1 Advent Proper C1
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 21:25-36 Sermon
November 29, 2009
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
3 "The Advent Of Our God"
2 "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"
13 "Lo He Comes With Clouds Descending"
11 "O How Shall I Receive Thee?"
THERE'S NOTHING TO FEAR--JESUS IS COMING!
TEXT (vs. 25-28): " [Jesus said]: 25There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
"You'd better watch out, you'd better not cry, you'd better not pout, I'm telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town. He's making a list, and checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty and nice, Santa Claus is coming to town. He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness' sake."
I don't think any of you today are wondering where I got those words. It's a song that's sung at Christmas, one that presents a small sketch about the legendary figure we know as Santa Claus. The words that I just quoted were written by J. Frederick Coots along with lyricist Haven Gillespie in the year 1934. And I'm certain that almost every child since that time either knows them, or at least has heard them.
I don't think that the Coots and Gillespie team quite realized the threatening nature of that song when they wrote it. I'm more inclined to think that they wanted to put the legend of Santa Claus to some up-beat music that would appeal to children. Nor do I think that the various music publishers have given much thought to the content of the words. And I would also imagine that the many different singers who have performed it, like Burl Ives and Gene Autry and many others, have seen it as nothing more than just a popular song that is sung at Christmas time.
But if you stop and think about it, the attributes given to Santa Claus make him out to be something equal to God, only with a white beard and red suit. From an early age on, children are taught that Santa Claus is this omniscient and omnipresent being that watches their every move. If they're good, then they'll get toys and all sorts of neat stuff for Christmas. And if they're bad, well, instead of the neat stuff they might be getting if they were good, their reward might be a lump of coal and a bundle of switches (switches are small sticks used for kindling).
And so parents will use this "Santa threat" as a type of Christmas law to keep their children in line. Santa wants to give you good stuff; but since you've been a bad girl or boy, then sorry, you're out of luck. Another seasonal song I remember that also fosters this idea is the one that goes, "I ain't got nothing for Christmas, mommy and daddy are mad; I ain't got nothing for Christmas, 'cause I ain't been nothing but bad." Not only is the grammar horrible, but it presents a very disturbing message.
As we look at our Gospel lesson this morning from Luke chapter 21, we are hearing the words of Jesus himself. And Jesus is giving us much the same warning that is contained in that old Christmas song, "Santa Claus is coming to town." The major difference here is that Jesus isn't threatening us with an ultimatum. In fact, he says in verse 28: "...stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
But with this, he still wants us to know that we are going to meet him face-to-face someday. And so, based upon Jesus' words in our text for today, it would do us well to remember that we have nothing to fear, because Jesus is coming; and he is coming soon.
We have just entered the season of Advent; a word that means "coming." The four Sundays leading up to Christmas are focused upon the coming of Christ in various ways. Today, we are turning our attention to Christ's second coming; and the words of Jesus recorded by St. Luke give us a good description of this event.
I don't need to elaborate a whole lot on the condition of the world in which we live. There are wars going on right now; there are threats of wars that might happen in the future. Society seems to be on a downhill slope, and things in general are in turmoil. And then of course there are things happening in nature as well. Christians are aware that this world as we know it is going to be coming to an end. We have no idea when, but we know it will happen. The Bible is definite on what it says.
This past week, I was waiting in line at the supermarket; and I'm sure you all have been there too. Of course they have the "impulse buy" stuff--the chocolate bars, the chewing gum, and other stuff. And as you know, they also have the various tabloid periodicals as well. You'd have to have your eyes shut to miss the bold headlines
Well, one of those caught my eye. It was the latest issue of the Sun. On the lower two-thirds of the page, there's a drawing of Jesus with the crown of thorns, and beside that is Michelangelo's depiction of God with his finger pointing out. The bold headline reads, "Stunning worldwide visions of Jesus warn...I will return within weeks! My Heavenly Father decrees there shall be an end to all war."
Now I knew what this week's Gospel lesson was, so I broke down and bought the issue to see what it was all about. Their "teaser headline" worked on me. And unless it is a remarkable coincidence, I also think that someone on the editorial staff at the Sun must be familiar enough with the church lectionary to know what the topic of the Gospel was this week.
The opening line of the two-page article reads as follows: "Church leaders, religious scholars and theologians from around the world have been summoned to the Vatican to discuss what a papal spokesman refers to 'as the most significant End Times revelation in history."
