Salem Lutheran Church


What Do These Signs Mean?

Two weeks ago, we read from Chapter 13 of Mark’s Gospel where Jesus foretold the destruction of the Temple. In response to his teaching, the disciples had asked Jesus to tell them when this would happen and what signs they should watch for so that they would know when the end was coming. It was a great question and one they should have asked. They were hopping for some specifics so they would know when to be ready. Now, if you remember, when the disciples asked Jesus about the signs they should watch for, Jesus told them that before the end came there would be wars, and rumors of wars, natural disasters, and even famines, and that all of these things must occur before the end would come. These would be some of the signs that would bring about change.

Our text today on this first Sunday of Advent is Luke’s version of this same story. But Luke goes beyond the things that the disciples and you and I can see around us; Luke adds cosmic things to the signs we must watch for, such as signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars. I equate Luke’s explanation to what it’s like to getting the results of my annual physical. Every year I go in to my doctor to see how my health is, and every year he puts me through a battery of various tests, but when I get the physical results, rarely do I understand the results without him interpreting them for me. I look at the numbers he gives me or the charts he hands me and I have no idea what they mean, but my doctor looks at them and is able to tell me things happening in my body that I would not know on my own. Luke, whom many believe was a physician, also lifts up signs that the people of Jesus’ day would not be able to explain on their own. In Luke’s day, the technology did not exist to explain happenings such as eclipses, or shooting stars, or earthquakes, or climate changes. When such things occurred, they saw them as signs of cosmic changes and God’s intervention in the world. Today we may have scientific explanations for all of these, but I will argue that these are still signs that God’s Kingdom is coming, and they are signs to which we should respond. Jesus said all these things would happen in this time between his first coming, that is, his birth, and his coming again, the time of final judgment. In other words, we are living in the end times; we just do not know how long the end will take.

A good question we might ask ourselves today is if the signs are all around us that we are in the end times, what does it mean for us today and what should we do while we wait? This is the same thing I asked my doctor after my physical. What do I need to do to continue to live a healthy life? Now, the fact of the matter is I know I will die someday, that is inevitable, but in the meantime I want to be healthy and enjoy all with which God has blessed me. Today our text challenges us to look forward to Jesus’ coming again and ask the same question: While we wait for that judgment day, the end, how should we live our lives?

Now, the answer to this question will depend upon your view of end. Many today believe that someday, when Jesus returns, Jesus will destroy this world. Now, there is some truth to that, but as you have heard me say before, the notion that Jesus will come and destroy the world with an army is bad theology. In fact, the end as described in our Gospel today is very different from a catastrophic disaster. According to Luke, when the end comes the Son of Man will come, and He will come in a cloud “with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27). This vision of the end is described throughout the Scriptures, and it is specifically mentioned by Matthew (24:30, 26:64), Mark (13:26, 14:62), Luke (21:27), Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 4:17), and by John in his Revelation (1:7, 14:14). In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, the dead and the living will rise up to meet Jesus and “we will be with the Lord forever”. At first glance, that sounds like we will be leaving this earth, doesn’t it? So, maybe the earth will be destroyed. No, just the opposite! You see, in ancient times, when a king would come to visit a town within his kingdom, he would come “in all his glory.” This meant that he would ride in his chariot with all his armies into the town. It would have been rude and completely wrong to allow the king to ride in unescorted; therefore, the townspeople would watch for him, and when they could see him coming they would ride out to meet him and then escort him into the town, announcing his arrival as they led him in. When Jesus comes again, his followers will rise to meet him and escort him here. The end as we know it refers to the end of the earthly rulers as we know it; the end as referred to in Scripture is the beginning of God’s complete reign here. This means how we live and treat this world, and each other now, will make a difference in the end. The specifics of how we are to live are right here (hold up Bible). Jesus said it is as easy as loving God and loving our neighbor. For us to best understand this, we should dwell often in the Scriptures and allow God’s Word to wash over us as individuals and as a community. The gift we receive in God’s Word is something that we should dwell in daily.

In responding to his disciples, Jesus says when you see all these things happening, you might not understand what they all mean, and that is OK, but what is really important is that when you see cosmic things changing, when you experience war and violence, when poverty and hopelessness seems rampant, then know that this is not God’s kingdom, but know God’s kingdom is coming and know this, too, it is time to change your ways so that you can begin living a healthy life now. When we see the awfulness of this world, such as mass murders, terrorism, genocide, global warming, or even what is happening along our won borders these days, know this, it is time for us to bring about change.

It’s like when my physician says, the numbers I am seeing in your test results are changing and that is OK for a man your age, but you need to change what you eat, how you exercise, … so that you can continue to live a long healthy life. I can’t eat like I did when I was 30. I can’t exercise the same way I did when I was 30. How I live today is different then how I lived 30 years ago, and Jesus is saying the same to us today. It is time, while you wait for me, to change.

The signs of the times are telling us that God’s Kingdom is coming. Today we are called to look to the future with hope and excitement, not fear and trembling. Today we are called to live a life where we can hold our heads high and receive our judgment with excitement and anticipation. Brothers and sisters, as we once again await the coming of our Lord this Advent season, knowing that one day God’s complete reign will be fulfilled and earth and heaven will once again be one. Our waiting is not to be idle waiting. Our waiting is not to be filled with fear of change and fear of the unknown. No, as we wait, we are to live as though God’s Kingdom has already arrived. We are to be active in this world and proclaim the truth that God’s reign has already begun, and one day it WILL be complete. This is the day we are awaiting, and may we recognize the signs, may we work for a better life for everyone, and may we wait with joyful anticipation. Amen

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