"And 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. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads because your redemption is drawing near.”
And he told them a parable: “‘Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away’” (Luke 21:25-33).
Martin Luther was once asked what he’d do if he knew the world was ending tomorrow. He said he’d plant a tree. Great reply, right? Too bad he probably never said it. It’s still a great line, though.
What would you do if you knew the world was ending tomorrow? It’s the stuff of novels, movies, and songs. What would you do if the world was ending tomorrow?
I don’t know if the world is ending tomorrow, but the world is ending. It has been ending. It always will be ending until it ends. Then I will end, you will end, and everything will end.
Winter is here. You can feel it deep in your bones. We haven’t had the first big snow yet, but winter is here. When I’m not riding my bike in the cold, I am driving an old S-10 my wife recently bought, made in the year I graduated college. It has no heat. Sometimes I get on the bike to warm up.
We knew winter was coming, even though fall teased us this year. Winter came late, but we knew it was coming. All the signs were there, and in the Midwest, we know the signs well. And now winter is here, making our faces hurt when we go outside.
The absolution is always the last thing, even as it is also our beginning.
My youngest son and I took the train to see my oldest son at college a few weeks ago. We went to a football game. They had just gotten the snow we’re still awaiting – and a lot of it. It was freezing. We had on our layers: hand and toe warmers, hats and gloves.
One of my son’s friends joined us. As an international student, this is his first Midwestern winter. And this wintry Saturday was the day he picked for his first college football experience. He threw on a spring jacket – no hat, no gloves.
My son, dressed like he was ready to rob a Siberian bank, told his friends to grab more layers but to no avail. I convinced him to take some hand warmers on the way to the stadium. Hopefully, they helped ease the coming purgatory a little.
He and my sons went off to the student section. I got reports of serious shivering at halftime, very serious shivering. Thankfully, he survived. He toughed it out. He made it, but he learned about winter the hard way.
We don’t need to learn about the Last Day like that. It need not sneak up on us. This isn’t our first snow, our first day below freezing. We know all the signs. Even more, the Last Day has already been done to us. We’ve been there and done that. We don’t have to wait to be judged. We’ve been judged already. We’ve been judged and found mercy. We’ve been clothed for the season. We’ve put on Christ. We are baptized.
Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” God’s Word is always the last word, and this Word is a word of grace. The absolution is always the last thing, even as it is also our beginning.
Our team lost that football game. It lost in gut-wrenching fashion, as my favorite teams tend to do. We sat in snow, in near-zero temperatures, with twenty mile-per-hour winds, through two overtimes. We left cold and disappointed. Had they won, I don’t think the cold would have had much bite at all. Victory can do that—victory and hot chocolate.
By his first Advent in the flesh, through his second Advent with bread and wine and water and Word, we await his third Advent at the end.
The Last Day is coming, but for you, it’s already come. Christ has won. Winter is here, as it is every year. It’s cold, and soon it will be snowy, but that cold need not bite too much. There’s no overtime. The victory is ours. Our time is complete. And now there’s just waiting, layered up with the love of Christ and his mercy, for our neighbor and for us.
Jesus said, “Your redemption is drawing near,” and it is, but it’s also already accomplished. It’s done, even as it is coming, in Christ our yesterday, today, and forever.
What would you do if you knew the world was ending tomorrow? That’s up to you, but there’s no reason not to plant a tree. You can live like you’d live any other day because every day for you is a day in the light of that last day, with his kingdom ever near in Word and Sacrament.
By his first Advent in the flesh, through his second Advent with bread and wine and water and Word, we await his third Advent at the end, which is really just the beginning, made ready through his always final word to receive what is already accomplished. Amen.