Advent 2: Knowing, Watching, and Heeding the Signs

End Times
Jesus teaches His disciples about His second coming (Luke 21:25-36). From a book publishing Martin Luther’s Church Postils (sermons), 1554.

Lessons: Malachi 4:1-6, Romans 15:4-13, Luke 21:25-36
Hymns: LSB 341, 334, 336, 337, 342

Listen to the entire service here (the sermon alone is above).

      The theme for the Second Sunday of Advent is Christ’s second coming—that is, His return for Judgment. It may seem a little strange to think about Christ’s second coming as we prepare to celebrate His birth at His first coming. However in Christ’s Church, we are not yet celebrating His first coming. We are observing Advent. In Advent, we consider all the ways our Lord Jesus comes. He came the first time in the flesh. He comes to us today through Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and His Word. And Jesus will come again on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead.

      Advent is also a season of preparation. We are preparing to celebrate Christ’s birth. As Christians, we make this preparation not through all the things that keep us busy in December with buying gifts, writing cards, baking treats, decorating homes, and celebrating parties, but we prepare as we listen intently to the Word of God, consider our sinfulness and repent, and go to the Lord’s altar. Our Advent preparation also makes us ready to meet Christ when He comes again in glory.

      In today’s Gospel, Luke records a parable spoken by Jesus, teaching us to be prepared. He says, “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they bud out, you can see and know that summer is near. So also, when you see the things taking place recorded in Scripture, then you know the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:29-31).

      Jesus is teaching us to know the signs, watch for the signs, and heed the signs. That way, you’re fully prepared. Since we do this in everyday life, how much more should we be doing this when it comes to matters of faith?

      You know and look for signs frequently. And you act accordingly. You can often look at a person’s face and determine if that person is sad, mad, or glad. That will affect how you interact with that person.

      We see signs of change when we go to the stores. When Cadbury eggs go on sale, you know Easter is approaching. Pumpkins indicate Halloween is near. Trees and lights suggest Christmas is coming. We don’t even need to look at a calendar. We can see the signs. We then follow suit, heeding the signs. We do our own decorating or observe the holidays in ways we see fit.

      We also know the signs found in nature. If a plant is wilting, it needs water. If the plant looks stressed and has moist soil, it may need fertilizer or has been overwatered.

      As the days shorten and the fields turn brown, we know harvest is upon us. We know winter will be coming soon, and we bring out our jackets and winter clothes. When we see frost on the grass, we know it is cold outside and so we dress up.

      When the snow crocuses bloom and daffodils emerge, we know we’re coming out of the winter thaw and spring is nigh. Or, as Jesus points out, if you see the trees beginning to bud, you know that summer is coming.

      So, there are many signs that you know. When you know them, you can watch for them. And as you observe them, you can heed the signs accordingly.

      The same thing is true when it comes to Christ and His coming. Know the signs, watch for them, and let them guide you. The signs concerning our Lord’s return are many. “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” (Luke 21:25-26). Anomalies in the skies, warring nations, changing seasons, and calloused hearts are all signs that Jesus is returning.

      These signs are nothing new, though. They have been happening since Jesus prophesied in them. And that’s the point. Jesus never said He was going to give a few generations a pass to live and let live, doing whatever pleases their sinful desires with the understanding that Jesus won’t come in their lifetimes. Jesus never said that for the first thousand or two years, people can abuse Christ’s gifts, repent on their deathbeds, and not have to be prepared for Jesus to suddenly appear. Instead, Jesus will come like a thief in the night—at a time many do not expect. And so Jesus teaches us to watch and be ready—to know the signs, watch for the signs, and heed the signs. That means we are to continually watch, always be prepared, and know that Jesus could come any time—be it before this church service ends, sometime today, sometime next year, or maybe sometime in thousands of years from now. We do not know when, but we do know to be ready.

      Sometimes people misread signs. In the fall, I’ve noticed tree buds that look like they are ready to burst out into leaves. I’ve seen daffodils sprout in mid-winter. I’ve seen people look at a stressed houseplant and give it more water, which is the very last thing it needed. I’ve seen people think their plant needs more sun and place them out in full sun, inadvertently burning their tender leaves.

      When it comes to watching for the signs of Christ’s return, some have felt that things are too peaceful for Jesus to return. Others have concluded on an exact time (and even place) concerning our Lord’s return. Quite piously, they believe Jesus is coming and want to know when that will be. So they read the signs and make the wrong conclusions.

      We must not fall into those traps. We do not know the time or the place. We simply know that Jesus will return, and He will do so like a thief—unannounced and sudden. While God wants us to be ready, He does not want us to attempt to pinpoint His return.

      The signs are all in place, and they serve a purpose. They are not intended to make us think of our Lord’s return as some distant-future reality. Instead, God put them in place to make us ready now. When we notice the seasons change, we ought to be reminded that Jesus is coming. When we hear of eclipses and comets, we remember that Jesus is coming. When we hear about nations arming up to take over other countries, we recall that Jesus is coming. All so we can be ready.

      We just sang in our hymn for Advent (LSB 334 O Lord, How Shall I Meet You),

           He comes to judge the nations, A terror to His foes,

            A light of consolations And blessèd hope to those

            Who love the Lord’s appearing. O glorious Sun, now come,

            Send forth Your beams so cheering, And guide us safely home.

      You see, the signs God gives us—that we can observe daily—not only ought to drive us to repentance, but they also ought to drive us to cling firmly to our Savior, Jesus, who loves us and is coming back for us. Recall these comforting words our Savior spoke, “Now when these things begin to take place, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).

      When talking about these signs, we are not dealing with mere symbolism. Instead, we are dealing with reality. Many people think real life is their work and recreation time. They think matters of faith are separate from reality. They look at Christianity as something for those ready to depart from this life or for those who cannot handle living in the real world. But that cannot be further from the truth. God created us and everything in this world. He truly exists, just as we exist. His Word is Truth. And there is nothing more relevant to our life than the Word of God and faith in Christ as worked by God the Holy Spirit. For God alone gives us the strength to meet each day. He alone loves us unconditionally. He alone makes it possible for us to live through this life and meet Him in the life to come.

      Because eternal matters are at stake, there is nothing more important in this life than feeding our souls and being ready for our Lord’s return. My friends, this is as real as it gets.

      And just as real are these: the love of God toward us, the forgiveness of sins He bestows on us sinners, the peace we now have with God, and the promise of eternal salvation.

      In fact, God even gives us signs so that we can be confident we are recipients of these blessings from God. The first sign for most of you occurred when your parents brought you into the Lord’s House when you were very little and you were baptized into Christ. Your sins were drowned. You died to sin and rose to newness of life. In your Baptism, you are joined to Christ’s death and His resurrection.

      In the Lord’s Supper, you see bread and wine. When you come forward, you don’t eat or drink much. Yet, Holy Communion remains a sign of God’s boundless love toward you. It reminds you that Christ Jesus shed His innocent Blood on your behalf on the cross. It reminds you that Jesus died for your many sins. It reminds you that there’s no greater love than to give up one’s life for His friends—which is what Jesus did for you. Communion reminds you that you are not a spiritual island unto yourself, but that you are members of a Christian community, of the Body of Christ. Gathering together, side by side, and kneeling in the presence of the congregation are all signs that we are united in doctrine, which is how God would have it be. And these actions are signs that we are submitting to God’s holy will as He has His gracious way with us.

      These signs are genuine, powerful, meaningful, and real. We are to know the signs, watch for them, and heed them. That way, we can be confident that we belong to Christ and when He comes, He will bring us with Him into His eternal kingdom. Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen