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Second Sunday of Advent 2010 Populus Zion – “Our Realistic Optimism: Hope”

Pastor Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church – Dyer, Indiana
05. December 2010
Second Sunday of Advent – Populus Zion
Malachi 4:1-6; Romans 15:4-13; Luke 21:25-36
“Our Realistic Optimism: Hope”


On Thursday and Friday, my daughters Elsie and Naomi had tests conducted in Chicago, as part of our ongoing treatment of their seizures. I had the misfortune of driving a different vehicle than my own, so I didn’t get to listen to my regular diet of music and the Lutheran talk radio program Issues Etc. I had a couple options: radio with its poor music selection and worse commercials, classical music, public radio, or talk radio. For some reason, I settled on the talk radio.

Talk radio is pessimistic. Everything is doom and gloom. The government is doing this wrong. The Democrats are evil and the Republicans are stupid. China is going to overtake the world. I could only take this for so long. I don’t need radio hosts to tell me how bad things are. I’ve children with an incurable genetic disease that is difficult to treat and expensive for us. You don’t have to tell me times are rough.

Not able to tolerate the darkness, I switched to classical radio. It happened to be the first day of Hannukah, the festival of lights for Jews. I heard the retelling of the triumph of Judah Maccabeus over the evil emperor Antiochus. After his triumph, the restored menorah in the temple stayed lit for eight days despite only having a day worth of oil. On its annual commemoration, this festival gives Jews hope and light to persevere in the darkness of the world. Just as the oil miraculously lasted eight days, so their god will take care of them today.

Then I got distracted and switched again, this time to public radio. I didn’t hear the doom and gloom of talk radio. Nor did I hear the joy of the festival of Hannukah. If anything, I would describe their “journalistic” approach indifferent. In some discussions, there was a guarded optimism. In others, a cautious pessimism. In most, simply indifferent reporting.

When it comes to matters of faith and life, we have these three same tendencies. We can approach our lives as pessimistic, always groaning and bemoaning the state of affairs. We can approach life with unbridled optimism, whistling while we work, humming a little tune, or singing “always look on the bright side of life.” We could just act indifferently, neither complaining nor celebrating, simply persisting.

Through today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us how to interpret the events of this world. These events point towards his return. He tells us what sort of attitude we ought to have towards his final judgment. The parable illuminates the hope of the Christians. Finally, he tells us be how to be prepared for his advent on the last day. We aren’t weighed down by the things of this earth, but rather prepare through praying. In all these things, our Lord seeks to give us a righteous hope, a realistic optimism, that awaits his return. He says to us:

Lift up your heads because your redemption is drawing near.

Talk radio is full of pessimism about the state of the country, the economy, the sciences, the environment, the arts, and pretty much every other human enterprise. Jesus himself predicted our anxiety over these things. He tells us “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…” (Lk 21:25) The seas are rising, the beaches disappearing. Lands, animals, homes, and people have been wiped off this earth in recent years by hurricane and tsunami. Many wring their hands in distress over the increase or decrease in temperature. Even if you don’t trust in science’s global warming, you at least know that our natural resources have been depleted, our land polluted, and our atmosphere smog-laden. These are signs of true state of affairs. The creation groans in eager expectation of its renewal. It groans under the stress of sin-borne man, whose dominion looks more like abuse.

Jesus says, “there will be… on earth… people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.” (Lk 21:26) Just a quick listen to talk radio will reveal this sort of pessimism. You might look at this great land of ours and be captivated by fear as to what the latest innovation in Washington will do to destroy our liberty and life. You might consider the weakness of the dollar or who our loans are owned by the Chinese, and shudder with panic. You might listen to or watch the popular media of our day and see it as a portend of a future collapse of our culture.

If we consider our nation or world truthfully, we can rightly say its going to “hell in a handbasket.” This is not just another silly phrase but the truth. Despite small improvements in medicine, science, and economics, we can’t stop the trends of climate change, the inflation of our currency, or the inevitable death medicine is bent on avoiding. Jesus knows we have the tendency to see these signs and panic. He knows we listen to talk radio and are perplexed and in distress. He knows we faint with fear for the future of our children and grandchildren.

He gives us a great promise to comfort us in our distress. He promises that we “will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” This is the promise of Christ’s return, his return in judgment of the living and the dead. These signs on the earth, in the world, and in the heavens give us anxiety.

They ought not! They signal the collapse of this creation. They point to the real effect of sin and death. They show the marks of the prince of this world, the dominion Satan exercises on the flesh, nature, and all life. Normally, sin, death, and the devil make one anxious. Normally, the mortal foes make one faint with fear.

Do not fear! You are a holy saint of God, remade in God’s image in the blessed water of Baptism. The signs that make your neighbor anxious, give you cause to rejoice. The roar of the seas is not your distress but a hallmark to the coming of your Lord. What the world sees as the coming of evil into the world, you see as a sign of Christ’s final judgment to come. “When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Lk 21:28) You see the signs and do not doubt. You have the hope that only comes through faith in the coming Lord.

You may be pessimistic toward your sin, towards you ability to escape death, or your resistance of the evil one. You cannot purge yourself of sin, you cannot cheat death, and you will not resist the evil one… at least according to your flesh. But as a holy and remade saint of God, your sins have been purged by Christ’s blood, your death is only a sleep until your resurrection to eternal life, and Satan has been bound. He cannot cause you to stumble nor can he consume you. When you look upon the signs of the world, you do not despair nor remain indifferent but rejoice for your redemption is drawing near.

Knowing the tendency of our flesh to see the signs and despair, our Lord provides us with the parable of the fig tree and all trees. Even in the midst of the gloom of late winter, when the tree begins to bloom, you know summer is already near. The signs of the season are that winter will never end. Yet, the trees tell us to not faint with foreboding but to relax and be patient, because summer is coming.

Our current season of winter is only beginning. We just received our first major snowfall. From the signs, it looks like it may be a rough winter. So also, the storms of the world and the evil one rage. We seek shelter from the cold, wet darkness of the winter of these last days.

Your faith is assaulted daily. You are perplexed by the storms of sickness, poverty, and death. Where is the Lord? When will his kingdom come? When will the Son of Man come in a cloud with his power and great glory? Soon, he says. Soon. See the signs and know I am coming.

Look at the fig tree and all the trees. Look and know that the kingdom of God is near. “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.” All the signs of the sun and moon and stars will give way to our Lord’s final advent. The distress of the nations at the roaring of the seas and waves is a testament that our Lord will return to make all things new. “The powers of the heavens” shake and tremble, anticipating our Lord’s judgment.

Dear Christian, do not fear but rejoice! “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” The earth may crumble beneath our feet. Our health may falter and our death come far too early for spouse, children, and friends. Do not worry. There is no need for pessimism. Be optimistic! You have hope. You have a faith that trust our Lord’s words. He is coming to you and will draw you to himself.

“But,” our Lord says, “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.” When our pessimism gets the better of us, it is easy to resort to those voices of gluttony, drunkenness, and the like. When life worries us, its too easy for us to turn to the Doritos or the Budweiser to find comfort. Beware! Watch yourselves! The last day will “come upon you suddenly like a trap.” Those creature comforts won’t save you. Doritos don’t say to you “your redemption is drawing near.” No, your Lord and his words bring the only comfort that will sustain you through the trial. Only his sweet voice can sooth the anxieties of this life.

Despair yourselves of the comforts of this world. Do not trust that they will get you through the roaring of the sea or the fainting and foreboding fear. Instead rely upon the promises of God, especially his “words [which] will not pass away.” The promises of God will not fail you.

Be diligent in prayer. Pray without ceasing. Pray for all the wants of body and soul. Pray and trust that our Lord will provide. Pray knowing that your heavenly Father will sustain you. Your God and Father will preserve you. He will grant you the “strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Pray to our Lord his word. Pray to our Lord his promises. Approach him in his holy sanctuary. Approach him at the font. Approach him at the altar. Hear his words and be comforted. Receive his flesh and blood and be renewed in faith and love. Receive the Lord and know your redemption is drawing near. Amen.