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Seeing the Redeemer’s Face (St. Luke 21.25-36)

Second Sunday in Advent

“Seeing the Redeemer’s Face”

St. Luke 21.25-36

16 December 2018

Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor           

+ In the Name of Jesus +

This past Tuesday evening I attended a meeting hosted by the Vigo County School Corporation and its new Superintendent of Schools, Mr. Haworth. All local clergy and leaders of faith based organizations were invited to participate in a roundtable discussion of issues that we see facing the children and young people of our city.

At my table were two Baptist ministers of very small local congregations, a youth minister of one of those congregations, a layman who runs an outreach to help homeless veterans, and the priest from St. George’s Orthodox Church. One of the young Baptist ministers asked me what text I was preaching on this Sunday. I told him, “Luke 21: Jesus is coming again on the clouds with power and glory to judge the world. There will be signs to let us know He is coming.”

The Baptist minister was surprised. With a hint of sarcasm he said, “Sounds like a happy Christmas message to me!” He quickly changed the subject and other activities took over.

In his tradition, it’s time for Christmas, and there is not much thought given to the Advent season or to using a lectionary. He was accidentally on to something however about the sermon theme. Not too many Christians these days want to look past today and tomorrow, and barely want to think about what’s in the past, much less contemplate Christ coming again in judgment in the future. That’s not the friendly, adorable sweet baby Jesus that gives us all warm and fuzzy feelings. Today’s Gospel is not the humble and lovely story of Luke 2, with the babe lying in the manger, no crib for a bed. This is Luke 21 Jesus, in Holy Week, within the shadow of the cross. Jesus, about to carry His cross, warns His disciples and you about the end of time.

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, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For 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. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21.25-28; ESV)

In Advent, the Church draws together the humble coming of Jesus as the Babe of Bethlehem to be the Savior of the Nations with the final coming of Jesus in all His power and glory lurking in the future. In the fullness of time, Christ came to our world. What had taken place before pointed forward to that coming. What has happened since, as Jesus warns us in the Gospel today, reminds us that, whether people believe it or not, we are moving forward to the great day when we shall meet the Lord, when we will see the Son of Man in the clouds with power and great glory, or, as the hymn today says, There shall we see in glory our dear Redeemer’s face.

Now for some, to see the dear Redeemer’s face may not be such a welcome reality. If one desires to remain in one’s sin, if one rejects the Lord Jesus as their dear Redeemer from sin, then indeed Jesus comes at the Last in judgment and with the full force of the Law and its condemnation.

Since the fall into sin in the garden by our first parents, we could not see the face of God and live. Our lack of holiness cannot co-exist with God’s holiness. God hid Moses and would only show Moses His backside up on Mount Sinai, God passed by Elijah with the prophet hidden in the cleft of the rock. Daniel upon seeing the vision of the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man fell on his face in fear (Dan. 7), Isaiah sees the Lord on the throne of heaven and trembles in fear, “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” (Is. 6) Upon seeing Jesus in His full divine glory on the Mount of Transfiguration with Moses and Elijah, the three disciples fall down on their face in fear and trembling, as if dead.

Yet, the Christian, knowing and believing his redemption in Jesus Christ, sees the signs of the end of this world and can say with boldness – “Come, Lord Jesus” – and come quickly. Christians ought to be the people who look straight through the Christmas manger to the Good Friday cross and beyond to the end of time, and with eager hearts are people who through the encouragement of the Scriptures and with endurance abound in hope (Epistle). We should be people who are eager for the Sun of Righteousness to arise with healing on His wings. (OT)

Martin Luther, in his 1522 sermon on today’s Gospel, spent no little bit of his time in the pulpit gauging the times he lived in. (LW AE 75.92-93, para. 5-8) He was convinced, five hundred years ago, that surely, with all the technological innovations then at hand, and with all the changes in culture, he defied anyone to deny that the Last Day was close at hand.

Luther said, “Who has ever heard of such commerce as now encircles the world and swallows the world? There arise and have arisen all kinds of art, painting, embroidery, and engraving, which has not been equaled since Christ’s birth… In addition there are such keenly intelligent people who let nothing be hidden, so that now a boy of twenty knows more than twenty doctors…” When you read this sermon, one wonders how Luther would feel today about the “progress” society has made, the wealth of knowledge simply at one’s fingertips all the time!

Luther was not correct that his era was the end of time. Luther and all of us still await the Last Day. But he was not wrong to wish to see his Redeemer’s face! He is right to follow and believe the words of his Lord: there will be signs. He is right to take the Lord’s words seriously, that there is a definite meaning in all of world history.

History really is moving to that great day, to that final crossroads. The sheep of Jesus, the baptized lambs like little Simeon Benjamin who received the saving gift of water and the Word today, and all of you with him who hear and believe and follow the voice of your Shepherd, will be welcomed into eternal life. The Lord will cause His face to shine upon them.

Meanwhile, all those who are so out of their minds that they do not repent of sin, who do not even believe they are sinning, who just continue on in foolishness as if tomorrow will always dawn, as if there is no judgement coming, they will be sent to that place reserved for the devil and all his evil angels. The Lord will not countenance their presence.

Therefore, baptized Christians, disciples of Jesus and members of His body, you should not be out of your minds. You should know the truth about this old world. Jesus has given you the signs. The powers of the heavens will shake and be shaken. Life will not be easy. Evil and wickedness for now have their day, and in this world have the ascendency over the Baptized in Christ’s body.

So be awake and persevering, dear Christians. Pray for strength from on high to endure all things, and receive that strength through the gifts of Word and Sacrament at all times, both in the calm, and in the storms of this life. Even if the worst of catastrophes happen, and they do in ways which affect us all so dearly and can hurt so deeply, nevertheless, believe and trust God’s good plans for you are in motion. Heaven and earth will pass away. But not the Words of Jesus. They are truth and life.

Jesus promises He will never leave you, never forsake you. He promises to come to you in His Church here and now, albeit humbly and unseen to your eyes. He promises to return in power and great glory, and then the long awaited story of heavenly joy will take place for all, and we will see our Redeemer, and every believing heart will have their day to see what is longed for with resurrected eyes.
That day will be comforting and sweet – better and more holy a day and more memorable and happy than a thousand or even ten thousand times ten thousand Christmas celebrations. That day will be the highest joy and safety to the believer – to stand before the dear Redeemer’s face. That Redeemer, who was born your flesh and blood brother in Bethlehem, who died to this old world and to its sin and shame on Calvary’s cross, who defeated the power of the devil and the grave itself – that Redeemer who even now in this day and at this time makes His face to shine upon you and to be gracious unto you and lifts His countenance upon you to give you His everlasting peace in His Church – that Redeemer is coming in glory and great power to bring you, His children, into the home He has prepared, and to do away at last with all the tears and pining sadness of this old world.

The summer of His eternal kingdom is approaching. May it dawn and bloom into fruition soon!

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +

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