Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon on the Second Sunday of Advent, 12/8/2019. 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.
Many days this summer, as I walked from Back Bay Station to church, I observed a man at the corner of Boylston and Clarendon by Copley Square. He had a sandwich board and a big truck with one principal message: “Repent. The end is near.”
There were a few other verses of Scripture there, too; ripped from their context and pasted to the side of his vehicle. Overall, they were words of condemnation for the sins that upset him most.
To be sure, they were sins that upset God as well. To be sure, they were sins that Jesus had to die to forgive those who commit them. The man with the sandwich board wasn’t wrong about any of that.
But I got the unique sense from the smattering of Bible verses, cobbled together in a bizarre arrangement, that while he had a rather firm grasp on sin, his understanding of repentance was somewhat amiss.
It seemed as if he would be satisfied if everyone simply shaped up. If everyone could be scared into proper behavior; if everyone could exhibit the appropriate measure of terror; then they would be truly ready for the imminent end.
That end is coming. The Son of Man will descend in a cloud with power and great glory, as He says. And when He does, He will clean up the unbelievable mess we’ve created. Sun and moon and stars and sea, and kings and nations, and you and me – He will clean up everything. And it will be so dramatic and intense that many folks will simply come undone.
But Jesus doesn’t want you to come undone. Instead, He wants you ready for this. “Be careful,” says Jesus. “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.”
At this point, you may be thinking that Jesus is a lot like the man with the sandwich board; that He is saying to you: “If you can keep from partying too much and worrying too much, then you won’t be trapped.”
And that would be true, as these things can indeed distract you and deter you; but it would also be incomplete and insufficient. The difference between Jesus and the man with the sandwich board is love. And so, Jesus has more to say.
At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads,
because your redemption is drawing near. (Luke 21:27-28)
When you see the fig tree and all the trees sprout, you know that summer is near. That’s not exactly something that strikes fear into the hearts of people after a long winter. It makes them excited and fills their heads with dreams of a delicious harvest.
When you see the Christmas tree, you know that Christmas is near; and Christmas is an even less fearful thing than the fruit of summer.
Jesus’ first coming is not a fearful thing because it seems so different from His second. In His first Advent, Jesus does not come in a cloud, but in the womb of a virgin. In His first coming, He does not descend with power and great glory, but with humility and in great weakness. In His first coming, Jesus does not come as judge, but to be judged in your place; to have all the sins pasted on the side our friend’s truck, and on your life, ripped away and pasted onto Him instead.
Jesus does all of this so that at His second coming you would not fear it as the end, but that you would rejoice in it as the beginning. That you would look forward to that day as if it were Christmas.
It can be difficult to wrap our mind around these words, and so the better course may be to let these words wrap around our minds; what St. Paul means when he says that they (our minds) should be transformed. Romans 12:2
Because it can be difficult, Jesus bids us practice; not merely by preparing to receive Him, but by actually receiving Him.
Between His coming in Bethlehem and His coming on the Last Day, Jesus bids you receive Him as He gives Himself now.
Here the One who will toss the waters of the sea like a child in a bathtub, meets you as children in the waters of Holy Baptism, that when He returns as Judge, you would recognize Him as your Brother, the Son of your Father.
Here the One whose coming will cause some to pass out in distress, causes you to awake with His Word, spoken to forgive you and to repent you, to turn you around – not just away from your sins, but toward His altar.
There the same Jesus who descended in a virgin’s womb, and who will descend again on a cloud, is happy to descend into bread and wine, to forgive you and fill you, to feed you and nourish you, to prepare you for that great, Last Day.
When you are prepared that way, when Jesus Himself sees to your repentance, away from sin and toward His grace, then the day of which He warns the world will seem less like a trap and more like a surprise party; even like Christmas.
So stand tall. Lift up your heads. Open your mouths, and receive your Redemption.
Rejoice, the beginning is near.