St. Luke 21:25-36
by The Rt. Rev. Daniel R. Morse
Daughter of Zion, behold, your salvation comes. The Lord shall cause his glorious voice to be heard, and you shall have gladness of heart. Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, You that lead Joseph like a flock.
The message of the First Sunday of Advent was “Your King is coming! Prepare!” We spoke of his visible coming to Jerusalem in humility and meekness, on his way to the Cross. This was a picture of his constant coming in his Word and Sacrament, invisible, without his outward glory and power. The message of the Second Sunday of Advent is: “Your King is coming again, visibly and in power and glory, to deliver his own from all evil!” It is a message of encouragement and hope. That is why the Church has always combined the Sundays of Advent with a consideration of the final coming of Christ at the end of the world. So the two comings of Christ, his first coming to Bethlehem and his Second Coming at the end of the world the Church has historically conflated together into the season of Advent.
Many ignore and reject the Lord now, but the day is coming when his majestic voice will fill his enemies with terror. This is not, however, the heart of today’s message. The teaching of today is addressed to the faithful. “Behold, your salvation comes!” That is what we hear this Second Sunday of Advent. You shall be delivered from all your enemies. All who receive the King as he comes to his people in Word and Sacrament, all who remain faithful until the end shall then have gladness of heart.
I. A World in Despair
The first thing I would draw to your attention is that the world outside of Christ is in despair. That doesn't mean that they know they are in despair or feel as though they are in despair, but the fact is that the world outside of Christ is in despair. Without Christ the course of this world is without hope because we are left only with our own efforts, plans, and devices. There will be distress, perplexity, fear, and foreboding. All who have not learned to love Christ will always dread his appearing.
II. The Christian Hope
The second thing we notice in this passage is the Christian hope. That which makes unbelievers fear, if they ever stop to think about it, is the coming of Christ in great glory. Here comes the Judge. That is what unbelievers fear. But we do not fear it. That same coming of the Lord Jesus Christ will inspire the believer with eager hope. The believer will look up and raise his head in eager, joyful expectation as he sees his redemption drawing near (vs. 28).
We know that the storms sweeping over the world are the gales that usher in the spring and summertime of God’s Kingdom and the perfect sunshine of Christ’s presence (vs. 31). That was true of the Christians in the first century. You will recall in the first few centuries of the Christian Church there was terrible persecution and the Christians worshiped in the catacombs in the city of Rome. The words of Jesus to them were very real. That is, "Look up and see your redemption is drawing nigh." Those words are still true today. We may not feel quite the immediacy of them because we are not suffering the same kinds of persecution, but still that is the comfort and the hope of Christians today. Times of difficulty are encouraging because we know that our Savior will come to deliver us, and there is a final day coming when that deliverance will be complete.
III. The Certainty of the Christian Hope
Our hope is as sure as the sure Word of Christ. All else shall pass away, but Christ’s words will never pass away. Each generation finds his words true. The Bible is a book of calm confidence. It sees the worst and yet assures us of the best. In other words, the Bible doesn't sugarcoat things and doesn't tell us unreasonably that everything it going to be all right. No, the Bible teaches us in the spirit of God to look honestly right in the face of the worst the world has to offer, and then it assures us that God is going to take care of all that. So we have full faith in him who is "the same yesterday, today, and forever." From cover to cover the Bible is a book of hope and the Book of the God of Hope.
That is exactly what we celebrate in Holy Communion. The Holy Communion is Christ’s great reminder to us that he comes to save us. So I want to take a few minutes to make some applications concerning Holy Communion.
The Lord’s Supper assumes unusual significance on this day. We remember that when on Maundy Thursday our Lord sat at the table, and the Apostles with him, he said: “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer, for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” He took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said: “Take this, and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
The Church has never forgotten that as her Lord said goodbye in the Upper Room, he looked down through the centuries to the moment when he would be reunited with his beloved people at his Second Coming. The thought of his return must have been uppermost in his mind that night, for all four Gospel accounts of the Institution of the Lord's Supper bring home some reference to the final return of Christ to the comfort of his people. St. Paul wrote that by eating and drinking “you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” It was inevitable that the last banquet of the Son of God on earth should be connected with the Messianic Banquet in heaven. The first liturgical prayer the worshiping Church addressed to Christ after his Ascension was “Maranatha,“ that is “Come, Lord Jesus!“
In the earliest liturgies the celebrant says, ”May Grace come and this world pass away.” The word “Grace” means the Lord Jesus himself. It is not some impersonal attribute of God. It is Christ himself. The congregation responds, “Hosanna to the God of David.” Then the celebrant says: “If any be holy, let him come; if any be not, let him repent. Maranatha!” (That is, come quickly, Lord!) ”If any is a baptized believer, let him come to the Holy Communion with his Lord. If not, let him first become a Christian and be baptized. The Lord is coming, here in the Holy Sacrament and again at the end of the world.”
Through the ages the Church has always connected the invisible coming in the Holy Communion with the visible coming in Glory, the Supper in the Upper Room with the Great Marriage Supper in heaven, the coming to his Bride in the Holy Sacrament with the coming of the Bridegroom to take her home to be with him forever. The Lord’s Supper bridges the time between our Lord’s days on earth and his final return in glory. At his Table, time and eternity meet. Our thoughts move between two high points as we partake of this meal, the Last Supper on earth and the first and eternal supper in the Kingdom of God. Just where along the way between these two points we happen to commune with our Lord in the Holy Sacrament is of no consequence. It doesn't really make any difference because we know that Jesus came and he is coming, and that we are his Bride and we eat with him. Every celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a repetition of the first celebration and an anticipation of the last celebration.
The Lord’s Supper is Bread for travelers, the food we need to strengthen us on the way through this world to the Kingdom of God, the sustaining, strengthening food on the way from time to eternity, from here to there. We eat it just like the Israelites did that first Passover, girded and ready, ready to leave because they were sure that the Lord was coming to destroy Pharaoh and all his armies, and they had to be prepared to leave when he led them out. Elijah found food under the juniper tree, “ate and drank and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.” So we too come up to this mountain, eat and drink food prepared by God in the Holy Sacrament, and are strengthened on our journey to the Mount of God.
In the celebration of Holy Communion we lift our hearts far above this poor earth to the throne of Jesus, who died and lives forever. Yes, Christ will come to us according to his promise. He is present in heaven, and before him all angels and saints sing praises. We lift our hearts unto the Lord and join the heavenly choir in the hymn that came to us from heaven: “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of the angelic hosts! Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.” We sing that every Sunday. We find ourselves, you see, when we worship here on the earth in this unlikely place, we find ourselves joined with the saints and angels in heaven. The Lord Jesus comes in his Word of promise, communes with us, unites himself with us, lives in and with us. And then he will come to take us home. Yes, he will come! That is the firm assurance of Christ himself. Even now his Presence is not a matter of distance but only of seeing what the eyes of faith know. Our physical eyes cannot see him, but he present with us. We may think Jesus is far away from us because we can't see him, but he is very near to us to feed us his own body and blood.
So the faithful pilgrims celebrate the Lord’s death. So they keep alive and strengthen the hope that is in them. So they join the saints of all ages in the prayer of unshakable hope, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! Maranatha!” and we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.