Sermon Text: Luke 21:25-36
Pastor Steven Pagels
In the name of the One who was and who is and who is to come, dear friends:
I’m not sure exactly how or when it happened, but it has definitely happened. And it seems to be happening more and more this time of year. I am talking about the recent trend of so many days being given special names.
Ten days ago our nation and its citizens celebrated Thanksgiving Day. The holiday has been around for generations, but for many it has become a precursor for the bigger event the following day, the day that has come to be known as Black Friday. Not to be outdone by the big box stores and national retailers, some local entrepreneur somewhere came up with another name to encourage people to shop locally the day after Black Friday, which is now called Small Business Saturday.
The special designations for special days don’t stop there. Perhaps you were among the millions of Americans who helped Amazon set a single day record for number of items purchased through their website last week on the day that is being hailed as Cyber Monday. And if you are a person who uses email, the following day your inbox was probably flooded with messages from charities and non-profits looking for your financial support on Giving Tuesday.
You almost get the impression that a day can’t be significant unless a catchy title has been attached to it…until you take a closer look at today’s sermon text. In these verses Jesus is telling his disciples about a particular day, a hugely significant day, what is arguably the most important day in the history of the world. But Jesus doesn’t give it a special name. The only time he refers to it directly he calls it “that day.” Far from flashy. Not especially memorable either. Just that day.
What Jesus wanted his disciples to remember, and where Jesus wants us to focus our attention, is on the world changing events that will happen on that day and on the days leading up to that day. More than anything else, our Lord wants us to be prepared for his final return because the Last Day, Judgment Day…
THE DAY IS COMING
It’s interesting that our text takes us to another week that is filled with days that have been given special names. Just a couple days earlier Jesus had entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Two days in the future Jesus and his disciples will celebrate the Passover together on Maundy Thursday. In between those two days Jesus spent much of his time teaching in the temple courts, and for that reason this day is sometimes called Teaching Tuesday.
The conversation began with the disciples admiring the beauty and the enormity of the temple in Jerusalem. They didn’t know, and they almost couldn’t believe it when Jesus told them that this massive structure would be completely destroyed. In fact, Jesus predicted that one stone would not be left on another (6). This prediction got the disciples’ attention, and it filled their heads with all kinds of questions, questions like: “Teacher, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place” (7)?
The Lord was eager to answer their questions, and he gave them even more information than they were seeking. His explanation describes not only the signs anticipating the destruction of the temple, but also the events that will signal the end of the world. He told them: “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken” (25-26).
You probably didn’t have time to read the 1,656 page government report on climate change that came out last week, so let me summarize it for you. The situation doesn’t look good. Increasing and increasingly intense weather events (floods, droughts, wild fires, hurricanes, etc) are putting a strain on the U.S. economy, so much so that some experts are predicting a ten percent drop in economic production by the end of the century. You can probably guess what the report identifies as the main cause of the problem: global warming.
I am a pastor, not a climate scientist. I have no interest in engaging in a debate about global warming. But if there are more weather events and more severe weather events being reported around the world every year, I’m not surprised. Why not? Because Jesus predicted it. Because Jesus predicted that the end of the world would be preceded by an increase in natural disasters. And even if the government report on global warming didn’t seek out to prove it, it reminds Christians that the end could come at any time.
Jesus emphasized the point by telling his disciples a short parable. He said: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near” (29-31).
Early December might not be the best time to talk about trees sprouting leaves, but you know that it will happen. The trees in your yard may be filled with bare branches, but in four or five months you will start seeing small green buds. You don’t wonder if it will happen. You won’t lose any sleep worrying that it might not happen. You know it will happen because it always happens. And when it does, when the first buds appear on the trees, it is a sure sign that summer is on its way.
So what does Jesus’ little lesson about Arbor Day have to do with his return on the Last Day? It’s as simple as this: just as the buds on the trees are a sure sign of the changing seasons, the signs that Jesus himself predicted, the signs we see today in the heavens and on the earth are undeniable proof that Jesus is on his way. Those signs are so clear and so obvious that you cannot miss them. We can’t miss them, but we can choose to ignore them.
Perhaps that is why Jesus ends his lesson with these words of warning: “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. 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” (34-36).
Every Sunday we confess that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. We confess it because we believe it, but do we always act like we believe it? Does the immanent reality of the Last Day impact the way you live today? Do you look up and long to see Jesus coming down? Or are your hearts weighed down with all the anxieties and activities of this life? How much time do you spend doing the things you like? How much time do you spend trying to get other people to like you? How much time and money and energy do you expend on things that have no eternal significance?
If your answers to those questions are making you uncomfortable, Jesus says: “Be careful.” Be careful because you are by nature sinful. Be careful because your sinful nature wants you to believe that the world revolves around you. And if you aren’t careful you won’t be ready when the trumpet sounds and the Lord comes down on the Last Day.
Jesus tells us to be careful… and be prayerful. When you pray, ask God to forgive you for all the times you forgot what is really important in life. When you pray, ask God to forgive you for all the times you have acted as if that day will never come. When you pray the Lord’s Prayer, think about what it means when you ask your heavenly Father to lead you not into temptation and deliver you from evil. And when you pray, pray that when the Last Day comes you will be able to stand before the Son of Man.
That is what all these signs anticipate. That’s what the Advent season is all about. That’s what the word, “Advent,” means. Coming. Specifically, Jesus is coming. And when he comes, everyone will know it. How do we know? Jesus said so: “At that time they (we) will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (27).
Can you imagine that day? Have you ever thought about how you will react on that day? If you haven’t, Jesus offers some suggestions. You don’t need to run for cover. You don’t need to be afraid. The Lord actually told his disciples to do the exact opposite: “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (28). No trying to hide. Not a hint of fear. We can stand out in the open and look up into the sky because the One who will come to judge is the same One who came to save.
Jesus was born into this world for you. Jesus lived a sinless life on this earth for you. Jesus sacrificed his life on the cross for you. Jesus rose from the dead and ascended and has promised that he will come back for you. And when he does, that day will be a great day, a glorious day, the best day because it will be the first day of an endless number of perfect days in heaven.
My guess is that some of you here today starting using one of these yesterday. It’s an Advent calendar, with twenty-four numbered windows that count down the days to Christmas. Advent calendars are kind of fun. Advent calendars bring back happy memories from my childhood. Advent calendars help Christians anticipate the coming of our Savior.
Somewhere up in heaven I imagine that there is a different kind of Advent calendar, a calendar with a number of windows that only God knows. Every day another window is opened. Each day brings us one day closer to the day when everything will be made right, when every last promise of God will be fulfilled.
If it sometimes feels like that day is far away, if you ever find yourself wondering if that day will ever come, let Jesus help you chase any uncertainty away. Today he comes to you and says: Look at the signs. Look for your Savior. And let there be no doubt that the day is coming. Amen.