In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Scary things are going on and will only increase. But don’t be afraid! Be excited! That is today’s Gospel in a nutshell. The return of Christ is imminent. Just like the buds on the fig tree, ready to burst open with flowers that give way to fruit, are a sign of the impending rebirth of spring and summer and the happiness of those seasons, so are the signs today. We see all around us distress of nations, wars and rumors of wars, disease, famine, rampant false doctrine, abounding lawlessness, and the love of many growing cold (Mt. 24:9-12). Your grandparents are right: it wasn’t this bad when they were your age; the world really is getting worse by the day. As bad as these things may be, as evil as they make these days, all of these signs are a 70-degree day in March. Just like that unseasonably warm day in March reminds you that soon you can put away sweaters and open your windows and smell the flowers in bloom, so do these signs tell you that better things are coming. Soon wars will cease and peace will reign. Soon diseases and famines will be a thing of the past as everyone sits at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom. Soon false doctrine and false prophets and false christs will no longer plague the faithful but will spend eternity in the flames prepared for the devil and his angels. Soon true love will be known as we are gathered around the throne of Love Incarnate. Look up and lift up your heads because your Redemption draws near!
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
O People of Zion, behold, the Lord is at hand to redeem the nations.” There are signs in the sun, moon, and stars. All creation cries out for this coming, this redemption, this recreation. Creation groans because it is slowly being de-created. Every earthquake, tornado, flood, hurricane mars the beauty of creation. Cities may be rebuilt, lives returned to seeming normalcy, but the scar is still there. Everyone remembers how high the flood waters were, the pain of irreplaceable family memories flung to the heedless winds and lost forever, the way the earth shook and opened and swallowed up innocent pedestrians. All of these signs confess that the return of the Lord is at hand.
These signs, though they promise good for those redeemed by Christ, are still terrible. They are dangerous to faith. Wars, disasters, fighting, and mass shootings, no matter how far away they may be from us, all shake faith. The midst of evil and chaos is the hardest place to believe in the goodness of God, in His providence and care. It makes us ask the unanswerable question, “If God really loves me, loves the world, then why did this happen?” Satan loves the question, “why,” for it never receives an answer that satisfies our itching ears. So watch and pray. Mark the signs, but take heed lest you be absorbed by them and forget Him whose coming these signs promise.
So we pray, “Stir up our hearts, O Lord.” But that can be a dangerous prayer. While we’d prefer comfort food and soft music, warm feelings, comfortable and leisurely lives, this is not how hearts are stirred up, made eager for Christ’s coming. We pray that God would stir up our hearts, that He would disturb us, prod us into action. Hearts are stirred up by earnest calls to repentance with a dose of reality. “Stir up our hearts” is a plea for God to end our complacency, defeat our laziness, and stop our feelings of despair. We ask Him to intervene for us against one of our greatest enemies: ourselves. We ask Him to fight for us on the most dangerous battlefield: our heart.
We pray for this stirring up because temptation is all around us. It’s easy to grow weary, to be seduced by the devil’s promise of rest and comfort. “Why fight it? Why work so hard? Why care about what God says when it looks like He doesn’t care about you?” He tells us to take care of ourselves, to make the world happy so our lives can have at least a little pleasure and ease. But this is the way of death, of contentment in sin. Giving in and indulging in carousing, drunkenness, and the cares of this life means that the Day will come unexpectedly, and we forget Whose we are, and for Whom we wait.
So the Church cries out, “Look up! Lift up your eyes!” We wait on the Lord, our Help. Christ comes to save us from despair, coming with healing in His wings. The Church proclaims this glorious Gospel. Though the signs of de-creation are all around us, Christ has left us with other signs, signs that promise His salvation, eternity in the new creation.
Christ has given us the sign of water, water which He uses as a saving Flood, a lavish washing away of sin. There, at the Font, by water and Word do you see that God’s promise of forgiveness and life is made there. He gives us the signs of bread and wine, to which He unites His Body and Blood, fulfilling His promise to be with us always, to keep us ever mindful for His second coming when we will be in communion with Him for eternity. We are given these signs in grace, and the Word that accompanies these signs creates and strengthens faith, faith which waits expectantly for its Lord to redeem the nations.
With that faith, we need not fear the signs of de-creation, we need not fear what will happen next. The Day of the Lord comes indeed. But in that day there is no wrath or mourning for you. God’s Son has borne your wrath. Before the signs of the close of the age were the signs that the Messiah was coming, that the glorious voice of the Redeemer would be heard, that the Sun of Righteousness would arise. And He did. He suffered under the Law you failed to keep. He did all that it demanded. He abstained from all that it forbade. He then allowed the Law to do to Him all that it should have done to you, dying the death you deserved. In dying, He left behind your death and sin, rising to new life. He rose with healing in His wings, healing which comes by the forgiveness of all your sins. By Him the gate of death is riven.
And now His Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies you. He keeps you steadfast as the threatening signs swirl around you, stirring up your heart to repentance and joy, waiting for the coming of the only-begotten Son. He calls you to this place where the Lord is in your midst. While war, disasters, sorrows, guilt, shame, and regret are present on every side, the Lord comes to you as He has promised in His holy Word and Sacrament. You are not alone. Not only do you have your fellow members of the Body of Christ, but you have the Lord. He comes to speak Words of comfort. He comes to feed your body and soul with His Body and Blood that you be strengthened for the trial to come, that you would have joy while you wait. This is His promise that He is not merely your Lord in the future, when He comes again in glory, but He is your Lord now, even in the midst of sorrow.
“O people of Zion, behold, the Lord is at hand to redeem the nations.” Until that day of His appearing, “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).