Lessons: Psalm 50, Daniel 7:9-18, Matthew 24:23-35
Hymns: LSB 701, 333, 933, 338
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
As we get closer to Christmas, anticipation continues to rise. We see signs of Christmas all around us—with decorations and lights, Christmas cards arriving in the mail and gifts being purchased, parties planned and attended. These signs indicate Christmas is near.
To many, they figure Christmas is already here. They do not realize that the Christian calendar is set by the Christian Church, not by an ever-increasing secular society. We are still in Advent which certainly considers the coming of Christ in the flesh some 2,000 years ago, but not only that first coming of our Lord. In fact, there’s a website that helps people know if it is Christmas yet. You can check it out at isitchristmas.com. It currently gives the two-letter answer, “No.”
It’s ok, though, for families to have their various celebrations. It’s ok for you to have Christmas trees up and to play Christmas music. But it is also good for us to slow down and realize the true reason for the season—that on Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. That is the real Christmas. No matter how rowdy the company may get, how bad the food may turn out, or how unwanted the gifts may be, these disappointments can never impede upon the real joy of the true Christmas. For the true Christmas is observing our Lord’s birth. It is a celebration with our brothers and sisters in Christ as we receive His gifts in Word and Sacrament and sing His praises. And if weather interferes with these celebrations, that still cannot stop us from reading Luke 2 in our homes, singing Christmas carols with our families (or even alone), and meditating on our Lord’s most wondrous birth.
Even as anticipation for the celebration of Christmas is high (especially as children become more anxious to open their gifts), there’s another anticipation that seems to be growing.
“Soon will come that hour When with mighty power Christ will come in splendor And will judgment render.”
You see, in Advent we not only prepare to celebrate our Lord’s birth, but we also prepare to meet the Lord when He comes again on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead.
Many who no longer consider themselves Christian have quit anticipating the return of Jesus. But for those who continue to confess Jesus as Lord, more and more are figuring that we must be living in the End Times. As new diseases arise, wars take place, volcanoes erupt, and immorality is celebrated as something to be proud of, we certainly see some of the signs are being fulfilled to indicate Jesus is returning.
There’s no question that with each advancing day, we are nearing the return of Jesus.
But when will that day be? Our hymn says, “Soon.” Of course, “soon” is a vague term. It could mean right away. It could mean a long time in the future in comparison to eternity.
And that is intentional. God knows when that time will be. He could come back in the near future, or He could come back long into the future. We don’t know. We leave that to Him.
When Jesus returns, it will not be quiet or secret. In Matthew 24, Jesus tells us not to believe those who say, “Look, here is the Christ” or “There He is.” For there are many false prophets who will take on Christ-like qualities, deceiving, if possible, the elect. Jesus declared, “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” His return will be sudden, and it will be noticeable. You won’t need to hear of His return on the news reports. You will know.
But what will His coming be like? I think many are terrified by the thought of our Lord’s return. They envision His return to be one of horror and destruction. But our hymn put it a different way: “Christ will come in splendor.” You see, Jesus is our Savior. He’s not coming to find new ways to hurt people or send them to Hell. He’s coming to set His creation aright. He’s coming to gather into His kingdom all who call upon Him. He’s coming to shepherd His sheep.
And what a joy it will be! On Christmas Eve, we will sing our theme hymn, “Once He Came in Blessing” for a final time this season. We will hear Scripture readings that match each stanza. And the children will sing songs that also match each stanza. They will sing the first two stanzas of “Joy to the World” to match the third stanza of “Once He Came in Blessing.” Why is this most famous and joyous Christmas hymn being paired up with a hymn stanza that speaks of our Lord’s return in glory for judgment? The answer is simple. Did you know that Isaac Watts wrote the hymn to speak of our Lord’s return on Judgment Day? That’s when “heaven and nature” will sing, receiving her King. That’s when “fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains” will repeat the sounding joy.” That’ when “sins and sorrows” will no longer grow, nor will “thorns infest the ground.” It’s fine that we sing the hymn at Christmas, but it was not intended to match the birth of Jesus, but instead sing with great joy the return of Jesus on the Last Day for judgment.
For when Jesus comes in splendor, He “will judgment render.” What judgment will Jesus render to His elect—to those whom He called to be His own and redeemed? Despite our continual sin—despite our rebellion—despite our many temptations, Jesus will render a verdict that does not match our sinful state. Instead, He will acquit us. For He already paid the penalty due for our many sins when He went to the cross.
If someone takes the place of another and pays his penalty, that person is free. Jesus took our place and paid our penalty. That means we are free. Completely free. No sins hanging on to us. No rotten stench or filth to condemn us. No one is left to accuse us.
For Jesus was accused in our place and suffered Hell on the cross so that we can be counted as God’s innocent children.
So God’s judgment for us forgiven Christians is that we are innocent. Our sin is replaced with the righteousness of Christ. Then, when Jesus comes again in the glory, He will receive us into His eternal Kingdom. We will dwell with Him in our risen and perfected human bodies to all eternity.
This judgment of God is absolutely astounding. It is a cause for great joy. And so we sing, “With the faithful sharing Joy beyond comparing.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen