Monday, November 23, 2009

Raise Your Heads, Your Christ Draws Near!

“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

We have no lack of signs to see that the ending is near. We have plenty of signs. The world has been falling apart for a very long time.  Since our first parents Adam and Eve sinned in that cool Eden morning, distress and confusion has been pouring over the land.    
Contrary to the opinion of evolutionists, the human race is not improving itself, moving progressively toward some utopian world.  We are not evolving into more peaceful, civil people.  In fact no century at been more barbaric and horrifying than the last one.  In the 20th century, the modern, evolved and enlightened man put his neighbor to death in numbers that exceed all prior centuries put together.  Entire nations have been destroyed and routed from their homes.  Mothers and fathers have fainted in fear of what is coming. 
Last week with the OWLS group of St. Paul’s I was able to visit the new Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education center.  This museum holds hundreds of artifacts from the Nazi regime and concentration camps that were scattered throughout Europe.  There are documents and pictures that tell the story of the holocaust.  At the museum they have real German rail car – an actual train car used for deporting Jews, Christians, the disabled and political enemies off to the work camps and killing chambers. 

More than 50 people were jammed in those dark train cars.  Two buckets for waste and bathroom needs.  As I stepped into the dark train car at the museum I could almost hear the roaring train and screeching of the metal on the tracks. It is impossible to see this car and not sense the terror and despair felt by the millions of men, women and children who were placed into these dark and inhuman transports during the Holocaust.     
The Lord’s Coming – the advent of our Lord has always been surrounded by violence.  When King Herod heard of the coming of the Christ he killed all the male children of Bethlehem.  There were screams and fainting that surrounded the birth of Jesus.  When the Apostles were sent out to proclaim the Gospel - to baptize, preach, and teach they were systematically hunted down, crucified, and put to death.

We do not simply need reform, as a human community.  We need redemption.  We need a savior.  We need mercy.  We need to be saved from the ongoing holocaust of human cruelty, hatred, and violence.  For the stirring troubles that erupt across the globe and our own city, we need much more than reform and transformation.  
We have murder in schools, gang violence, corporate greed and political corruption.  We have economic depression, rising deficits, and nuclear proliferation in dangerous parts of the world. Political action will not save us.  Healthcare will not save us.  Not pacifism.  Neither will continued war save us.  We need a cosmic rescue mission.  We need an apocalyptic rebirth.  We need a calling forth of the new. 
"And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
Jesus has come and Jesus is coming.  Take heart dear Christians, the long nightmare will soon be ending.  The warring between nations and the roaring of the sea and the waves will be quieted by the advent of a child.  This child Jesus will be born.  Resting in the womb of Mary He is the ruler of the sun, the moon, and the stars.  He governs the waves and the seas. He is God of God and light of light, having and sharing all the glory of the Father.  

The fainting and foreboding.  The anxiety and fear that the world feels soon will be met by angels announcing the birth of Jesus – the Coming of the Son of Man.  The children of the church will sing Hark the Herald Angels sing. Members of our congregation will go out into our surrounding community, they will knock on doors of God’s children and sing praises to Christ the King and His glorious coming.And the angels will say “Fear not…raise your heads…your Savior draws near.”  

Though the coming of Jesus is both terrible and marvelous, He has spoken to you so that it may be a lovely coming for you.  It is to you that the Lord speaks, “straighten up and raise you heads.”  Our Lord calls us not to be weighed down by the weight and burden of our sin.  Lift your heads, raise your eyes and feel no shame.  That nervousness that often casts our heads downward, and redirects our eyes has been met by the eyes and voice of our Good Shepherd!  Your sins are forgiven, go in peace!  Awake from the long nightmare.  Raise your head, dearest son and daughter.                

He has baptized you and raised your body to stand in His light.  Your body, however weak or strong it may be has been fashioned to be among all those standing at His coming, to be brought to that heavenly home.  He has formed your body into a sign and living witness of the resurrection.  In our Gospel reading it is as if God says, “I am coming to the world to rescue you.  From heaven above to earth I come to break in.  To break in a save those who sit in darkness” 

Jesus came for those who looked up for mercy in those torturous German train cars.  He came for those first born of Bethlehem that were slaughtered by King Herod.  He came for every holocaust and genocide and unspeakable terror.  For he paid for the sins of the German army.  Paid for the guilt of a world which apathetically looked away.  He paid for the sins of King Herod.  And he has come to bear every sin that plagues us and weighs us down. 

Jesus is our Sun and our moon, our heavens and bright star of light.  He purifies us and raises us up to stand before him.  He dresses us up in dazzling white and anoints our forehead with baptismal waters.  We stand with the whole Christian church on earth.               
"But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."
Dearest Christian, this is good news.  You are the holy ones standing in the light of his birth and resurrection.  The Lord has found you standing and confessing.  He has found you praying and singing.  He has found you awake and alive in the peace that He Himself has given you. 

He sees you baptized and marked in His saving blood.  You eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper here at this altar.  Nothing pleases our God more than receiving this food and drink here today.  At our Lord’s coming he has found you here – where he has placed you.  Even though the earth may shake and wars rage through the nations, our homes, or conscience, the Word of Jesus is the final one.  You are innocent and have been made to stand before him in perfect righteousness – perfect freedom.  He delights in you in every way.  As we await the Lord’s Coming and look toward the birth of Jesus you may know that your name has already been written in the book of life and painted in the halls of heaven.

We have all the signs we need to see and know that Jesus has come and will bring us into all the light of his glory.  You lack nothing in your preparation.  He has given everything you need and has set you free.  He has stood you to be numbered among all the saints. As Paul Gerhardt ended his hymn that we sang this morning Jesus is “a light of consolations and blessed hope to those.  Who love the Lord’s appearing.  O Glorious Sun, now come, Send forth Your beams so cheering, And guide us safely home.” Amen.         

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