25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”
Which one is a stronger description: you are a hopeful person, or you are an optimistic person; “I hope it doesn’t snow today,” or “I am optimistic it will not snow today”? The ideas are certainly similar – both are looking for a favorable future, both are on the positive side of the spectrum – but there is a difference. Doesn’t the one who says, “I am an optimistic person,” or “I am optimistic it won’t snow today,” convey a bit more confidence?
The way these two words are used nowadays optimism is an ongoing trait, which describes how you carry yourself. It tells someone how you are going to react in most if not all situations. An optimistic person is always going to have a glint in their eye and a bounce in their step. But the way we use hope makes it seem a little less confident, a little less cheerful. The person who says, “I hope it doesn’t snow today” is almost telling us, “but it probably will, if not today then soon.”
In Scripture, “hope” is actually more certain and more confident than that, because of what it is connected to. It’s not a whimsical wish for something good to happen – possibly, potentially, maybe. Hope is connected to the promises of God, promises that the holy and perfect God can never break. And so we have a lot more that optimism for our future. We have hope – certain hope, confident hope – because our hope is connected to the promises of God.
And one of Jesus’ promises is that he is coming back. That’s what Jesus is referring to in this section from Luke 21. Like I said at the beginning of the service today, Advent points us to the coming of Christ. It’s is going to happen, and it’s going to happen soon. Now, I’m not making any predictions, that would be utter foolishness because Jesus has not told us when he is coming back. But he has told us the kind of things, or signs, that will be happening before he comes back. Earlier in this chapter he speaks of some: “Nations will rise against nation, kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines, and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.” Does that sound like the kind of stuff we experience now? And then, we hear what Jesus tells us in the reading for today: “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. And then Jesus tells this little parable about trees. “When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near.”
When you look around at our world right now, what season does it look like to you? Doesn’t it sound a lot like Jesus’ return is not too far off? Doesn’t it sound like it’s a good time be ready for him?
But how many of us are living that way? How many of us are standing up above all the negative voices? How many of us are lifting our heads away from all the carousing, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life that Jesus mentions? How many of us are readying ourselves for Christ and always on the watch for him?
Or do you have one (or a few) of those long lists. You know the ones. They’re all the things that you need to do to get ready for Christmas celebrations. They’re all the people you need to buy for. They’re all the cards you need to send. They’re all the gifts you need to get. They’re all the things at work. On and on they go. All the over-indulgence in this world, is that going to help you? Do you really think happiness can be found and kept when it’s all about gratifying all my desires and finishing off all my lists, or when it’s time spent drowning all the stress and sorrows away?
When all these things are happening around you, when they are even happening in your life, do you know where that leads? Jesus says, “Your hearts are weighed down…and [you are stuck in a trap].” Boy, I look around at our world and I see people who are trying to balance a lot. Some of the things may even be good things, helpful things, but the things of this world, the anxieties of this life are a weight that is too heavy to handle. I fail to keep my head constantly up to listen to Christ, my Lord, and look for his coming. Other voices become noisier and draw my gaze. Hardships that are intended to get my eyes off myself and off of this world and direct me to full reliance on Jesus become overwhelming and weigh me down. How about you?
Jesus says that it’s going to be like that all the way up to his return. “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” What he’s saying is that the type of people who are distracted and weighed down will always be around. The type of people who reject Jesus and yearn for the desires of their own making will always fill this world until he comes back.
Hearing these kinds of promises, you can help but ask, “How am I supposed to be filled with hope, how am I supposed to be confident and ready, when there is so much going on to crush my God-given hope?”
Well, Jesus has a promise for you who are weighed down. Jesus has a promise for you who are troubled and hurting. Jesus has a promise for you and you and every single person who is looking for hope. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
When you are feeling lost and alone, this is what Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me and I lay down my life for the sheep…only to take it up again.” You have a shepherd who knows you, knows how to find you, knows how to rescue you, knows how to make you safe for eternity.
When you are struggling in the storm, this is what Jesus says: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” And to the storm: “Quiet! Be still!” and the storm has to listen.
When you are in the darkness of despair and depression, this is what Jesus says: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
When you are stuck, when you are negative, when you have nowhere to turn, no fix that works, when you are at a loss thinking your situation is absolutely impossible, this is what Jesus says: “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
When death is closing in on you and you know that you won’t get better, this is what Jesus says: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.
Should I keep going? None of these promises, not one of the passages inspired and written by our God in the Bible will ever be broken. You have that promise from your Lord and Savior.
Well, maybe just one more. You know all those sins that haunt you? You know all the stories that you have about carousing and drunkenness and when anxiety won you over and weighed your heart down? Jesus had something to say about all those sins and the payment that God demands for each and every one of your sins and mine. Jesus had a final word about the task of accomplishing our forgiveness and making the payment once for all. He said, “It is finished.” Yeah, those words will never pass away.
These promises from Jesus give us real hope, not the possibly, potentially, maybe kind of hope, but the God-given, certain, sure, confident hope that can never be undone. That’s what Christ has given us.
The line between those who have this hope from Jesus and those who do not is enormous. Jesus describes what the difference will be when he returns. For those who don’t have his kind of hope, they will faint from terror. They will be in anguish and perplexity at what is happening, having no clue what to do to escape it. Those who don’t faint will look for a place to hide to no avail. But to those who have hope from Jesus, those who believe in his promises? Different story! Jesus says, “When you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Believers do not hide. We stand up and lift our heads without fear because our redemption is drawing near. The Savior who promises to prepare a place for us in his heavenly home is making good on that promise, so we rejoice and will forever in heaven.
With that kind of hope we have a new attitude and a new mission. “Be careful,” Jesus says. Literally, “watch yourselves.” Know what you are up against. Acknowledge the temptations that the devil uses, which ones are especially hard for you, and flee from them. Flee from evil and run back to the promises of your Savior in his Word and sacrament. Keep the things that sustain your faith close to you.
“Be always on the watch,” Jesus says. Literally, “don’t sleep.” Be like a guard on the night watch, like Ben Stiller in those Night at the Museum movies. Don’t let anything from the passing days and years lull you to sleep. Stay active. Be a part of the God’s mission team to reach more for Christ. Get involved.
“Pray,” he says. What a gift we have to talk to the Lord of heaven and earth! Be bold with God. Present your requests in faith and trust his answers because he will give you everything you need so that on the Last Day “you may be able to stand before the Son of Man” in joy and praise for all that he has done for you.
When he comes again, Jesus will not be little, tiny, helpless baby. He will not even be meek and humbled as he suffered and died. “The Son of Man will come in a cloud with power and great glory.” What a day that will be. But it’s not here yet. We live in this in between time, after Christ came as the baby of Bethlehem but before Christ returns as the great and glorious Judge. That means there is suffering, there is pain, and there is strife, even for and sometimes especially for believers. But with the promises of God we are able to endure, to persevere, to patiently wait, to live joyously, to carry out the mission God has given us. God has given us something more that optimism. We have his hope. Amen.