The New Year
Today the New Year of the Church begins. We always start where we ended up, with the coming of Jesus. We ended with the Second Coming of Jesus to judge. We begin with First Coming of Jesus to save. We look at both the First and the Second Coming of Jesus from the perspective of Him coming to us today in Word and Sacraments. Today we ask what does the New Year look like in the light of the Jesus who came, comes, and will come again?
Well, the New Year is bleak for the world because Jesus comes to it as judge. He came the first time as a meek, lowly, baby to a poor family in Bethlehem. He came bearing the sins of the world, but the world wanted nothing to do with Him, so now He's coming as judge. Jesus' returning shakes things up. It's like in the movie Jurassic Park; you can tell Tyrannosaurus Rex is on the way because the ground begins to shake. The signs that Jesus is on the way occur in sun, moon, and stars. We talked about solar and lunar eclipses as well as shooting stars and supernovas a few weeks ago. These are the signs in heaven that Jesus is on the way. The signs on earth are “nations in anguish and perplexity at the roaring of the sea and men fainting from terror and apprehension at what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”
This is what the world has to look forward to in the New Year. Things will not get better and better for it. O there may be bright spots here and there. Men definitely think there are. They land on the moon, transplant the first heart, clone a sheep, map the human genome and think they have conquered death, defeated the devil, and overcame sin. But they have achieved none of these things, so sin, death and the devil continue to creep up on them, to corrupt them, until the Master of the House, the King of Creation returns to put sin, death and the devil in their rightful place and the men who rejected Him in their place.
And the approach of Him who will melt the sun, moon, and stars in fervent heat, the approach of Him who will burn up the earth and the works in it, the approach of Him from whose presence the earth, heaven and sea will flee, the approach of Him before whom the hearts and minds of all men are laid bear, sends all creation into distress, anguish, panic even. Just as the tied up goat in Jurassic Park jumps, kicks, strains, and struggles to get away from the approaching Tyrannosaurus Rex, so fallen men and creation itself struggle at the approach of Judge Jesus.
That's all this fallen world has to look forward to. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” is not just a prediction of Jesus it's a promise. We are not in some cosmic video game where we have the possibility of doing well enough at this level to reach the next. No, this can only end in judgement for this fallen world, and for those sitting on it. That's what Jesus literally says. The Last Day that He ushers in when He steps from behind the veil of eternity will trap not all those who “live” on the face of the whole earth, but “all those who sit on the face of the whole earth.”
What a graphic picture. If you're sitting on the ground, you can feel the rumbling of an approaching freight train. Those who sit on the face of this earth, those who make this earth their home, those who have their hopes and dreams tied to this earth, feel the creation tremble and shake as it senses the approaching Judge of all. The trembling of the earth is transmitted to those sitting on the ground. The undoing of the created order is a heavy burden to deal with, so men try not to face it. That's why Jesus says the temptation in a world where heaven and earth are passing away is for hearts to be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life. The future is so bleak for this fallen world that men try to party it way, drink it away, worry it away, sleep it away, prosper it away, deny it away.
We are in danger of being caught up in their carousing, drunkenness, and anxieties, so Jesus who is present among us right now in Word and Sacrament calls to us, “Come out from them! Don't get sucked down with the world around you.” The world, yea all creation, every man, woman, and child outside of Christ, and everything they have built, is nothing more than a sinking ship. You know when a large ship goes down it creates a whirlpool that will suck anyone nearby down. “Get away! Get away! Cries Jesus to you today. The world is sinking, and you'll go down with it if you too are found sitting on the earth.”
And you will be found sitting if what I've just told you weighs you down. When you're under a heavy burden what do you do? You sit down as often as you can. If the picture I've painted of the future of the world in this New Year weighs you down, it's because you're tied to this world. But dear Christian you were untied from this world the first time your Jesus came for you. Why did Jesus come the first time? Why did God the Son take on flesh for you? Why did He willingly take on the heavy, holy demands of God's Law as a Man? Why did this Man who is God willingly take on the punishments, the penalties, the pain required of sinners who break God's Laws? To save you for a world that ends or to save you for a world without end? Did He or did He not by His holy precious blood and by His innocent suffering and death cut the chains of the devil, the world, and the fallen flesh that had you chained to them in miserable bondage?
