[Malachi 4:1-6; Romans 15:4-13; Luke 21:25-36]
Here at the failing of the year, we cannot help but think of the failing of time, of the closeness of death and the end of all things. As the trees stand bare and empty, lifting their naked arms to the sky, we recall the end. As the grass is brown and yellow, a dead and lifeless thing, we recall the end. As the fields are empty and the sky is leaden and the wind blows, we recall the end. Striking, then, is the contrast in today’s Gospel. When Jesus speaks of the end, He does not look at the Fall of the year or the winter, but at its springtime.
“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.” Spring and buds and blooms mean that summer is near. And so these cataclysmic signs foretold by Jesus mean that God’s forever summer is ready to break upon the world. Thus the Advent posture of the people of God is not the dismal dread of doomsday, but the sharp-eyed and head-raising expectation of the Kingdom of eternal joy.
Who can describe what goes on in the heart of man when the first smells and hints of spring arrive? We laugh for the sheer joy of it. We are like the calves let out from the stall, kicking up our heels in delight, when the Sun of Righteousness rises with healing in His wings. (OT Lesson) Just so does the Christian welcome the End. The End does not mean that the show is over, it means that the waiting for the show to begin is now behind us. End means completion, fullness, joy.
Yet we may not ignore the warning of the text. End means completion, fullness, and joy to those who are watching and waiting, praying and longing for the Advent of the Eternal Spring. “Watch therefore and pray always” says the Lord of the Church. This is the posture of the Advent Church: “Come, Lord Jesus! Quickly come!” The heart that can pray that has nothing to fear on the Last Day. For on that day, we will be delivered from the power of sin forever. Says Dr. Luther: “If you long to be freed from sin, then you have nothing to fear about that Day.” But if you love your sin, and coddle it, and treasure it in your heart and don’t want to be separated from it - beware of that Day like the plague! For it will wed you to your sin and its punishment for all eternity.
Yet we Christians are weak as we wait for that day. Our hearts are halved. With part of us we ache for its joys. With part of us we fear them. We have always to balance our praying “Thy kingdom come” with “forgive us our trespasses.” What on earth shall keep us and get us through? What can help these wretchedly divided hearts - so longing for the Kingdom to come and so fearful of having to say good bye to this world?
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” The words of Jesus are our only hope. They are rock solid. Stronger than this earth. Stronger even than heaven. His Words do not cease forever. A life that is built upon them is a life that is built secure. A heart that hopes upon them is a heart that hopes secure. His Words tell of the coming Kingdom. His Words bring the coming Kingdom to reality here and now. Already and not yet. His Words gain the victory in our sinful, divided hearts.
Taking his Words seriously, we do not wait for His Day without being fore-warned. The Scriptures are there so that we might have hope. (Epistle) The universe will fall to pieces (and before it does, our own universes may fall to bits as well), but when that happens, His people have hope. In the falling apart of everything, they smell the green sap of an eternal spring about to break upon this creation. Already in the Resurrection they smell it.
For before Easter morn, were there not already signs in the moon and sun and stars? Did they not hide their faces from the dread Sacrifice that writhed in hell on a cross? Lift up your heads and see your redemption. The Man on the Tree. Dying with your sin and your shame and your death and your hell. On Ascension, lift up your heads and see your redemption. The Crucified One, now Risen and Reigning in endless glory. At the Table, lift up your eyes and see. Your redemption draws nigh. “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” At His Table the Age to come is already there.
At His Table, says St. Isaac the Syrian, you can already breathe the air which the righteous will breath at the Resurrection. The air with the scent of eternal spring upon it. Lift up your heads! Lift up your hearts! He comes. In His Body and Blood, yes. Though what now is hidden, will then be revealed. His Body and Blood in visible glory for all to see. For those who love His appearing: unending joy and the beginning of eternal spring. For those who hate His appearing: unending sorrow and the beginning of eternal winter, of endless death.
His Words reveal all of that. His Words are what endure. His Words are true though everything else is false. His Words give what they say: My body and my blood for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Nothing more sure than that. A life built on those rock solid words is a life ready for the End, which is the Beginning. Forever. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.” Amen!