Preached December 9, 2012
St. Luke 21:25–33
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today is the second Sunday of Advent, and the Collect for the day immediately focuses our attention upon the Holy Scriptures with the opening line, Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to written for our learning. This Sunday has long been called “Bible Sunday” because of this focus on the Holy Scriptures. But that focus in the first line of the Collect tends to obscure the main thrust of the Collect which appears in the following phrases: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of they holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. It is the Word of God, read, studied, and thoroughly integrated into our lives that gives us the Christian hope of everlasting life through our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. It is not simply the possession of a book called the Bible, nor even hearing it read at infrequent intervals that gives any hope. Hope only comes when the Bible is read and understood with the mind of the Church, so that the whole Plan of Salvation is made evident, the history of God’s on–going interaction with His chosen people is presented, and the whole of the Bible makes sense.
We so often hear critics of the Bible who talk about how the Bible is full of violence, slavery, oppression, and all manner of things that they consider to be great evils. They simply do not realize that the Bible is, in part, a history book, and these things are a part of history if they are not air brushed out to be politically correct. The fact that they are recorded, does not mean that God approves all of them, and in places where it appears that He does approve, they fail to reaize that He is God, not constrained by human standards. We are in no position to judge God, not even the very best of us! The Bible gives us God’s instructions to us, that we may try to live as He intended us to live.
It is quite evident that the Collect is derived from the Epistle lesson for the day which begins with these words: Romans 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. As Christians, we know that we live our lives in this world in hope, knowing full well that this world is not our home. We are only passing through this world, pilgrims as it were, on our way home to God our Father. That is where our hope lies, but we journey in hope, to a home we have never seen, a home that we only know about through the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. St. Paul tells us that we can place our trust in Him, saying: Romans 15:10-11 And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people. Paul then refers us back to the Prophet Isaiah, saying: Romans 15:12 And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust. St. Paul is simply reminding his readers that Jesus Christ fulfills the ancient prophecy regarding the Messiah that was to come, and that He is in fact the Saviour of the Nations. He, and only He, is our hope. There is none other.
The Gospel lesson is clearly an apocalyptic teaching, beginning with Luke 21:25 And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; None of us can read this without immediately thinking of the end of the age, the end of the world. In many respects, it sounds like our present age, and yet, in every age, there have been people that thought it applied directly to their time. And it continues: Luke 21:26 Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. This continues to look more and more like our present age. Men’s hearts are definely failing them; we see very few men of real principle and courage in our nation today. Almost everyone of our national leaders stands ready and willing to compromise any principle for personal gain. The powers of heaven are definitely shaken; there are countless people today who shake their fists at God in defiance, just daring Him to show His power as they act in open defiance of His Law. And yet, He holds His hand, not responding to their taunts, not stooping to their level, but remains serene and above it all. He will have the last word.
But then, in the midst of all the destruction, Jesus says, Luke 21:28 And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. Just when the whole world is going to pieces, Jesus says, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. Wow! Who would have expected that?
Near the end of the lesson, Jesus says: Luke 21:32 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled, and rather clearly all of Jesus’ original listeners have long since passed away. On the other hand, this is an apocalyptic prophecy, that has yet to be fulfilled in the literal sense, so how is this passage to be understood? It makes sense if understood in the sense of the present time, that which is potentially the end time for each and every one of us individually, a time of upheaval and chaos that come in our lives, when we realize that we must accept our Savior or be lost eternally. There is such a point for everyone of us, whether we recognize it or not. If we are able to see it, and seize the moment, there is a time when we see that Jesus is our Salvation, and His Church is our pathway to that Salvation while we remain in this world. We recognize the many temptations of the world, and how easily it can ensnare us, how easily our own tendency to worldliness would pull us away from Christ and our hope of Heaven. The world in which we live is truly a chaotic place, with all sorts of diversions and temptations to lure the unwary away from the Truth, and the only safe haven is Jesus Christ and His Church, with the aid of the Holy Bible, to keep us on the path to Heaven.
The point is this: For all of us, and for each one of us individually, this world, and the things of this world must pass away, not just in some vague, remote and unimaginable future, but right now. They are passing things; that is their very nature. They are passing things, and they are passing away even as we grasp them in our hands. No cleverness, no wishful thinking, no advanced technology can make them anything other than transitory things. What folly it is to focus our hopes and expectations upon such things! What foolishness to set our hearts upon them!
We all know that; and yet, how seductive, and how subtle, are the claims of worldliness, and how easily are we taken in. Worldliness confidently invades the very Church of God, urging us to conform to the methods, the ideals, the manners and the morals of the present age, so that we may be “relevant.” The peril is that the worldly Church ceases to be relevant to Jesus Christ and His Kingdom.
Today’s Gospel lesson is telling us that worldliness is folly, and that only when we can see the folly of it can we lift up our heads and see our redemption drawing nigh.
Luke 21:29-31 And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees; When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.
The signs are everywhere around us every day, if we have the eyes to see them.
The Advent hope is an other-worldly hope. It looks towards a Saviour who rejects worldly power, brings no worldly recommendation of any sort. This hope finds in the poor and helpless Infant of Bethlehem the eternal Word of God. It is the contradiction of all worldly hopes and expectations. The heavens and the earth will pass away, they are passing away at this very moment, but the Word of God does not pass away, but remain as our eternal hope.
Let us say again the Collect for the Day:
Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.