Whit’s End: Raise Your Heads…

Luke 21.25???36

25???There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ???the Son of Man coming in a cloud??? with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.???

29Then he told them a parable: ???Look at the fig tree and all the trees;30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34???Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.???

What do you do with a scripture like this?  You’ve come here this morning to a church that is observing Advent, a season that teaches us about the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, beginning with his miraculous birth and leading us into an understanding of his miraculous life.  So yes, it is strange when the preacher gets up and reads a text that tells you that the sun, moon, and stars along with the whole earth will experience great pain and distress, with world-wide confusion and people passing out from their fear of catastrophic events.  Or is it so strange?  The real question for us is what is this season we’ve entered really all about?

We read this text in Luke because for the Christian it should never be far from one’s mind that Jesus Christ is around the corner, waiting to return; he’s not haunting us like some apocalyptic movie or TV show but rather desiring to be close to each of our hearts because it is Jesus, our redemption (v.28) that is drawing near with each and every rising and setting sun.  Every day is a day closer to the coming of Christ.  I don’t say this to be poetic, explaining away why Jesus has not come back any sooner than the Bible has made it seem, and I’m not a fanatic who is trying to convince you that we’re in the final hours (or are we?).  What the world must come to terms with is that the kingdom of God is already here, that the presence and ministry of Jesus is alive and well, working for the glory of God through the Church.  

Jesus is coming to claim all that is his ??? a creation cursed, a people lost, and redemption awaits his final return. As Paul says, 

“22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now;  23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8.22???23).  

The redemption Paul refers to is the full salvation that takes place at Jesus’ final return, when we all will put on the imperishable body, the glorious body that Peter, James, and John witnessed in Matthew 17 when Jesus was transfigured.  It is the mystery of faith that we proclaim in our Communion liturgy, “Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again.”  

And this is the “again”, when the universe will shake and tremble and become unnerved and then we will see Christ coming in the clouds, our King and our Salvation drawing near.  That is why the Scripture encourages to raise our heads, because when all that we think is reliable becomes unreliable, it is Jesus Christ whom we can place our hope and trust in.  When governments topple, when food is short-handed, when money is depleting, when leaders fail us, it is Jesus that we can trust.  God is unwavering and we stand on the promises of Christ our king because it is in Him and ONLY Him that we can have any hope of anything real and eternal.  

What you see around you ??? from the ground you stand on to the skin that covers your body ??? is temporary.  But when the immortal comes, when the everlasting arrives, we must be prepared.  Each of us must be found ready.  This is why we must keep watch, why we must never forget the nearness of God, because some will raise their heads and see their redemption.  But there are others.  There are those who will not be able to raise their heads; they will mourn and weep because what draws near is not their redemption but their judgment.  For those not ready, for those not watching, Jesus will indeed come like a thief in the night.  A warning to those who are not ready for the coming of the Lord.  The time is now; your chance is here, prepared for you by our Lord if you would come and receive it.

Even as we look to the Christ-child, to the baby who lies in the manger asleep on the hay, we must see in that face, in that child both the redemption of those who trust in him and the judgment of those who seek another way.  If there are those in your life who do not put their trust in Jesus as Lord, then do not pray for the Lord’s return soon until you have shared God’s love with them and helped them see that He is calling out to them.  I will be frank with you: we live in uncertain and “interesting” times.  There have been worse times and there have been better times.

God’s desire NOW is to re-connect, re-establish, and re-kindle a relationship that we were meant to have from the very beginning.  There is no joy in the heart of God in judging those that he created for a loving relationship.  As Ezekiel 18.24 says, 

“Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live?” 

and again in Ezekiel 33.11

“Say to them, As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways???”.  

No one rejoices at the loss of a child, therefore God in his mercy and grace does not rejoice in the demise of sinful persons, but only rejoices in their repentance and in their home???coming.  Call to mind the lesson of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15.  The father threw a party when the sinful son returned home.

Shine during this season of light.  Your witness to the true meaning of Christmas can be what makes this season come to l
ife for so many.  Tell the world that the King has come and that He is coming again!  Make your hearts ripe for preparing the way!  Raise your head, people of God, and see your redemption drawing near!  Amen.
***

Rev. Whit R. Martin
Pastor, New Liberty United Methodist Church

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