Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the second Sunday of Advent 12/5/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11:00am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Advent2 Bulletin

The texts for the sermon were the day’s gospel and Old Testament lessons. To read the Bible texts for the Second Sunday of Advent, click here. 

I absolutely love the one year lectionary that we use, that historic lectionary that puts me in line as a preacher with folks like Luther, and Kantor in line with folks like Bach, but I do have one gripe against it in Advent. It’s that we don’t get much John the Baptist. You could say we get a little bit next week, but next week John is in prison. You could say that maybe if we go for the option in week four, we get a little bit saying that he’s a voice in the wilderness, but we get precious little of what that voice says.

This is actually a strength of that popular three year lectionary. It gives us from John the Baptist what is given to us in the Old Testament reading today, and that is fire and axe and root and chop and what’s in Advent you brood of vipers! It bugs me a little bit that we don’t get that in. It is also, even just this close to Christmas, a common complaint among Christians and churchgoers, that they think that if we only had a Luther preaching again, if we only had John the Baptist back from the dead, wouldn’t church be more fervent and fruitful?

I felt the same until I realized that this is actually what the text requires of me this week. I also must be a voice in the wilderness; and like one who is just a voice and not really a mind thinking for myself, my proclamation must come with provisions and without license, because as much as I would like, I have no license whatsoever to take the edge off of God’s Word to soften it.

I am often called to explain it, but I am never permitted to explain it away, especially when that Word, like the one we have today, is not only forceful, but clear: that the day of the Lord’s return will set the wicked and the proud ablaze. They will not be annihilated and disappeared but they will suffer, and they will know overwhelming terror. Because during this life, they lived as if they were the only ones who mattered.

They murdered children in their mother’s wombs; and even in these last days, outside of their wombs. Some made a celebration and a sacrament and a festival of it; swallowing abortive pills on the steps of a courthouse, with all the zeal and chant and fervor of those who sacrificed their children to Molech.

When they were not doing that they mocked you and cancelled you for celebrating anything that God calls good, and refusing to celebrate anything that God calls evil. And in this they mocked Christ.

And that is the easy part in a way for some to hear, but they will not be the only ones terrified. It will not be only those who have grown calloused and hateful. There will also be those terrified who loved families in general, and their own families especially; folks who loved Christmastime and Jimmy Stewart, and good old-fashioned conservatives who teared up when they sang, “God Bless America.”

They loved all that but they did not love Jesus, even if they were okay with the idea of Jesus. They did not love the Jesus who said, “Take up your cross and follow Me,” and “No one comes to the Father but by Me.”

Like everyone else they will see the signs, but they will see them too late. When they appear they will not be signs of hope, but they will appear as a gathering of armies on a border, as imminent and painful death, and an end of everything they enjoyed in this world.

For them it will be impending and total doom. And they and we are called to repent. Because this is what justice requires of us. We are the wicked ones also.

What was written in former days has not only been written for their instruction but for our instruction. And despite having this instruction, we do not live in harmony and hope as we ought. We live very much for ourselves.

We think it’s admirable that we love our families and those who love us, but in this way, we are no different from the Gentiles. Loving Christmas and eggnog and feasting and vacation and time together, like I do, like I think we all do, does not make anyone a Christian.

And we are to repent. If we were judged by our lives, by our works, and by what we loved, we would be destroyed like the world, as stubble in a fire.

That great and terrible day is coming. It is coming with one extra provision, that for you, that is, for all of you who have joy in Christ now, now before that day comes, for you that day will be like any other day, that day will be pure joy. That is not an artificial Lutheran gloss or a twist on the text. It is simply the text:

But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts. Malachi 4:2-3

Our Lord directs us to what will happen then but also in the gospel to what happens in the world now: in everything in the world, in politics and climate change, in violent crime and the loss of divine rights, in news of wars and rumors of wars, and the reminder we have just observed that sometimes the sky rains down bombs on young sailors relaxing in a quiet Sunday morning in Hawaii. In all these things we see signs of the end.

In disasters, economic upheaval, and the simple sorrows we endure, we see that this world cannot endure. When Christ comes descending on the clouds, for many it will be as if the sky really is falling. But He does not want you to turn into Chicken Littles, scrambling and panicking. He wants the end of all of that to come for you, the way we hope for a quiet night’s sleep always for baby Matthias, as he rests gleefully through the storm with only happy dreams and the remembrance of the words he heard a few minutes ago, that he has been baptized into the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And when he does awake, and when you awake, he would lift up his head, and you would lift up your heads and hearts in glad anticipation, because your redemption, your Jesus, is drawing near.

So now look to these signs in your own life. All these things that are made visible before you. Look to the cross, to war, to death, and see all of them as beautiful blossoms. They point you to God’s grace and promises. Their appearing is the ushering in of peace and tranquility.

Christ’s appearing will mean the end of war. Your enemies will be no more. Sin will lose all appeal. Temptation will have no power. There will be no one to accuse you or hurt you or cancel you. The good work begun in you in Baptism will be complete. Your justification, that is your righteousness before God, and your sanctification, that is the holiness in which you live, those things will finally be in perfect harmony. Creation itself will rejoice to see you revealed as God’s own child. And you will not be afraid; you will rejoice. You will be glad, for the kingdom of God has come to you and will never be taken away.

Now, however, you suffer. You know hardships, most of them secret and internal and hidden from the world and your family. You endure in prayer and faith, by Word and Sacrament, waiting for the last day, for the day of revelation and the culmination of your hope.

For then, at last, the wrath of God will pass you over. For you are marked with the blood of the Lamb. The Lord Himself is with you and on your side. He loves you and is coming back to save you.

This happy ending is not the one we deserve, but it is the one He has won for us and promised to us. This is the ending to be embraced and welcomed not only then, but also now.

The Lord, who came by the Virgin to lay down His life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, and to raise it up again as a renunciation of death and hell, comes now in His Holy Word and Sacrament so that – even now, while you slog through this valley of sorrow – you might have real joy.

And if the Lord comes now and makes you His temple; if He visits you in this painful, sad, and broken world, and comes to cover and protect you; if He declares you righteous and holy even now, and He does, then there is nothing to fear, and everything to rejoice over then on the last day, and now this morning. For if He comes now in grace and mercy according to His Word, He will come then in the same way on the last day. The only difference is that then it will be visible and with obvious power.

You will get to see with your own naked eyes what you knew already by faith. That God is not coming for His throne but from His throne. That He has in fact been ruling the entire time, graciously waiting and staying His judgment. That’s why Wesley’s original text to the hymn you just sang did not emphasize that Jesus was returning, but appearing, and revealing Himself again and for the last time.

Thus in all these signs, the fig tree is in bloom. Summer is nearer than Christmas. The smell of blossoms fills the air. Fruit to eat and wine to drink will soon be here as well. You know what the fig buds mean.

He comes now as He will come then. His present coming in Word and Sacrament shows you that summer is coming. Winter will end. He has not forgotten you. He is the fig leaf that points us to the end. His Body and Blood are the foretaste of the feast to come.

And so you may now enjoy freedom and hope and certainty. Straighten up and lift your heads high. He comes in bread and wine descending. He shall reign in you, and He alone.

First Lutheran Church Sermon Archive


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