Monday, December 3, 2012

Seeing Signs and Watching: Thoughts on Advent 2

I have yet to meet a child that doesn't look forward to Christmas morning. I've yet to meet a child that is afraid to go to bed on Christmas Eve for fear of what Christmas morning will bring.What child is afraid that Santa will actually leave coal in their stocking? In fact they are so excited by the thought of what Santa will leave, they can hardly sleep. They toss and turn. They peek through doors and peel back window shades in the hope to steal a glimpse of jolly ole St. Nick.

They look forward to it. And just after Thanksgiving, when the first preparations for the season begins, they make their lists. They check them twice. They sing the songs and the carols of the season. And they rehearse the story of who Santa is and what he comes to do. He comes to give gifts. He comes to make children happy. He comes to bring joy. That is who He is. That is what He does. Why would they expect anything else? And that is why they so look forward to Christmas morning. For they know the nature of the one who is coming.

And so Our Lord tells us that there will be signs of the second coming of the Son of Man.  In the sun, the moon, and the stars, when the nations are perplexed at the roaring of the sea, when people faint with fear at what is happening and the heavens are shaken, the Lord tells us that these will be signs of when He will come again to judge both the living and the dead. These will be the signs for us to straighten up and raise our heads because our redemption is drawing near.

These signs, says our Lord, will be like the fig tree and all trees when it's leaves have come out. For when you see the leaves the trees in full bloom, you know that summer is here. So also, says our Lord, when you see these things happening, you know that God's kingdom is here as well.

And then comes the unexpected. Our Lord tells us to "Watch yourselves." He says "Pay attention to yourselves." One would expect, based on His previous statements and what these signs indicate, that our Lord would say, "Therefore, watch for these things to take place." Or "Pay attention, therefore, to when these things begin to happen." But He doesn't. He says instead "Pay attention to yourselves," "Watch yourselves." Why? It seems counterintuitive. What is the point of telling us about signs that will indicate His second coming, when we aren't to look for these but rather watch ourselves?

But, when you think about the signs that Jesus tells us will announce His second coming. Are any of the really all that distinct? In other words, when aren't there signs in sun, moon, and the stars? When aren't the nations perplexed by the raging of the sea and the waves? When aren't people in hysterics about what is going to happen in the future? These things are always with us. And so how are we to know which are the real signs of His coming? We don't. And that's why He tells us instead to pay attention to ourselves. That is why He says to watch ourselves.

He tells us to watch ourselves so that we are not weighed down with dissipation, that is, with waste, with excess, with indulgence, decadence, drunkenness, and promiscuity. He tell us to pay attention to ourselves so that we are not weighed down by despair, by the cares of this world, by what we will eat or what we will wear or where we will live. He tells us to watch ourselves to that we will not be taken by surprise when these things take place. But instead that we will be ready. And not just ready, but eagerly awaiting and expecting it. That we will long and yearn for it, so that when it happens we will stand up and look up to see our redemption.

The only way we are able to watch ourselves, to pay attention to ourselves it to do so by looking in a mirror. And there is only one mirror that will not pass away. It is the mirror of our Lord's Words. While heaven and earth and all that is in them will pass away, Jesus says, "My Words will not pass away."

We hear Jesus' Words in the Divine Service. Here He shows us our sin and the need for a Savior, and then comforts us with His Words of Life. He forgives our sin. He takes away our dissipation, takes away the burdens that weigh us down, and gives us his yoke, which is easy and light. He refreshes our souls, renews our strength for the day and our courage to face tomorrow. He gives us peace and rest. We watch ourselves by hearing what the Lord has to say about us, and what He has to say about Himself--who He is and what He comes to do. For in His Words are revealed His nature. That when He comes to judge, He comes to save all those who trust in Him. So that when He comes to judge, all those who trust in Him have no reason to fear and every reason to rejoice. For their redemption has come. So that when these things happen, when the signs begin to take place, we do not faint, but rather look up to see our Savior who comes with our final redemption to take us from this valley of sorrows to Himself in heaven.

Pay attention to yourselves then. Receive what the Lord gives. Hear His Words that give eternal life, that tell you who He is, what kind of Judge He is, and what He comes to do. And do not be afraid of the end. For when it comes, when He comes to judge the living and the dead, He will judge you not guilty, innocent, righteous, and holy.

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