04. December 2011
Hope is a fickle thing. I hope I win the contest I entered (despite the fact that the odds are overwhelmingly not in my favor.) I hope to get a raise next year (despite the fact I’ve done less work and was generally less cooperative.) I hope to lose some weight (even though I can’t resist the chocolate.) I hope for this or that.
Hope is often built upon shaky sand or crumbling foundations. Most people hope without any ground for that hope. Most people don’t win anything in contests. It doesn’t look like anyone will get a raise next year, even if they deserve it. Weight loss does not come through magical hopefulness, but attained through hard work and discipline.
The weather is the worst. My hope for rain doesn’t make it happen. I hope it doesn’t snow like the NOAA predicts but I have no grounds for this hope. I hope the big earthquake that’s been predicted for decades never comes, but in reality it will eventually. I hope for such things but have no reason for hope.
Our faithless hopes fade when faced with great tragedy. When an earthquake devastates a people, we faint with fear. Maybe this could happen to us? When the tsunami wipes out the coast of a far away land, we despair that so many lives were lost, homes destroyed, and a land ruined. Why do such tragedies and disasters bother us? Why do they cause such great distress?
We wonder. We fear. We worry. We ought not be surprised when these things come. Jesus said, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Why worry? Because we do not know if the next disaster is the last. When we look to the earth, we despair because we wonder where God is in all this. We wonder how a loving God could allow such destruction and despair to persist.
By looking to fallen creation we do not know that God loves us. From wind, sea, earthquake, and flood, we know only a God whose wrath against this fallen world is great. If we look to creation, we tremble and fear, wondering if the next day may be our last. If we look to the earth or the sun, moon, and stars, we have no reason for hope. The course of this world is without hope.
These things are signs of God’s wrath against sin. This creation which he so carefully and wonderfully made is daily corrupted by our wickedness and perversity. The wages of this sin is death. Everyone dies as a consequence of their trespasses. Everyone dies and everything dies.
For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now (Romans 8:22). For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:19). The great distress of the creation testifies that it needs to be delivered from bondage of corruption with us, unto the glory of eternal life with us.
The great distress of man at the signs of this earth are the same as the lesser distress we each experience at death. When we see what comes of a beautiful life, of a beloved spouse, of a loved aunt, of a close friend, we mourn. We mourn because we see what will come of our own life. We too will wither and fade, groan and die.
Worst yet, on the final day all will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Such an appearance, when the glorious Lord appears to judge all the living and the dead, will be a great and terrifying day. All who have not learned to love Christ will always dread His appearance. Those who have not learned of His love will fear the roaring of the sea and the waves.
Yet, we Christians do not mourn as they who have no hope. Nor do we panic when see the signs. No, we have hope. We do not fear the final day, whether six feet under or while we are yet awake, but rejoice in that day.
That which makes the unbelieving world tremble in fear and shudder with despair, are signs of hope for believers. These signs, whether the end of our life or death of the world, must pass before the new life and new heavens and earth will come to be.
Jesus tells us, now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. We see the signs and are inspired to an eager hope. We look up and and not look down. We don’t look to the world but we look to heaven to come.
While we see death and destruction, we ought to see sleep and recreation. Jesus tells us a parable: Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Signs of doom and gloom are for the Christian cause for hope and rejoicing, for we know our redemption is near.
These things must take place. They are not signs of the end but of the new beginning. Consider Jesus. Last week we recalled His triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Such an entry is exactly what was hoped for. A new David. A new Solomon. A Christ to rule Israel and the world. A king who would reign forever and ever.
This is Jesus but not in the way the people hoped. He enters not as the tree about to bloom. First His leaves will fall, like crimson droplets of sweat. He will wither and fade, his life given for the sake of the world. This tree will be cut down at the root. Burned and ashes entombed in the ground. Yet, these are signs of hope and rejoicing.
On the third day, the sun rises. The earthen tomb opens and a shoot appears. The tree of Jesse rises from the ashes, from the stump. This resurrected tree reveals Himself in splendor. He rises all glorious and triumphant. His leaves begin to appear. Eleven new branches appear, grafted onto this tree. Then another, then 500, then the new branches from the four corners of the earth.
We are not surprised but wait in hope. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. We know that storms sweeping across this earth, the earthquake and the tempest are the gales that usher in the spring and then summertime of God’s eternal kingdom and sunshine of Christ’s presence. When we see these things begin to take place, look up not down, because your redemption is drawing near.
This is a certain hope. This is not a fickle thing. It is as sure as the Word of Christ. All else will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Generations grafted into the tree have and will find them true, until He comes again. The Holy Scriptures give us a calm confidence. It teaches us to see the worst and find hope that it is for the best.
We never look down to this earth but look up to the Kingdom to come. This kingdom came when the true King of all nations sprang forth from His rest in the tomb. We are members of this kingdom when the Spirit carried us from death to life through our Baptismal waters.
This kingdom comes in Christ’s own body and blood, the root and sap of our new life. This kingdom will come when the Son of Man appears with power and great glory. We look forward to this kingdom that cannot be shaken, looking full of faith in Him who is “the same yesterday, today and forever.” Come, Lord Jesus.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church