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Heads Up! (St. Luke 21.25-36)

The Second Sunday in Advent

“Heads Up!”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus           

St. Luke 21.25-36

04 December 2022



“HeadsUp!”is a phrase we use to alert someone to danger, or as the British say, “Mind your head.” We use it in everyday speech to let someone know that something is important and that he should be alert for it, such as, “I’d like to give you a heads up on the important meeting next week.” In other words, don’t forget. You need to be ready.

Heads down is the position of defeat and sorrow. Think of the losing team near the end of the game and they are down three touchdowns. Heads are bowed in defeat. In our Gospel reading today that idea is used amid terrifying occurrences when the world will end and the created order destroyed. Yet, for Christians it is not a dire warning but good news. “Straighten up and raise your heads,” Jesus says to us. We don’t look up in terror because our eyes are fixed on something other than the destruction of the created order; our eyes are fixed on the returning Lord Jesus Christ.

These words of Jesus in the first part certainly describe the feeling of many, if not most, in our culture. The signs of distress in the created order alarm many people and drive them to an Angst that goes beyond description. Hardly a week passes that I do not hear of the dire consequences for our planet if we do not act immediately to save it. Even when it is pointed out that all predictions of this sort have not happened. Paul Ehrlich’s 19602 book, The Population Bomb, comes to mind. According to many scientists our world was supposed to have ended before the dawn of this millennium. But nothing of the sort has happened.

Yet, people are whipped into a frenzy, “people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.” Those are the words of Jesus! Yes, people will become so terrified as to lose all sense of reality, as if their brains were deprived of oxygen. We witnessed some of that with the pandemic when people acted out of panic. The post-mortem that has been done on our nation’s actions reveals a great overreaction not based on reality. Recently our nation shot a missile at an asteroid to see if it were possible to deflect it from hitting the earth, so afraid are some who wring their hands at the possibility.

The events Jesus mentions are cosmic events like eclipses, comets, asteroids, storms, tidal waves, and the like. “Nations in perplexity” is part of it as well. Uproar, riots, wars are all part of the signs of the end. The end of the world will happen, but not on the timetable of any human being. Jesus reminds us,

But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. [Mk. 13.32]

When these signs begin to happen we are to “straighten up and raise our heads.” The turmoil and distress of the world is not ours. It does not belong to the Church of Christ. What is more, the Holy Spirit says that in these days many “will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” [1 Timothy 4.1] Things will not get better in this world but worse. Satan is unloosed and wreaks havoc on those willing to follow him.

“Things taught by demons” is rather shocking language, but it centers in denying anything that God has said. Saying that marriage between one man and one woman is hateful and must be ended is demonic. So is the mutilation of children who are too young to know what they want, and such practices are done without parental consent! Parents who find out and try to intervene are threatened with legal action, even jail, for trying to protect their children. The state has usurped the power of parents. The destruction of the nuclear family as God has given it lies squarely in the crosshairs of these maniacally inspired people. To do such unspeakable things in the name of love is certainly demonic!

A former priest in the Church of England recently said:

“Political correctness arrived just at the point when the Protestants [ed. the Anglicans in the U.K.] were losing maximum confidence, so they grabbed fairness, equality, inclusion. This became for them a safety harness for all their utopian longing, which in a generation before, they would have put into heaven and hell. But now, being unable to talk about heaven and hell, what they had to do was instead to jump on the secular Left’s project of making heaven on earth. The problem is that when Marx and Lenin tried to make heaven on earth, they made hell instead.” [John Brown, Fox News.com. November 15, 2022]

Jesus reminded his disciples about the fig tree with a short parable. The regularity of the created order shows us that something is wrong with it. Fig trees produce two crops per year. If the early foliage does not produce figs, then neither will the second. There is no good fruit. The tree is useless. It has outlived its usefulness. It is picture of the nation of Israel in Jesus’ day. It produced none of the fruit God was looking for. Therefore, it will be destroyed.

Heads Up! This nightmare is coming to an end! The destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world are intertwined into one picture. For the unbelieving world it marks the end of all that it holds dear. They cannot keep it because it was not theirs to begin with; it belongs to God. Their heads are down because their souls, their spirits are crushed. They have no trust in God. In fact, many of them curse God or any mention of him.

When our Lord Jesus ascended into heaven 40 days after his resurrection he took his disciples to a high mountain. This is how Luke records it:

10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. [Acts 1.10-11]

Jesus had said exactly that. He will come “in a cloud with power and great glory.” So the end of all things is not bad news at all! It is the beginning of the consummation of all things, of Christ restoring his kingdom in eternity. Everything begun since the promise to Adam and Eve of a Savior now reaches its glorious conclusion. It’s Advent!

The appointed Verse for this Sunday says it well:

Alleluia. The powers of the heavens will be shaken, and then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Alleluia.

Alleluia! Alleluia! These are words of celebration! All that our Lord Jesus has promised will soon be consummated. Our salvation will be completed as our bodies rise from their sleeping chambers to be like Christ’s glorious body.

“Hope, joy, and peace in believing” are the words Paul uses in our Epistle to describe all of this. It’s what we have been waiting for! We have been redeemed by the innocent life, suffering, and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is risen from the dead as the guarantee that his death was accepted by the Father in heaven for the punishment and guilt of our sin. While our sinful bodies die, they are buried in the joyful hope of the resurrection on the Last Day when Christ returns and calls us forth from our graves to ascend with him to our heavenly home, the new heavens and new earth where all sin and its consequences are no more.

Jesus exhorts us not to let our hearts be weighed down with the sins of the flesh so that we are caught unprepared for his glorious return. The distractions of daily life can become a trap for us. Jesus exhorts us to keep awake about the important things—nourishing our faith through Word and Sacrament, praying, and living out our Christian vocations.

The Latin title for this day is Populus Zion, “People of Zion,” from the antiphon of the Introit:

Say to the daughter of Zion,

“Behold, your salvation comes.”

People of Zion: Heads Up! so that you can see Christ coming in a cloud on the Last Day! Keep your heads held up looking with great anticipation for the great and glorious day when our salvation is complete and we are safe in the hands of our Savior Jesus Christ. Behold, he comes now in the Blessed Sacrament to nourish and sustain us and to point us to his glorious return!

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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