a place for you…
We need to be just as ready. We never know when our lives will end in any case.
Jesus carries on in verses 35 and 36: For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth.
It’s about being ready
About the right perspective: 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.”
IT IS A SERIOUS MATTER.
I remember well one of the brothers in our lives – from years ago – who was so excited about the return of Jesus that he would jump for joy at the announcement on the news of every earthquake. His wife was far more pastoral, and prayed for the poor souls stuck under the rubble. He just wanted Jesus to come back!
For the early church – ravaged by persecution and destruction – the coming was also longed for. MARANATHA was their prayer. Come Lord! (1 Cor 16:22)
The word to them was really about patience. They needed courage. Verse 28 was for them a great verse: When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
O my. What a powerful verse – and how good for us too! Stand up and lift up your heads – for your redemption is drawing near!
Redemption is at the heart of this whole story. Like Christ the King ushering in his Kingdom, it’s a word that crops up a lot.
This is not “redemption” as in the letters of Paul – a theology of the cross.
This redemption means rescue. And rescue from the mess they would find themselves in.
Holding on for God to come
He is coming
For us today – we can combine verse 28 and verse 36 in a simple recipe for life:
Stand up and lift your heads – and watch and pray.
For us this also means:
- He is our redeemer It’s about perspective and confidence – that God is the one who makes our lives different and that he will come through for us.
- He will do it! (Psalm 37:5-6) – whatever it is we are hoping for him to do he will come through for us.
- Don’t be distracted and weighed down! And for most of us it’s the anxieties of life (v34) that can weigh our hearts down! Be careful, says Jesus! “That day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.”
- Be alert and ready! The trap imagery is a little different from the other simile “like a thief in the night” which we find in Paul’s writings in 1 Thessalonians 5:2
- Trust Him even if your world is shaken. You get the idea. It’s about watchfulness and readiness. However our lives are shaken – we are to be alert.
But mainly it’s about Hope!
The first candle of Advent which we lit today is the candle of Hope.
As we Stand up and lift (y)our heads – and watch and pray – we will be focussed on the King who came in Jesus and who will come again.
May the glory always go to him!