Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Messiah Lutheran Church
Populus Zion – Advent II (Dec. 4, 2010)
Luke 21: 25-36
TITLE: “Cleaning House for the Season”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen. Our text for this morning is the Gospel just read from Luke chapter 21. We look particularly at verse 28: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
We don’t generally think of December as the time for spring cleaning, but it sure seems like there is a lot of preparation that goes into the season. Cookies to be made. Presents to be bought. Decorations to put up. Music to learn. Parties to attend. Family near and far coming to visit. The things that keep us busy during this time of year really seem to have no end. And of course, who can forget winter? When the snow falls on the ground, you know that you had better be ready. In fact, if you have waited until you see the snow on the ground, it may already be too late. This is Wisconsin, after all.
But preparation doesn’t just have to do with the things of this world. What we so often forget in the weeks leading up to Christmas is what we might call spiritual preparation. How do we prepare for His coming, as our collect of the day asks? The prophet Malachi reminds us of the preparation which will happen for the coming of the Son of Man. He says this,
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 4:1-3
When God speaks about preparation, it seems, His view is a little different than ours. We think about getting the house dusted, the garland out of the attic, and of making sure the right coats are in the closet. But for God, preparation has to do with what is inside as much if not more than it does with what is outside.
Malachi points us to two types of people who will not be prepared for the coming day of the Lord. The first is the arrogant. To be arrogant means to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think. Paul puts this in perspective for us in 2 Timothy,
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Timothy 3:1–5 ESV)
This picture is hardly complimentary, especially when we talk about the joys of this season. But there it is. If we are honest with ourselves, many of these words hit a little too close to home. Tragically, our preparation usually means making lists of things we want, rather than thankfulness for all the blessings God continues to give. Our self-centeredness as Americans really knows no bounds. And I am just as guilty as you.
But Paul again helps us to see why God would issue such a warning, such harsh Law to sinners like you and I. Paul wrote in our Epistle for today,
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)
So how is it both Paul and Jesus’ warnings can instruct, teach us to endure, and give us hope through the encouragement of the Scriptures?
It’s like this. When you or I sin it breaks down relationships, creates barriers that shouldn’t be there, and generally messes up everything around us. Lying begets lying. Stealing makes for more stealing. Anger creates anger. Arrogance leads to more arrogance. Sin can only lead to more sin. Yet somehow or another we get this crazy notion into our heads that I can do something that is sinful and wrong, and that this is going to make things better. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Yet that is what you do with your life. You lie to your husband or wife or friend or co-worker, and assume that somehow you are doing this in order to accomplish something good.
So what God does in setting this warnings before you and I is to shake you loose from your comfort zone. Like John the Baptist, these words of warning and repentance hit home even when we don’t want them to hit home.
But that Law, which pierces through your soul like a sword through flesh, that Law breaks down all of these walls you have built up around yourself. It kneads them over, grinds them up to rubble, so that you are empty of all thought of your own inherent goodness. Then, and only then, can God do His real work for you. Then God and work on making you alive, because you finally recognize how dead in trespasses and sins you really are.
That is why Jesus says to you this day to straighten up and lift up your eyes. He doesn’t mean straighten up or you’ll get booted. This isn’t shape up or ship out. No, it is more that Jesus knows you are weighed down with the cares and worries of this life, many of which you yourself have caused. So to you who are downtrodden by your sin, and by the results of sin done against you, Jesus says, lift up your eyes. Look up. The day of your redemption draws near.
The day of His coming draws near, and is here even now. You are now in the presence of the Almighty God. Lift up your hearts, be cleansed of all of the foul sin that stinks up your life, and receive the promise of God’s benediction upon you. Prepare in this case means to be emptied of all of this gunk, so that God can fill you with all good things in Christ. God is faithful. He will give you a reason to rejoice. Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.