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Words and Sayings of the Season: Joy to the World
Luke 21:27-28


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
First Sunday in Advent—December 2, 2012

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

This morning we begin the season of Advent, the traditional time for preparing to celebrate, at Christmas, Christ’s first coming into the world, as the Babe of Bethlehem.  Today’s Gospel Reading about the end of the world reflects one of the traditional themes of Advent, Christ’s second coming as Judge at the end of all things.

So, it’s an interesting coincidence that last Wednesday NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, took the unprecedented step of issuing an official public disclaimer, debunking the supposed “Mayan Apocalypse” and end of the world that some say will take place this year on December 21st.  NASA said they took this unusual action because all the constant talk and never-ending news stories about the hyped up “Mayan Apocalypse” is extremely frightening to children and other vulnerable people, who may take such tales seriously.  The reason NASA, among all government agencies, issued this warning against the “Mayan Apocalypse” hysteria is because this phony prediction is supposedly based on astronomical phenomena, and NASA is receiving a huge number of worried emails, letters, and phone calls.  A NASA official said, “While this is a joke to some . . . there is a core of people who are truly concerned. . .  some can’t eat, or are too worried to sleep, or even suicidal.”

In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus actually predicts exactly such anguish on earth over the prospect of the end of the world: “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity . . .  men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world.”

As we approach December 21st, you’re going to hear more and more about this supposed “Mayan Apocalypse.”  Based on Scripture, that particular prediction can easily be dismissed as a fake.  As Jesus said explicitly in last Sunday’s Gospel Reading, “No one knows that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  And in Acts he tells the disciples, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”  Like the value of Pi, which is beyond human calculation, it is impossible for anyone, ever to calculate when the end of the world will occur.

“No one knows that day or hour,” not the ancient Mayans, not the charlatans behind the “Mayan Apocalypse” hysteria, not even NASA.   But, even though the hyped up “Mayan Apocalypse” prediction is a meaningless fake, it is true that the end of the world is coming, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel Reading, “At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

Scripture explains that the end of the world will come at the same instant as the second coming of Christ and the final judgment.  Revelation says, “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him.”  Paul warns in Acts, “For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice.” And Peter says, “That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. . . the heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.”  Paul explains in 1st Corinthians that all this will take place, “In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.”

The end of the world could come this year on December 21st.  For, even though the hyped up “Mayan Apocalypse” prediction is itself a meaningless fake, the end of the world is coming.  All the signs given in Scripture have been fulfilled, at least to some extent, and the end of the world could come at any time—before the end of this year, before the end of today, before the end of this service, before the end of this sentence.

We confess in the Nicene Creed, “He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead.”  That is the real reason why the world is so hyped up over the supposed “Mayan Apocalypse.”  That is the real reason why, as Jesus says, “Nations will be in anguish and perplexity . . . men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world.”  The thought of the end of the world causes such anguish and perplexity because we know that we are sinners deserving of damnation.  We are so apprehensive about “what is coming on the world” because we know, as Jesus says, “Men will have to give account on the day of judgment.”

But, in stark contrast to worldly anguish and perplexity and apprehension about what is coming at the end of the world, in today’s Gospel Reading Jesus tells those who trust in him,  “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  In today’s Old Testament Reading, Jeremiah explains the source of this odd attitude Christians have toward the end of the world and the final judgment, when he prophesies the first coming of the Messiah into our world as a descendant of David, and then says declares, “This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.”

At the end of all things when you stand before the Judge, he will declare you not guilty, because he is “The Lord Our Righteousness.”  The Lord Jesus will declare you not guilty, because by his own perfect life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection, he paid for all your sins and made you righteous in God’s sight.   As Paul says in today’s Epistle Reading, “You will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God.”

Therefore, “when these things begin to take place” do not “faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming.”  Instead, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” 

“At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”  For you and all who trust in Christ, his second coming and the end of the world and final judgment is not bad news but Good News.  “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

During Advent this year our sermon series is on “Words and Sayings of the Season,” explaining the Biblical background and meaning of words and sayings that we commonly hear and say ourselves at this time of year.  We begin this morning with the phrase “Joy to the World,” which is so familiar to us because of the famous hymn by that name, which we will be singing today during Communion.

You may think it’s odd to sing “Joy to the World” already on the first Sunday in Advent.  There is always some question among pastors and church members about when we should start singing Christmas hymns in our worship.  Technically, the Christmas season doesn’t start until 6:00pm on December 24th, and continues through the traditional 12 days of Christmas until Epiphany on January 6th.  So, in some churches it is customary not to sing anything but Advent hymns during almost all of December.

But, this distinction between Advent and Christmas hymns is fluid and somewhat arbitrary.  An example is today’s sermon hymn, Martin Luther’s “Savior of the Nations, Come.”  In the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnbook of 1927 it was listed as an Advent hymn.  But, The Lutheran Hymnal of 1941 changed it to the Christmas category, where it stayed for over 40 years.  Then the Lutheran Worship hymnal in 1982 switched it back to Advent, where it remains in our current Lutheran Service Book.

Another example is the hymn “Joy to the World.”  Certainly most people would consider this to be one of the quintessential Christmas carols. In fact, it is listed as the most-published and recorded Christmas hymn in the world.  But, the irony is that when the famous hymn writer Isaac Watts wrote “Joy to the World” in 1719, he did not intend it to have anything to do with Christmas.  “Joy to the World” was not written as a Christmas carol, to commemorate Christ’s first coming into our world as the Babe of Bethlehem, which we celebrate at Christmastime.  When we sing “Joy to the World” during Communion today you will notice that it doesn’t mention anything about the Christ child, or Bethlehem, or the manger, or angels, or shepherds, or any the familiar Christmas themes. 

That’s because the title that Isaac Watts himself gave this hymn was “The Messiah’s Second Coming and Kingdom.”  And, that’s what this beloved Christmas carol really is all about, not Christ’s first coming into our world at Christmas, but his second coming, his triumphant return at the last day. Watts based this hymn on Psalm 98, which we used as today’s Introit: “Let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.”  So, actually “Joy to the World” would probably be better classified as an Advent hymn, since Christ’s second coming and final judgment at the end of the world is one of the traditional themes Advent. 

“When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  Peter says rather than being frightened by the prospect of the end of the world, those who trust in Christ actually “look forward to the day of God.”  That is why we sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King!”   Not only to celebrate Christ’s first coming into our world as the Babe of Bethlehem, but also in joyful anticipation of his second coming at the last day.

As we approach December 21st you are going to hear more and more about the supposed “Mayan Apocalypse.”  Remember that the hymn “Joy to the World” which you hear and sing so much this time of year is really a hymn of joy looking forward to Christ’s second coming.  Not with anguish, and perplexity, and apprehension, like the world, but looking forward to that day with joy.  Because, Christ’s first coming into our world as the Babe of Bethlehem, means that at his second coming at the end of all things you and all who trust in him for salvation will be filled with everlasting joy.  “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Amen.

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