Waiting for What? Luke 21:5-28
Second to Last Sunday C November 13, 2022 St John, New Orleans
Are you tired of all the Christmas ads and mailers yet?
as I watched TV the morning of November 1st
and noticed all the ads that weren't for drugs and lawyers were Christmas sales.
It seemed that every advertiser knew
that they dared not engage in the contest for your shopping dollars
till you had passed out your Halloween candy.
And so, just like that, Christmas is upon us!
However, that was not my first assault with Christmas this year.
Back in July, one of the higher-end artificial Christmas tree makers ran several ads.
“Beat the rush and guarantee availability by ordering now!”
and I'm sure at the discount they offered lots of trees were sold
Even back in mid-October,
our fair city was hard at work putting up Garland and wreaths on the lampposts downtown and in the French Quarter
even as we are faced with problems of infrastructure, crime, and lack of workers.
“Black Friday” sales have turned into “black November” sales as the world looks to its savior, “the almighty... dollar.”
Because, without a strong dollar, it would seem like the world as we know it will end,
and as everyone knows, the coming of Christmas
means the coming salvation for retailers in the form of shopping.
I hope you will forgive my cynical comments to open this message so that I can draw our attention where it should be this time of year.
With only two weeks left in the church year, the texts remind us of the prophecy of the end times.
And those times will be dire, full of conflict, pain, suffering, fear, and anxiousness.
And, just as all prophecies do, these are given for two reasons:
to prepare us for times to come,
and to keep us faithful until they arrive.
How ironic, then, that where the western world sees these days as the last bastion for hope of fiscal salvation, we see them as the evidence that our spiritual salvation has already come.
As we hear these texts, particularly Malachi and Jesus’ words in Luke, we hear a lot of gloom and doom.
To the casual hearer they sound like a Horror Story.
To the new believer they come off as a warning so that one might hide or prepare to fight or defend oneself from evil.
But for the seasoned Christian, these words are a comfort.
Confirmation that our faith was not in vain.
And, as we see these things come to pass, an affirmation of the promises to which we have clung since our baptism.
And, therefore, our prayer upon hearing them
is not, “Lord spare us and have mercy upon us,”
but, “come, Lord Jesus, quickly come!”
I'll pause moment to let that sink in a bit.
I want you to consider for a moment these prophecies and reflect on them and how you react to them.
Look at them with me again.
Malachi speaks of God's judgment as a red-hot furnace to destroy a proud and sinful people.
Jesus talks about betrayals of family which will lead to torture and death at the hands of wicked rulers.
And not only will there be wars but the oceans and the earth itself seem to attack God's people.
And yet, the prophets and our Lord extend hope for the faithful.
Malachi says, “he will lead children and parents to love each other more, so that when I come, I won't bring destruction to the land.”
Jesus describes the last day by saying, “and they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
so, while judgment day will be horrible,
for those who belong to God it will be a relief
as they see Jesus returning
just as he left us on his Ascension Day.
So why does the Bible spill so much ink talking about the dark destruction versus the light filled redemption?
If the new heaven and earth are our ultimate destination, why doesn't God give us a better brochure or travelogue?
If we can do nothing to achieve this destination outside of faith, then why does God spend so much time describing the demise of those who do not have that faith?
Well, that very question provides its own answer.
The description of God’s punishment for sins is for both predictive and preventative purposes.
Not only is God giving a warning, but he is seeking to curb us from such behaviors.
While the prophesy will absolutely be fulfilled, who it is inflicted on is to be determined.
While God is certain that many will refuse him,
that refusal is the sole decision of those who must make it: you and I, and every other person under heaven.
These prophecies are only descriptive of one side of the equation because the other side is the opposite.
The path of sin is utter destruction and pain
and because we were created to be eternal beings with God
the punishment for refusing and rejecting him is eternal as well.
The other path is glory and light and enlightenment, joy, and peace.
But that path is no longer available to us as fallen, broken sinners.
In fact, we know nothing, really, of that path, because we have never been on it.
Only Adam and Eve before the fall had a glimpse of it,
and even their descriptions passed down over generations seem fantastical if not impossible.
And so, as we hear these detailed descriptions of the final judgment, it is no wonder the description of paradise is so scant and vague.
Yet, our hope
is not found in the vision created by this limited description of heaven,
but the certainty of its reality.
So, how can we be certain of the reality of heaven?
Perhaps an expansion of my earlier Black Friday illustration would be helpful?
(Pull out some cash) what you see here is pretty simple, even if you don't fully understand how it works.
This piece of paper, without reading its printed surface, has very little value or use.
It's not big enough to write a letter on and with the ink already printed on it, new script would be hard to read anyway.
It's not enough to serve as kindling for a fire, nor could it be used to wrap up a package.
But when I read it and look at what it says it suddenly has great value!
“This note is legal tender for all debts public and private.”
Because the US Government says so!
And because everyone has agreed that these are the rules we will live by as a society
and so, as long as these exist, this is not just a piece of paper, it is legal tender.
As long as there is a United States of America
and as long as society agrees to accept these notes as payment, this is monetary currency.
so how does this relate to our lessons today?
just like I don't have to explain to you the finer points of economic theory and Federal Reserve Bank policy for you to know your money is good and has value,
neither does God need to describe the ins and outs of heaven for us to trust in our life after judgment day.
As long as we agree that he is the judge who will condemn sinners
and that he has reserved heaven for those who believe in Jesus and repent of their sin,
then we have confidence in our future destination regardless of what we see happening around us.
The difference between faith in a currency versus faith in eternal life in heaven with Jesus Christ
is that currencies eventually and slowly change over time,
while the destination we seek and hope in through Christ will never change.
The Romans used salt and the Aztecs used corn as currency, and later gold and silver were traded commodities,
but the heaven promised to Adam and Eve
is the same one Jesus promised to the thief on the cross
and which the apostles pronounce to the Church Eternal in their epistles.
So, as we approach the last Sundays of the church year,
we find we aren't running away from failure, pain, or suffering, as the world does,
but, rather, we are running the race to glory, peace, comfort, and joy.
Even as we know that time is limited, we don't know how long that journey will be.
Moreover, we also know that until that day arrives there is still time for others to be a part of our trek.
These last days are not intended for us to be spending them preparing for doomsday but getting ready for triumph and celebration!
While the world hunkers down for worst case scenarios, we go out and prepare the victory parade
While the world conserves and rations and hordes resources, Christ’s Church is generous to the world around Her and joyous in her offerings to the bridegroom.
While the world postures to protect what it possesses and lays claim to what it does not, the child of God says to him, “We give thee but thine own, what e’re the gifts may be. All that we have is thine alone, a trust oh Lord from thee.”
and while the world tries to imagine what it will take to survive the apocalypse, the believer in Jesus knows they will be at Jesus’ side in heaven on that day.
May these end times not scare us into fear and retreat,
but may they spur us to confident service
as we love our Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind, and as we love our neighbors as ourselves.
And may we live in that confident hope till the day we die, or until paradise appears before us.
In Jesus name. Amen.