The article then goes on to explain that Jesus has manifested himself at different locations all over the world. The message he is reported to be giving is that "...our salvation is not guaranteed...we need to beg God for forgiveness...[so we can] face him with our souls fully cleansed and worthy of his mercy."
Furthermore, there is a prayer that people are supposed to repeat morning and night. Then this Jesus figure is reported to have said, "The choice is yours. Burn forever in hell, or savor the sweetness of the joy only God can bring."
This whole article is malarkey, pure and simple. First of all, I did a number of Google searches on the topic, and I found nothing about the Vatican, or anybody else for that matter, even mentioning this. One would think that an event that involved "church leaders, religious scholars, and theologians from around the world" would be reported by more than just the Sun newspaper. But such is not the case.
Secondly, this article says that Jesus has manifested himself in various locations all over the world. What does Jesus himself say about this kind of event? Matthew chapter 24 verses 23-28 records the following instructions from Jesus: "23 At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect-if that were possible. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time. 26 So if anyone tells you, 'There he is, out in the desert,' do not go out; or, 'Here he is, in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. 27 For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather." When Jesus speaks of the vultures gathering, I wonder if that might be a reference to tabloid reporters and the paparazzi?
So there you have it, in clear unmistakable words from Jesus. Don't believe that kind of garbage. Jesus has not been popping up hither and yon wearing a crown of thorns to give people a special message. All Jesus has ever needed to say to us he's said in the pages of the Bible.
So why in the world do people buy into this kind of stuff? For the tabloids, it sells newspapers and makes them money. In a round about way, I guess it worked on me, even though I bought it more for sermon material.
But one of the main thrusts is that it feeds on human fear. It's the same way as that old "Santa Claus is coming to town" song works. You'd better behave yourself, or else!
The problem is, that threats don't work. If a child misbehaves, the old "Santa Claus" threat isn't going to make him or her think twice. And if you think that threats of hell will bring people to faith in Christ, that's not going to happen either. In fact, if you want to drive people away from Jesus, just beat them over the head with a Bible and threaten them with eternal perdition. People don't react well to that approach at all. Even though hell is a reality for unbelievers, still threatening people with it is not the way to bring them to faith. Fear is not the way Jesus operates.
If we look at John's first epistle, chapter 4 verses 16-18, we find out exactly what place fear has when it comes to the judgment: "16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."
Now you can see what is really lacking. The concept behind Santa Claus and his purported abilities to see and know everything about you does not project any sort of loving relationship. Rather, it is a loveless system of merit and reward.
And if you look at that article in the Sun, there are some shreds of truth. Jesus is coming again, he is coming soon, and we need to be ready. Fair enough. But the entire article lacks the words of love that Jesus has for each and every one of us. And when we have God's love as our motivating factor, we can, as John stated, have confidence on the day of judgment.
John, in his Gospel, explains how this works in chapter 3 verses 16-17 with some very familiar words: "16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."
It was out of love that God sent Jesus into the world to be our Saviour from sin. It was out of love that God sends us his Holy Spirit to give us the faith to accept him as our Saviour. It is out of love that God preserves us and keeps us in the one true faith. It is out of love that God continues to extend his hand of divine providence in our lives. It is out of love that God wants us to share heaven with him for all eternity. Everything God does he does out of grace, which is his undeserved love for us.
Jesus came to take away the threat and curse of the law. Through faith, everything Jesus did on our behalf is ours. We don't have to say any special prayers, we don't have to beg like dogs, and we don't have to show ourselves to be worthy of his mercy. We have already received forgiveness for our sins, we have already received his mercy, and through faith alone it is guaranteed to be ours.
So are we ready for Jesus to come? Are we ready to meet him, whenever that might be? We know it will be soon. Through faith, we certainly are ready. We have nothing to fear, nothing at all. That's not what God wants for us.
The words, "He's making a list, and checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty and nice," are familiar ones to most people. That's what people have concocted about Santa Claus. He's nothing more than a system of merits and rewards with the feeble attempt at terrifying children into good behavior.
But God acts far differently. In Psalm 130, King David captures the essence of this. Verses 3-4 say: 3If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But with you there is forgiveness..."
That's what love does. And because of God's great love for us as Christians, the only list you'll find our name on is the one that is contained in the Lamb's Book of Life.