Your Redemption Draws Near
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Each year, the Season of Advent brings to our attention the comings of our Lord Jesus Christ—comings, in the plural; for there are more than one. His first coming was to Bethlehem, lowly and humble, to live for us and then to die for us, to redeem us from sin, death, and hell. He continues coming to us also now, in those means He has given us, His Word and Sacraments, a coming every bit as real though shrouded in mystery that only faith can penetrate. And He will come again to judge the living and the dead. That coming is called by different names; the Day of Judgment, the Day of the Lord, the Fulfillment, the Last Day, and others.
As the Church prepares for our yearly return to the manger to greet the Christ who came to save us from our sins, once again the lectionary takes us to days leading up to that last day, the day when Son of Man will return in glory. Jesus speaks of signs in the heavens and on earth. There are cosmic signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On earth there is political perplexity in nations caught in distress. The ocean waves roar in rebellion. Indeed we see the agony of a collapsing world as the creation itself which was subjected to futility by human sin groans under the stress and strain of the last days. The natural world—stars, earth, and the seas—experience the "wrath of God which is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness" as Paul says in Romans 1. Creation itself calls us to account, leaving no one with an excuse before Almighty God.
God makes His power and His unfailing judgments manifest in the maneuverings of creation, making it absolutely clear that our trust is misplaced if it is put in any created object. Thus our Lord moves from the groaning of the heavens and the earth to the anxieties that overtake the human heart. He speaks of "men's hearts failing them from the fear and expectation of those things which are coming on earth, for the powers of heaven will be shaken."
Someone has said that when people cease fearing God, they become afraid of everything else. Such is the fear we see today. Sinful human hearts will always find something to be afraid of. But behind all of these fears lies the fear of judgment, the fear of God's judgment. For unbelievers, the prospect of our Lord's return is greeted not with joy but with fear. Indeed as the Book of Hebrews says "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Week after week, we confess in the Creed that our Lord will come again to judge the living and the dead. For unbelievers, those who live their lives in rejection of the Son of Mary who was born to be our Savior, the thought of Christ's return is the cause of terror. And their fear is justified.
Jesus says "Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory." For unbelievers this will be a most unwelcome sight. For them, the Lord's return will be the consummation of the law. The time for repentance will be over and they will face the reality of hell.
When the high priest questioned Jesus asking Him "Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" the Lord answered Him "I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven." Upon hearing those words, the high priest tore his clothing in protest of what he concluded to be blasphemy. To Caiaphas it was utter blasphemy that Jesus would identify Himself this way; for with these words Jesus was stating that He was God. Jesus is clearly demonstrating that He is the one spoken of by the Prophet Daniel in the Old Testament when he wrote "And behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed." The sight that Caiaphas could not bear to imagine is the sight that will be revealed on the Last Day—much to the eternal regret of all who have lived as enemies of Christ. On the other hand, those who have received this Lord by faith will greet His second advent as the consummation of the Gospel. The One who returns with the clouds of heaven is the Son of Man who was crucified for us.
The agony of a dying world points us to the Crucified Son of Man who will return as our Judge and Savior. So Jesus says "Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near." These signs, of course, have been present ever since the coming of our Lord in the flesh. With His coming in the flesh, the Lord has brought the kingdom of God near to all people. We live in that kingdom now by faith, and we will receive the full fruits of this kingdom in the resurrection of our bodies to life everlasting. So we do not shake in cowardice nor are we bent over in fear; instead we lift up our heads in eager expectation of our Savior's return. We are not waiting on a millennial golden age of tranquility and peace undisturbed by the assaults of Satan on this earth. Unbelief and unbelievers will continue right up to the return of the Lord who will come as a thief in the night at an hour when men do not expect Him.
We wait in hope with uplifted heads and hearts for we have the sure and certain promises of our Savior. He has given us His Word which will by no means pass away but will continue to create faith in the hearts of those who hear it. He has given us His body to eat and His blood to drink as the testament of the salvation which He won for us on the cross. And every time we eat His body and drink His blood, we proclaim His death until He comes. So the Divine Service echoes Jesus' words "Lift up your heads for your redemption draws near" with the words of the communion liturgy "Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord." We lift up our hearts and heads for our redemption does draw near whenever we receive the body and blood of our Savior that is given to us for the remission of sins and the strengthening of our faith—and that faith waits with patience and confidence, with heads and hearts uplifted to the Lord. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.