The Second Sunday in Advent
December 8, 2019
“Worthy to Stand Before the Son of Man”
St. Luke 21:25-36
"And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near." Then He spoke to them a parable: "Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. "When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man." St. Luke 21:25-36
Advent means coming. The first coming of Christ was at his birth in Bethlehem. The second coming of Christ will be when he comes to judge the living and the dead. His first advent was in humility. There was no room for him in the inn. His bed was a manger. His second advent will be in glory. Jesus says that “men’s hearts [will fail] them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth.” He says, “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” His first advent was to bring God’s peace and goodwill to this fallen world. The angels proclaimed to the shepherds, “Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” Christ’s first advent was to save sinners. His second advent will be to judge. Those who in faith embrace the gospel of Christ’s first advent will be ready to stand before the Son of Man at his second advent. For them, Judgment Day will be their redemption. The kingdom of God will be revealed. It will be a day of great joy and celebration.
But most people won’t be ready for Judgment Day. They are described in the hymn verse:
Jesus preached the truth and he faced unbelief. And so it goes throughout history. The church will survive until the end of the world and so will the generation of unbelievers who stood before Jesus. Jesus said:
All of creation will pass away, Jesus says. This universe is not eternal. God created all that exists. He sustains everything he made by his almighty power. The time is coming when he will destroy what he made. Jesus says:
There will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken.
When God brings this creation to an end, it will bring terror to those whose hearts were fixed on the things of this world. Their hearts will fail from fear. They will see the universe being destroyed. The god they worshipped will be brought to nothing by the God they scorned.
God is not whoever or whatever you conceive him to be. If you want to see God and know God and receive the eternal gifts God alone can give you must look in the manger. He who lay in the manger made the world. The little baby who relied on his mother’s milk is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. He is our God. He is our Savior. He is our Judge. He who took upon himself the nature of our human race is he before whom the entire human race will stand to be judged.
Judgment Day is coming. Few believe it. Most ignore it. Life goes on and on. What Judgment Day? Jesus said:
It will come like a thief in the night. It will spring like a trap. Nobody knows when. The only way to be ready to meet Jesus when he returns is to be ready to meet him at all times.
What’s the difference between a Christian and an unbeliever? All the difference in the world! Those who don’t know Christ will see the universe torn apart and they will be terrified. Those who know Christ will see the universe torn apart. They will remember Jesus’ words. They will see the imminent destruction of the world as the trees budding green, a sure sign that summer is near. The same event evokes terror and joy. It all depends on Jesus.
What will Judgment Day be for you? Will your heart fail you for fear? Or will you look up and rejoice to see your redemption is at hand? Will you face punishment for your sins? Or will you partake of the eternal joys of God’s kingdom? Will you be caught in a trap? Or will you be counted worthy to stand before the Son of Man?
But how can anyone be counted worthy? Doesn’t the Bible teach that we are all sinful and unclean? Don’t we confess our sins to God? Don’t we confess that we deserve his eternal punishment? How can we hope to say that we are worthy to stand before the Son of Man? Or perhaps we cannot know, so we might as well enjoy life and live it to its fullest without worrying about what is beyond our control.
We can know that we will be worthy. We can know that we will be able to stand on the last day with joy and not fear. How is that? What is it that will endure when this world is destroyed? When this universe is utterly destroyed and everything we have seen is no more, what will endure? What is it that will not pass away, not ever? Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” Our worthiness to stand; our confidence in our final redemption; our guarantee that we belong to the kingdom of God; all this is ours in the words of Christ that will never pass away.
Our worthiness to stand before the Judge of the living and the dead is found only in Jesus’ words. When God the Father identified Jesus as his only begotten Son in whom he was well pleased, he said, “Listen to him.” Listen! Take his words to heart.
Take to heart his warning. Jesus warns us of “carousing, drunkenness, and the cares of this life.” Don’t put your confidence in what is passing away. Don’t entrust your future to what will surely be destroyed. Hold onto what God promises you in his word. Christ’s words will make you worthy to stand before him on the last day. Take your stand on Jesus’ words. God will raise you up above the cares and troubles of this life. He will prepare you for the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ’s words call us to faith. Faith comes with repentance. Advent is a season of repentance. Our world knows nothing of repentance. That’s why it doesn’t observe Advent. Christmas starts in November. Christmas is no longer Christmas. It is not the celebration of God becoming flesh to rescue us sinners from our sins. It is just another feature of the life of “carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life” of which our Lord Jesus warned us.
Advent is God’s call to repentance. God calls us away from the false faith in the promises of a world destined for destruction. He calls us to faith by his eternal word to the Word made flesh. In his own flesh and blood he redeemed us body and soul.
Ah, but we don’t feel it. Our bodies get old and weak and prone to disease. Our minds lose their sharpness. Where is our worthiness to stand? Where is our strength to face Judgment Day? Listen to the word of the Word made flesh who will judge the living and the dead. He who redeemed you on the cross tells you that your sins that he bore in his body are all forgiven. As surely as he rose from the dead, incorruptible, never to die again, when he returns he will bring full and final redemption to your body. “Look up and lift up your heads,” he says, “Because your redemption draws near.” He who has redeemed you will redeem you. He will bring to your body the healing he has brought to your soul. The forgiveness he gained for you on Calvary he gave to you in the gospel. You have gotten this forgiveness through faith. What was gained, given, and gotten will transform you to make you fit for the eternal kingdom of God’s glory.
The world will be destroyed, but his word endures forever. When faced with a choice between affection for the promises of this world and the promises of God’s word we know where our affections lie. It’s really very simple. This world is headed to destruction. It will come to an end. All of its promises are vain. You can keep nothing it gives you. What Christ gives us in his word cannot be taken away from us by anyone. When he forgives us our sins, there is nobody in heaven or on earth who can gainsay his absolution. It has the authority of his own blood and it is guaranteed by his infallible word. When he promises us redemption of our bodies, it is as good as done. These dying bodies will become immortal bodies, as God reveals his glory in us. When he promises us eternal life – even as this universe comes to a sudden end – his promise alone is our worthiness to stand in confidence before him when he returns to take us home.
Rolf D. Preus