When everything is terrible, then you’re in great shape. As crazy as it may sound, that’s what Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel reading. It looks bad, it looks terrible. But in reality, things are just about to clear up, everything will be set right.
When the world is panicking, when all the things that seem so solid are falling apart, weather, wars, catastrophes and atrocities, then Jesus is about to return. And the return of Jesus won’t be quiet like the last time he came. No manger for the king of kings this time. Angels, trumpets, the hosts of heaven. The stars falling from the heavens. How do we know when he’s coming? Because the things Jesus talks about will happen. “Distress of nations in perplexity, people fainting with fear and foreboding of what is coming on the world. The powers of the heavens will be shaken.” The problem, of course, is that every age seems like that’s happening. Luther suggested in his own day that they were there. The world can not long endure he said. How much truer must that be for our own day. We’ve had wars with casualties measured not in the thousands or tens of thousands, but the millions. Terrorism, earthquakes, people abandoning the church. It’s all happening just like he said. Just like it was in Luther’s day, and a century ago, and always. Because that’s the story of the world since the fall of man. Good intentions ruined by sin. Bad intentions allowed to run rampant. No matter our best efforts, it seems we always fall short. Family isn’t quite as peaceful as we want. Job not going quite as well as we had hoped. Friends not as faithful. Bank account not as large. We have grand plans for what we’ll do, but our own actions fall short. Too busy, too stressed, too occupied with other things.
The Gospel reading isn’t all that comforting. When it all goes wrong, lift up your heads, your redemption is near. And when I return, says Jesus, hopefully you have strength to keep standing. Pray that you aren’t overcome. Those are words of warning, not of comfort, really.
The Old Testament reading follows the same pattern: Word of comfort, and then a word of warning. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
The word turn is the Hebrew word “Shoob”. It means repent. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children. The people will repent of their sin. Father’s will teach their children the Lord’s word, children will hear and receive that word with obedience.
That’s the task of John the Baptist. To get things ready for the coming of Jesus. We hear about John next week. Today we have the promise of John – and as rough as he is, he is a good thing. Because he will call us to to prepare the way of the Lord, by repenting of our sin.
Jesus tells us not to be caught up in dissipation and drunkenness, but to watch. To be on our guard, so that we hear and receive the word of Christ. So that we don’t reject the salvation he gives.
That’s what happens when we refuse to hear the Word. Jesus takes our sins to the cross. The danger is that we don’t leave them there to be swallowed up by his death. That we take those sins back on ourselves – either by rejecting the promise of salvation, and believing the lie that Jesus can’t save us from our sins. Or by rejecting that promise by diving back into the garbage heap of our sins. By saying, “I don’t care what God’s word has to say about this, I will just do whatever I please, and I don’t need God’s commandments telling me what to do.”
That’s a dangerous thing – to flirt with sin, to ignore the dangers, the harm it does to your soul. To be weighed down with dissipation and the cares of this life. To assume there will be time later to repent, to turn and hear the Word of God at some other point.
The warning – the day will come on you like a trap. There will be no comfort on that day for those who have rejected the great salvation of the Lord. The only ones who will stand on that day are those who empty themselves, and are filled with Jesus. He is the savior. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the judge is not returning.
A parent says, “I’m going out for a bit. Do this or that chore while I’m gone.” The child asks, “When will you be back” which is a way of saying, how long can I avoid doing what you have told me. 2015 years and counting may seem like we have a long time, like there will always be a tomorrow. But the tomorrows will run out – either for the world, or for you. The wages of sin.
And yet, for those who do trust in the merits of Jesus. For those who are not caught up in the cares of this world, for those who read the signs, then the day of judgment is a day of vindication. Then, when the book of life is opened, and God reviews your acts, he will see them only through Jesus and his work for you. If you will do it on your own, it will not be done. Those who will stand on their own, will not stand on that day.
That’s why we hear and consider the word of our Lord this day. It may be uncomfortable. It’s not easy to hear “you must give up the sin.” Trust in the Lord, and lean not unto your own understanding. Do not be overcome with the cares of this world. Leave the sin behind.
Repent. Turn away from your sin, and receive the gift of forgiveness which Jesus promises to all those who believe on his name. Do not deny, or reject that salvation. It is your only hope.
May God grant that we are saved, in spite of ourselves, and that his faithfulness will overcome our faithlessness.