Today is the first Sunday of the first season of the Church Year, Advent.
Advent means coming, as in “Christ came to us on Christmas day” and “He will come again to judge the living and the dead.”
When Christ comes back, He will finally and fully establish His kingdom with those of us who have, as the Bible says, “longed for His appearing” and have endured in faith in Him alone. From the early Church, we’ve inherited a simple confession of our faith: “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.” Advent reminds us of these truths.
But when will Christ return? Under what circumstances? And what does it all have to do with you and me?
These are questions Jesus addresses in today’s Gospel lesson, Luke 21:25-36. At the outset, Jesus says: “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; [people’s] hearts failing them from fear...the powers of the heavens will be shaken...”
We read these words and, being clever, we figure that the end of this world and the return of Jesus must be close at hand. And that’s true.
But a careful reading of Scripture shows us that Jesus doesn’t describe the so-called “signs of the times” so that clever people can make predictions about the future. In Acts 1:7, Jesus tells His first-century disciples, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.”
By talking about the signs of His coming back to the world with His kingdom, Jesus was not really making predictions about the future at all.
Slip down to verse 32 in our Gospel lesson. There, Jesus says: “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place.”
Jesus is saying that all of the drama, earthquakes, tsunamis, wars, and terrors of nations that He said must precede His return would all take place within the lifetimes of the first people to whom He spoke these words in the first-century AD.
It’s because all of the signs of the end that Jesus spoke about with His disciples had already taken place twenty centuries ago that many early Christians began doubting Jesus and their faith in Him. “If Jesus hasn’t come back yet, despite the mess the world is in,” they reasoned, “maybe He never will come back. Maybe Jesus isn’t good for His word.”
Peter wrote to Christians dealing with these doubts and questions in 2 Peter 3:9, where he says: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” “You Christians overcome by the hardships you undeniably endure in this life,” Peter was saying, “get over yourselves!” Today, on the authority of God’s Word, given through Peter, I can tell you that Christ hasn’t come back to this world yet because He loves those who don’t know Him and need Him. These people need time to hear the Gospel, the good news of new and everlasting life through Christ. They need time to turn from sin, time to embrace the gift of faith in Christ.
And here’s the key takeaway for you and me as Christians this morning: Christ has also delayed coming back in order to give you and me the time we need to share with our neighbors and world the message about Christ and the salvation that comes from Christ alone.
Our call as Christians is clear: By grace through faith in Jesus Christ, we know that we've been "justified," counted guiltless for our sins despite our guilt. By grace through faith in Jesus, you and I are OK with God. So now, we’re to love our neighbors enough to help them to follow Christ and to be OK with God, too.
And how do we do that?
- By sharing Jesus with them.
- By inviting them to join us for worship or Sunday School or Bible study.
- By showing mercy and forgiveness to people who have hurt us.
- By listening to the hurts of others and offering to pray with and for them.
- By serving them in the Name of Jesus.
- By giving food to the hungry.
- By helping to spread the good news of Jesus throughout the world.
He tells us this not only so that we can resist temptations that could leave us trapped in sin and death when Christ returns or when we see Him face to face as the judge over our lives. Jesus also tells us to stay awake and alert so that, no matter what’s going on in our lives or in the world, we keep pursuing the commission He has given to us of making disciples of our unbelieving or spiritually-disconnected neighbors.
He was aimless and scattered. His only goals in life were to have fun and to be seen by others as the smartest guy in the room. A friend would tell him years later, “I worried about you. You just didn’t seem to have any focus, like any wind that came along would carry you to God-knows-where.”
By the grace of God, a wind did come along. It was the Holy Spirit Who carried that young man to a Lutheran church.
There he found himself, inexplicably, being drawn to interact with a woman forty years his senior. She took this young man under her wing, put up with his immaturity and flippancy and self-regard, and taught him Who Jesus is and what it means to follow Him as your only God, King, and Savior.
She taught him about the hope that belongs only to those who follow Christ.
She taught him how to pray.
By her words and her actions and her patience, she proclaimed Jesus to that young man.
And to his amazement, he found that through the ministry of that nearly seventy year old woman and the other followers of Jesus he met in that Lutheran congregation, God had sparked the gift of faith in Jesus Christ within him.
That young man is not so young any more. And he’s still an imperfect sinner in daily need of the forgiveness and new life that comes to those who entrust themselves to Jesus Christ.
But my life has been changed forever. Like the prodigal son of Jesus’ story, I was dead and am alive again, was lost and have been found.
All because a group of imperfect sinners that made up Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Columbus, including Martha Schneider, grateful for the grace of God given in Jesus Christ to them, shared the Word in its purity and administered Holy Baptism and Holy Communion rightly. (This is how the Church, Christ's body in the world, makes disciples.)
Who will you share Christ with this week? The clock is ticking. We don’t know when Christ will return. We don't know how much time each of us personally has on this earth.
But we do know that, as surely He came upon a midnight clear, an unobtrusive baby who would grow to die for our sins and rise to give us life with God, Jesus will return.
This time, there will be nothing silent about His coming. There will be nothing quiet about His judging “the living and the dead,” not on the basis of their works, or church membership, or popularity, or wealthy, or power, but solely on the basis of whether we have trusted Him with our lives and let Him cover everything that is sinful and dying about us with His forgiveness and grace. Jesus will come in glory and time will have run out. There will be no more chance for anyone to repent and believe in Him.
Make it your daily aim to share Christ in some way with those who, absent your witness, absent your love and encouragement, absent your good word from God, will otherwise stand naked in their sins when they meet Jesus, uncovered by His grace and forgiveness, facing a Christ-less eternity.
If you had the cure for cancer, you wouldn’t keep it to yourself. You have the cure for sin and death and meaningless life. That cure is Jesus Christ. Trust in Him. And then, in as many ways as you can every single day, share Him! Amen
[This is the text for the message shared during the 10:15 worship service with the people and guests of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, this morning.]