Reader: “Jesus talks about the end. . .”
Response: “and how we should live.”
Scripture: Matthew 24:23-35
“Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. See, I have warned you about this ahead of time.
“So if someone tells you, ‘Look, the Messiah is out in the desert,’ don’t bother to go and look. Or, ‘Look, he is hiding here,’ don’t believe it! For as the lightning flashes in the east and shines to the west, so it will be when the Son of Man comes. Just as the gathering of vultures shows there is a carcass nearby, so these signs indicate that the end is near.
“Immediately after the anguish of those days,
the sun will be darkened,
the moon will give no light,
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.
“Now learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branches bud and its leaves begin to sprout, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see all these things, you can know his return is very near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will not pass from the scene until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.
Reader: “The inspired word of God.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
You are well aware by now that the opening focus of the season of Advent draws our attention to the final Judgment of God and the establishing of the reign of the King of kings. We’ve mentioned the importance of seeing the Nativity of Jesus in the context of the whole of God’s plan of redemption and restoration of the whole created order. We dare not think of Jesus’ ministry in terms of isolated, singular events. Everything God does is connected to everything else God does. Every word, every phrase is significant. There have been a great many words written about the meaning of these words of Jesus. I’ll add a few more! Jesus addresses our gullibility in the first thought. We are naturally drawn to the unusual, the magical. The nature of a magic trick is to deceive the observer. We find ourselves asking, “How did they do that?” Jesus warns about falling for false claims of power, even if there is a “miracle.” He then directs our attention to the trap of our curiosity. It reminds me of the old Flip Wilson 1970’s TV sketch with “The Church of What’s Happenin’ Now.” Rev. Leroy was always trying unsuccessfully to be cutting edge. The parody was remarkably prophetic. Jesus warns against chasing the latest dynamic preacher or famous church. I believe the reference to the vultures is symbolic to the end of history as we know it, in other words, the history of this present world comes to an end, to its death. What is very clear is that everyone in the world will know when the Son of Man appears at the end of earthly time. Jesus then talks about the fig tree. What was his point in each of these references? The message is simple, watch and wait. Pay attention to the bigger picture of what is happening around you. Don’t be consumed by the immediate surroundings. Remember we have dual citizenship. Be diligent because the coming of the Son of Man most certainly will happen. Jesus even harkens back to Noah, touching on the idea that the people of Noah’s day were taken by surprise as God brought judgment upon the whole earth. His words. . . “Don’t be like them.” Jesus continues on in the following verses and chapter with the same theme of being ready; He is coming back. Set your house in order.
Music: “Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying” Nordic Choir of Luther College
“Wake, Awake for Night Is Flying” Philip Nicolai, 1597, trans. Catherine Winkworth, 1858
Wake, awake for night is flying:
The watchmen on the heights are crying,
Awake, Jerusalem, arise!
Midnight’s solemn hour is tolling,
His chariot wheels are nearer rolling,
He comes; prepare, ye virgins wise.
Rise up, with willing feet,
Go forth, the bridegroom meet: Alleluia!
Bear through the night your well-trimmed light,
Speed forth to join the marriage rite.
Zion hears the watchmen singing,
Her heart with deep delight is springing,
She wakes, she rises from her gloom:
forth her Bridegroom come, all glorious,
In grace arrayed, by truth victorious,
Her star is ris’n, her light is come!
All hail, Incarnate Lord,
our crown, and our reward! Alleluia!
Wew haste along, in pomp of song,
And glansome join the marriage throng.
Lamb of God, the heav’ns adore thee,
And men and angels sing before thee,
With harp and cymbal’s clearest tone.
By the pearly gates in wonder
We stand, and swell the voice of thunder
That echoes round thy dazzling throne.
No vision ever brought,
No ear hath ever caught such rejoicing!
We raise the song, we swell the throng
To praise thee ages all along. Amen.
Our gracious Father in heaven, by whom all things were created and for whom we live and our Lord Jesus, through whom all things were created and through we live, grant that all our heart, soul, mind and strength may be given to watching and waiting for thy glorious return. May we not be so consumed with the things of this world that we neglect our citizenship in heaven. Likewise, may we not be so consumed with the things of eternity that we neglect the needs of our neighbor, our widows and our children. In this Advent season, give unto us hearts that are tender, souls that live in expectancy, minds that grasp the significance of these days and godly strength to endure to the end. These things we pray through our coming King. Amen. ― Daniel Sharp