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Prepared for What's to Come - Second Sunday in Advent

[Luke 21:29-36] Jesus said: “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

And Jesus told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34 But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.

Prepared for What’s to Come

Before the Advent of our Lord on the Last Day, there will first be an advent of tribulations in the world. Today’s Gospel, in part, focuses on the advent, the arrival, of increased trouble in the world as the sign of His coming. Tribulations will arrive in the world and already have.

Signs in sun and moon and stars, distress of nations on earth, perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and waves, people fainting in fear and foreboding because of what is coming on the world. Elsewhere, our Lord warns of false teachers who will lead many astray in His name, and of wars and rumors of wars, kingdoms rising against each other, and of earthquakes and famines in the earth. But then our Lord says, “See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.” [Matthew 24:3-14]

This advent of tribulations in the world doesn’t get the final say – they are not the end. The end, the final say, is the Sunrise of our Lord – His Advent. His coming Summer, as He explains it today.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus compares His final Advent to the coming of summer. It’s as if the world with its tribulations is a cold winter, but then Jesus tells you to watch for the fig leaf. Just as a sprouting fig leaf is a sign that summer is near, so also these tribulations in the world are the sign of good news. Summer is coming. The Sunrise of our Savior’s Kingdom is upon us.

By faith, God’s people therefore are living in Springtime – even “filled with all joy and peace in believing” – as the world’s winter rolls on. [Romans 15:13]

So, the summer is soon arriving. By faith we live in the spring. But how do we keep the coldness of winter from weighing us down in the meantime?

When thinking about the natural, manmade, or perhaps even supernatural troubles in the world, don’t turn your mind to complex or sensationalized theories about the end times. There’s a principle for interpreting the Bible which says that the clearer passages of Scripture should interpret what is less clear. There are clear and straightforward passages in Scripture about the last days and our Lord’s Advent.

Scripture shows in clear passages a simple teaching: that there will be much trouble in the world and for the Church, and then the end comes in which Christ will arrive once and for all to see – “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command” [1 Thessalonians 4:16]; “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” [Matthew 24:27].

As you wait for our Lord’s Summer Sunrise, avoid also the politicizing of Scripture’s many spiritual warnings. Warnings in Scripture about a coming antichrist or beast figure, or the man of lawlessness who is to come, are not warnings about a secular ruler or kingdom. These, instead, are warnings about false teachers in and over the church. End-time conspiracy theories tend to confuse spiritual and secular concerns and distract our hearts from the Gospel.

Avoid also end-time, tribulation theories which claim that Christians won’t be here to experience the tribulations of the last days. This is precisely the opposite of what Christ warns. We are the ones, most of all, who suffer tribulation for the sake of Christ’s name. We take up our cross and follow Jesus [Matthew 16:24]. We don’t fear those who can kill only the body [Matthew 10:28]. And Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation” [John 16:33]. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake.” [Matthew 24:9]. “But take heart; I have overcome the world”, our Lord also adds [John 16:33].

When our Lord says, “pray that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place”, He is telling us to pray for strength to escape the truest danger tribulations present: the danger that a faith not sufficiently rooted will fall away. (We all need this strength through prayer.)

In light of the tribulations that will arrive, we ought to seek daily that our faith be enriched so that we do have strength. What else ought we do while waiting for our Lord’s Summer?

Most importantly, as we’ve begun to say already, look to the end as a positive thing for which we hope – not as a frightening thing from which we flee. We want Jesus to come back! Stand straight and “lift up your heads”, Jesus said, “because your redemption is drawing near.” Redemption is the forgiveness of sins [Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14]. Your forgiveness is drawing near.

We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come”. And Jesus says today, “when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” Worldly tribulation is the joyous sign that God’s kingdom is coming.

Do prepare for the kingdom to come by repentance from sins. It is dissipation (debauchery, depravity) and drunkenness, and the cares of this life, which are said to weigh our hearts down so that day comes like a trap. Therefore, daily put off the old man and his ways and put on the new man. Be found walking in the good works for which you were created anew in Christ Jesus to walk in them [Ephesians 2:10].

As what is to come approaches, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” [Colossians 3:16]. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Let your faith be enriched by home devotions and daily bible reading. Let your faith be enriched by morning and evening prayer. Let your faith be enriched by daily self-examination in the Ten Commandments. Let your faith be enriched by renewed study of your Small Catechism and all its questions and answers from Scripture.

Practice all these things, and, by doing so, let God the Holy Spirit work in you daily through God’s Word to prepare you for all that is to come that you may stand and endure.

When you see tribulation in this world, in your life, in yourself, let that be the sign for you to fix your eyes toward Jesus alone. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” [Ephesians 1:7]. Jesus is the one who died for us, and moreover, who was raised for us. It is by Jesus that “death is swallowed up in victory” [1 Corinthians 15:54]. It is by the death and resurrection of Jesus that we are saved by grace through faith, and not by works [Ephesians 2:8-9]. His atoning death alone makes us able to stand before Him when He arrives.

We will see tribulations, but, more than that, the Summer Sunrise of our Salvation will arrive shortly. When our Summer Sun does rise, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye”, what is corruptible in us will put on incorruptibility. What is mortal in us will put on immortality [1 Cor. 15:52-54]. Cold will give way to warmth, darkness to sunlight. Advent reminds us that our Savior does arrive soon. Amen.

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