Your future hopes, your present dreams, your day to day life is not tied to your fallen flesh, so seeing it age, decay, disease and die is not the end of your world. Your hopes, your dreams, your daily life is tied to the resurrection of the dead which Jesus brought about in His person the first time He came. Jesus never taught you to live as if this fallen flesh was your permanent home. Indeed, He taught you to regard it as a tent that will get old and worn, as a seed that must die, as dust that must return to dust. He taught you instead that you have a building from God, not made with hands eternal in the heavens; that you're dying seed will give way to a beautiful permanent plant; that from the dust that is your body the Lord will resurrect a new body made like His glorious resurrected one.
The Lord Jesus came the first time to untie you from a fallen flesh that is dying; likewise, He came the first time to untie you from a fallen world, ruled by Satan, dominated by sin. That's why when you see, when you hear, when you feel, the anguish, the perplexity, the terror of the world and the men tied to it, Jesus says rather than sit you can stand, rather than bow your head you can lift it up, because while the approaching of Jesus means the world's final destruction is drawing near, His approach means your redemption is. Jesus' approach means all those outside of Him are about to be sent to hell to be chained and tortured there forever (No wonder they're anxious and weighed down by every thud of His approaching feet!), but Jesus' approach means you are about to be set free.
If you're on death row, the approach of the guard on your last day can't be a good thing. Every sound, every movement, every thing that indicates his approach can only bring terror to your heart, but if you're on death row and have been pardoned, every sound, movent, and thing that indicates the guard's approach brings sweet joy to your heart.
As you see the shaking of every created thing, as men become unnerved around you, you will marvel at the fact that it's different for you. People say this to me all the time in crisis. I mean in big, serious, painful crises they say, “What in the world do people without Christ do in times like these?” It's when the world as we know it passes away, that the permanence of the world without end which is governed by God's eternal Word becomes real to us. So, though the New Year may bring us tragedy, disaster, suffering and turmoil, these will show us that God's Words be they tied to the Waters of Baptism, the Bread and Wine of Communion, or to the mouth of a man, are firm, certain and sure. So our New Year is bright with the promise of life in the face of death, of forgiveness in the face of sins, of a new world without end in the face of an ending world.
Ah, but how can I be so sure that weak, struggling, sinners like us will not be found sitting on the earth in this New Year and so be shaken and upset by every hiccup of the earth as she meets her Maker? Jesus makes a distinction in the last paragraph of this text between “all those who sit on the face of the whole earth” and His watching, praying disciples who are enabled to stand before the Son of Man.
The word for pray is “beg;” you beg for that which you desperately need and can in no way provide for yourself. Left to ourselves we will park our behinds firmly on the earth and so pitch and roll with it as the storms strike that indicate the approaching Christ. This will lead to despairing which leads to dissipation and drunkenness and the last day catching us like a trap. So we beg Jesus to enable us to escape all that is about to happen. We beg Him to cut our ties, our ropes, our chains. We beg Him to show us in our Baptism that we've died with Him to this world, to make our Absolution mean more to us than the nightly news, to make the Flesh and Blood of Christ in Communion more vivid then our decaying flesh and blood.
Through these means of grace our Lord will make us to stand before the Son of Man in this New Year. I am so sure of this because Jesus here commands us to beg Him to make us stand before Him. Whatever Jesus commands us to ask, let alone beg, Him for He most certainly gives. So stand you have, stand you do, and stand you will in all the New Years to come till you stand before Jesus in the new heaven and the new earth. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
First Sunday in Advent (11-30-03), Luke 21: 25-36