Now—you know I waste time watching movies.
I quote from them too often. I watch them too much.
I say that upfront because Jesus says, “Come to terms quickly with your accuser” (Matthew 5:25).
But I love stories—and storytelling.
I love to laugh—even, sometimes, about things that aren’t usually funny.
In the movie Life, with Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence, Murphy’s character, one of the few who can read, reads a letter for a man in his group.
He reads the letter, and it’s full of terrible news.
The man’s second-cousin Bo had died.
And his other cousin Sally had died.
And his sister had died.
And his other sister had died.
And, of course, things have been pretty tough since the crops didn’t come in on account of the frost.
And then, there was the big tornado in which his mom and his dad, both, were killed.
But the dog’s okay—if it gets over the worms, that is.
Murphy’s character reads the letter, and—after reading it—he asks if anybody else has a letter they’d like for him to read.
Everyone else has a letter—but no one wants him to read it. It’s hilarious.
Now, I’ve taken the time to say all of this so I could make this point.
However bad the news—there’s always an end to the letter.
However bad your day—there’s always an end to it.
And—however fleeting the joy—for you and all believers in Christ, there is unending joy to come.
But—would you want someone to read your letter to you?
Would you want the contents of your day, your entire life, spelled out for you? Every bump and break.
And all at once?
Before you say yes, consider that the contents of that letter would include not only your death but the death of your family, friends, and even children.
It would include their judgment. Would you like to know which of your family members reject the faith in their lives now and on their deathbeds?
Everyone would like to know the good things now, sure. Days to look forward to—of course.
But would anyone like to know everything?
I think not.
Consider the words of our Lord. Consider what He tells us and how we are to live and watch:
“’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, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And 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, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
And he told them 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 the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 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.’
But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day [the great Day of the Lord] come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:25-36).
The Lord promises an end.
He came in humility once—He promises to come again in glory, but the signs He gives teaches us, basically, to expect bad letters frequently.
Some days, it seems like all the letters have bad news and the letters keep on coming.
Some days, it seems like all the joy on earth is wasted on trivial, worthless nothings that everyone else is head-over-heels in love with.
There’s gonna be days of gain, sure, but we can’t avoid the days of loss.
If only God had given us the when, we’d be able to make sense of things; but He hasn’t given us the when.
Rather, He’s given us these signs.
And they’re clear, if you’ll see it.
“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, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.”
Jesus says the signs that tell of the end are common things. Signs in the sky—meaning, perhaps, an eclipse, a super moon, or a supermassive black hole.
Those seemingly rare astronomical entities have all occurred or been observed in the last, what, three years?
But that’s common to every generation.
Every generation perceives signs in the sky.
Distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea—how long have the polar ice caps been melting? And before that, for how long have people cried out because of hurricanes and floods, earthquakes and tsunamis?
People fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.
I think that’s a fair description of things—but it’s always something.
Before COVID was the end of the world, President Trump was. Before him, Obama was the false-messiah.
We are a people and language who choose to know only superlatives.
“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:2,9).
And the parable Jesus tells makes this even clearer:
The signs that tell of the end are as common as the seasons changing.
After Jesus’ ascent into Heaven, it’s always been the case that the end could come at any moment.
The end is coming, and all that you need to meet that end well—your salvation—all you need—has been won.
The Lord came to earth born of the Virgin Mary, to be a Sacrifice in your place and on your behalf.
He made you a son and heir and claimed you, by name, as His own, in Holy Baptism.
He forgave your sins and declared you righteous, holy, and innocent.
He’s risen from the dead to show you the coming, unending joy.
And He’s ascended into heaven to prepare a place for you.
He hasn’t forgotten you.
He is coming soon.
In the meantime, in the midst of all this perplexity and loss, the Lord comes to you as He’s promised—in His Holy Word and Sacrament.
You’re not alone. You have the Lord.
He comes—now—speaking words of warning (that you should heed) and words of comfort (that you should believe).
He comes to feed your body and soul with His Body and Blood to strengthen you for the days to come, that you would have joy, now, while you wait and joy, now, while you bear the burdens He gives you.
Christ, our Lord, is not simply our Lord in the future, at the end of the letter.
He’s our Lord even now, while it’s all being read.
You will escape these things in the end, and more than escape, you will conquer them.
Because His victory is yours—and His peace.
You have the Lord—and that’s enough.
But He has also given you each other. We confess that we believe in the communion of the saints.
God has given you each other—that you would bear all these things together—your sorrows and your joy—waiting for the end of all sorrow and the joy that is to come.
So wait—with each other and on the Lord.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Advent 2 Sermon, 2020
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt