Populus Zion, the Second Sunday of Advent
Song of Solomon 2:8-14
esus has one message for you: Look up! Lift up your heads! Be courageous! Things will get worse before they get better, but they will get better because your Redemption draws near!
This means today, and really the entire season of Advent one of longing. It was expressed in all three of the Readings. The lovers in the Song of Solomon spoke of their excitement at the appearance of one another and of spring that would soon give way to summer. Paul wrote to the Romans about the coming day when there would no longer be a distinction between Jew and Gentile. But Jesus captured it best: The end of all things is at hand: see the buds on the tree and know that soon the leaves will burst forth and the winter of our sin will take flight.
But to us who are sinking into the longer hours of darkness and the cold gray death of winter, that is, the increasing signs of the world and failing of our hearts, our ability to wait much longer for Christ’s return is diminishing. Because we hear Jesus’ Words of promise, not of fear, that He, our Redemption, is drawing near. Like the faithful Jews of old longing for the birth of the Messiah, we cannot do this anymore. An end needs to come so we are relieved by the Lord’s appearing. It is as you sang a moment ago: “When will You come with comfort strong? Wen will our hearts behold Your dawn?” We see the signs in the sun, moon, and stars. We see the nations gripped by fear. We feel the perplexity, the anxiety caused by a lack of necessary good. We who believe what Scripture says and dare to confess it know what it is to be attacked by the militant soldiers of the devil, the prince of his world. We are tempted to question God, to ask if He has forgotten us, if He will leave us with signs forever and no action on His part. We are tempted into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Our hearts of faith are trembling and feel like they will fail us.
But today Jesus has come to you with comfort strong. The trees are in full bloom. The winter of tour sin, long and dark, is flying because of His dawning. of Jesus, the Light of the World, is on the horizon. Look up! Lift up your heads! Despair no longer, fear no longer, doubt no longer. The impending celebration of Christmas is a reminder that the day is quickly coming when Christmas will no longer be a foreshadowing of what is to come because Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead, to raise the dead from their graves, to send the faithless into endless torment in the fires of hell and the faithful to the endless bliss of heaven. Today Millie was added to that number. Her name is now written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Because she is Baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, she has nothing to fear in these gray and latter days.
Nor do you, you Baptized children of God. Remember those other words of Jesus. He will cut this evil day short so you, His elect, do not fall away. He is calling you to live in repentance and in hope.
Things certainly do look bleak and foreboding, but it is merely the beginning of the joy to come. As painful as labor is, it is a precursor to the joy that the long-expected child is about to be born and loved by its family. That is what today is for you. Look at the signs but know that the signs will soon give way to the thing they point to. Soon the signs will end, the death throes of this world will cease, and Jesus will appear to remove you from the evil days by taking you to Himself in heaven. So look up! Lift up your heads! Be courageous! your Redemption draws near!
Things always seem their worst just before God redeems His people.
Adam and Eve cowered in fear. They hid themselves thinking they were dead. They felt that everything was now drastically different after they sinned. They knew what evil was. They knew that death was their lot. So they hid themselves. They tried to make coverings for their shame, but could not succeed. But God came to them in their fear and promised a Savior from sin and death, and promised the devil a swift blow of eternal destruction.
Scary things are going on and will only increase. But don’t be afraid! Be excited! That is today’s Gospel in a nutshell. The return of Christ is imminent. Just like the buds on the fig tree, ready to burst open with flowers that give way to fruit, are a sign of the impending rebirth of spring and summer and the happiness of those seasons, so are the signs today. We see all around us distress of nations, wars and rumors of wars, disease, famine, rampant false doctrine, abounding lawlessness, and the love of many growing cold (Mt. 24:9-12). Maybe it’s been said to you, or maybe you’ve said it yourself: it wasn’t this bad when you were younger. The world really is getting worse by the day. As bad as these things may be, as evil as they make these days, all of these signs are a 70-degree day in early March. Just like that unseasonably warm day in March reminds you that soon you can put away sweaters and open your windows and smell the flowers in bloom, so do these signs tell you that better things are coming. Soon wars will cease and peace will reign. Soon diseases and famines will be a thing of the past as everyone sits at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom. Soon false doctrine and false prophets and false christs will no longer plague the faithful but will spend eternity in the flames prepared for the devil and his angels. Soon Christ will rend the heavens wide, coming to unbar the way to heaven’s crown. Look up and lift up your heads because your Redemption draws near!
The prayer of advent is “Stir up our hearts, O Lord.” Three of the four Sundays in Advent have that phrase as the opening of the Collect. What does it mean to be stirred up? It might come across as “make us excited for.” These collects in their original Latin begin with the word excita, so that seems natural. In Latin, excita means rouse or awaken. But the English Church has translated this as “stir up.” So, what exactly does “stir up” mean? As Merriam-Webster defines it, “stir up” means to cause something, usually something unpleasant, to happen. That’s a different take on the season, isn’t it? In Advent we pray that the Lord would cause something unpleasant to happen to our hearts. Now, that unpleasantness is understood from a fleshly standpoint. We ask God to make us uncomfortable with the status quo, to make us eager for a completely different situation.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.