A couple of weeks ago I mentioned in a sermon that we had missed yet another Second Coming of Jesus. These things tend to come and go on a fairly regular basis nowadays, and its mostly because there is a market in our world for the work of the false prophet. In general, people are dissatisfied with the current state of our world, what with wars and rumors of wars and terrorist attacks, and weird weather and the like, and it creates a market for those who would pander to our feelings of fear and dread. Just about three years ago, people were all worked up into a dither over the fact that the Mayan calendar was ending. Remember the Mayans? There was a ton of doom and gloom over that one, and nobody even bothered to consider that maybe the Mayans got tired of making calendars and just gave it a rest. They certainly didn’t outlast their calendar, but we surely did. The Mayans were wrong, the false prophets of panic were wrong this fall, and so will everyone else be wrong who dares set a date for the end of the world, or our Lord’s return. There is one date set for that day, and only God knows what it is. God sits in heaven and laughs at all who make such predictions and so should we.
That does not mean, however, that we should be unaware or uncaring, or off our guard, when it comes to anticipating the Second Coming of Christ, or the eventual demise of this world. This stuff will happen. Christ will return and the world will end. About mid-way through our passage this morning, Jesus says very plainly, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” That’s kind of a summary statement for all of the doom and gloom that he delivered up in verse 25-27.
And there’s a couple of responses that we can have when Jesus delivers up predictions of doom and gloom. One is dread and fear and paralysis. That’s verse 26. “People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” That’s scary stuff, but it doesn’t have to be the response of the faithful believer. The response of the faithful believer is quite different. Jesus says, “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, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” That’s hopeful anticipation, not fear and dread. But guess which response is the more common? It is human nature to respond to predictions of doom and gloom with dread and fear and paralysis. That’s just who we are. None of us is truly pleased with the situation that our world is in. It is broken globally, it is broken locally, and it may even be broken personally. We get discouraged, we lose hope, and we despair. Some of us may even experience terror, or at least the fear of terror. But Jesus commands us to rise above our human natures. And if he commands us to do that, then it is absolutely possible for us to do it. Jesus does not give us commands that are impossible for us to carry out.
We all know how easy it is to slide into despair and hopelessness. Troubling things have happened to all of us. We are not immune from the brokenness of this world. We’ve all been there. We don’t have to work hard at getting there. It just happens naturally and easily. We don’t purposely intend to go into a state of doom and gloom, we just end up there.
I’m sure that that’s why Jesus tells us to be on our guard, and to stay alert. It takes some work to do that. It requires that we face our troubles and trials head on. It requires that we take control over our feelings rather than allowing our feelings to take control over us. We must acknowledge the power that despair has over us, and that we determine, first of all, not to slide into that condition to begin with. We know that’s not a good place to be and that it does us no good to be there. Secondly, if we get there anyway, it’s time to start pulling ourselves out of that dark place.
Jesus says that we ought not to be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life. I like it that Jesus says, don’t weighed down. It’s very apt. Being weighed down is carrying around burdens that we weren’t designed to carry, and that we have no business carrying. Being weighed down is unnecessarily taking on stuff that drags us down. It is spending too much of our lives and time focusing on the excessive and useless. The radical and surgical cure for that is shedding everything in our lives that does not fill us with hope and joy. Helping someone who is filled with fear and dread can also bring us hope and joy. We’ve got lots of projects going on right here at church this time of year that are going to be bringing hope and joy to others. Engaging ourselves in those projects will also bring hope and joy to ourselves. Can we find hope and joy in a world of despair and sadness? With God’s grace we can. Jesus has this to say about the victorious life of serving him as one of his disciples: “Come to me all you who are burdened and heavily laden, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” That’s a wonderful invitation to a glorious life of faith and joyful anticipation. And, just a commercial here, there’s nothing like burying ourselves in the Scriptures to bring us joy and peace and hope and comfort in time of fear and despair.
The end of the world will come upon all who live on the face of the earth. That is assured. For some, who are caught up in the cares of this life, it will come unexpectedly, like a trap. And it will come like a trap for all who live in fear and dread and with feelings of doom and gloom. And it will come like a trap for all who are so caught up in the pursuits of this life that they believe that this life is all that there is. Actually, those folk are already trapped. They are snared in a trap of their own making. I wonder if they even know that. They’re so busy milking this world for all its worth, that they miss the joys of the world to come that are available to them even now.
The faithful disciple, then, will not be trapped in any way. Not in a trap of his or her own making, and certainly not in a trap that brings fear of judgment. This faithful disciple is always looking and living ahead, never looking back. And that’s critical. There’s plenty going on around us that has the power to distract us from our ultimate goal. Our ultimate goal is redemption. That ought to be our focus. The message of Advent is anticipation, and joyful anticipation at that. That’s why Jesus counsels us to stand up, raise our heads and know that our redemption is drawing near. Let us look ahead, and let us live ahead, leaving the cares and distractions of this world behind us, as if they were useless, heavy baggage.
Finally, Jesus encourages prayer. Prayer is good. Jesus counsels us to pray that we will have the strength to escape all these things that will take place. On one level, Jesus is encouraging us to pray that we will have the strength to escape all of the doom and gloom that he has predicted. And that’s fine. I will pray every day to escape any doom and gloom that is headed my way. I would love to avoid all of that stuff. But Jesus is talking about praying about strength to escape, not that we would be exempt from the troubles and trials that come our way. And that leads me to further pondering. This is not a simple prayer of avoidance. I believe that Jesus is speaking of strength to endure and strength to live above and beyond the doom and gloom that comes our way. We may not be able to avoid the doom and gloom that Jesus predicts that is headed our way, but we can certainly pray for strength to get past it. And, in that there is ultimate escape. If we are freed from all despair and fear and dread, we have indeed escaped. But even beyond that, not even considering the things that are yet to come, that have yet to impact us, I believe that Jesus is encouraging us to pray that we will find the strength to escape the other things that he warns us about in this passage, namely being weighed down with the cares and the concerns of this life, and the excessive and the useless. Jesus wants us to live with joy and hope in this life and in this moment. Our prayers in this matter will help us to look ahead and to live ahead with joyful anticipation. Today is always the gift of God, and we live every moment of it in the presence of a loving and caring God. But tomorrow, we stand forever in the presence of the Son of Man. That is the direction in which we look, that is our destination, and that is all that ultimately matters. In the presence of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the cares and trials of this world will seem to be but a shadow. They will be like a dream forgotten at the moment of waking. That’s what we joyfully anticipate. Let’s stand up and raise our heads, for our redemption is drawing near.