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The Countdown Continues
2 Peter 3:8-9


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
First Sunday in Advent—November 30, 2008

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

It seems that every year the COMMERCIAL observance of Christmas begins earlier and earlier.  This year, I noticed several local stores already starting to put out their Christmas items in for sale in July!  You know, it doesn’t even seem unusual anymore that all the Christmas stuff is on display long before Thanksgiving and even before Halloween.

But, BEFORE the celebration of Christmas there actually comes another, separate holiday season, which these days we tend to overlook: Advent.  Traditionally, Advent is not so much a celebration of Christ’s birth, but a season of repentance and spiritual meditation, leading up to the celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas, just as Lent is a time to spiritually prepare for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection at Easter.

Not that many years ago, the separation between Advent and Christmas was kept very distinct.  This older custom is reflected in the Scripture readings appointed for our worship during Advent.  It may seem odd that while the world is already saying “Merry Christmas” and singing “Silent Night,” the Scripture readings in our services have nothing to do with the birth of Christ for most of December.  Instead, the appointed readings focus on the OTHER, traditional emphases of the Advent season: repentance, contemplation of our sins, and preparing ourselves, not only to celebrate Christ’s first coming in his birth at Bethlehem, but also preparing ourselves to receive him in faith at his Second Coming on the Last Day.  Based on today’s Scripture readings, we begin the Advent season this morning by looking at Christ’s Second Coming.

One researcher has documented that since the year 2000 there have been nearly 100 well publicized predictions by various preachers, authors, and religious leaders giving dates that have come and gone for the end of the world.  And there are already a half-dozen predictions that the end of the world will come in the New Year of 2009.  For example, back in 1999, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell predicted that the end of the world would happen ten years later, in January, 2009.

Of course, Jesus himself says: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority”; “No one knows that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven . . .”; “If anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will appear. . .”; “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.  For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” 

But, despite these explicit words from Christ himself, there are still those who claim to be followers—even ministers—of Christ, yet also claim, in plain contradiction to Christ’s own words, to somehow know when his Second Coming and the end of the world will occur. 

St. Peter says in today’s Epistle Reading, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”  So, all these predictions mean nothing from the perspective of Scripture, or the perspective of God.  “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”

Now, does all that I’ve said mean that the Lutheran Church DENIES that the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world will occur, or that it COULD happen sometime in the near future?  Don’t Lutherans take seriously what the Bible says about the end times?

Already 500 years ago the Lutheran Church confessed in the Augsburg Confession: “It is also taught among us that our Lord Jesus Christ will return on the Last Day for judgment . . .”  Every week in our worship the Lutheran Church confesses in the Creeds: “He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.”  Martin Luther wrote in the Small Catechism: “On the Last Day he will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.” 

Yes, we take the Bible seriously when it says that Christ is coming again.  Yes, we take the Bible seriously when it says that heaven and earth will pass away.  But, we also take the Bible seriously when it says, “No one knows that day or hour”; “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority”; “If anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.”

The fact is, already nearly 2,000 years ago the Apostle St. John wrote, “This is the last hour.”  St. James said, “The Judge is standing at the door!”; “The Lord’s coming is near.”  St. Paul said in Romans, “The day is almost here.”  St. Peter said, “The end of all things is at hand.” 

“With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”  The Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world could come at any time.  That is why Jesus says, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”  We should ALWAYS be prepared for our Lord’s coming.  It could happen at any time. 

And St. Peter tells us THE way to prepare for Christ’s Second Coming and the final judgment: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  That is how to prepare for the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world: “Repent and believe the Gospel.” 

Jesus said, “When these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  Trust in Christ as your Savior, and then the prospect of his coming is not fearful but joyful.  As St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “You will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  On account of his sacrifice, your sins are all forgiven.  And so Christ is not coming to punish you and cast you into hell, but he is coming to absolve you and welcome into heaven.  As Hebrews says, “He will appear a second time . . . to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

And so, what is the real significance of the start today of another Advent season, the approach of another New Year, or any of the dates for which someone has predicted the end of the world?  Simply this: “The Countdown Continues.”  We know when the countdown BEGAN, with Christ’s first coming, his birth at Bethlehem, which was the beginning of the period the Bible calls the “last days.”  But, we do NOT know when the countdown will END. 

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”

I close with the last two verses of the Bible: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”

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