Coming In A Cloud
It’s starting. Facebook is ramping up. I’m beginning to see the annual posts of “Put Christ back in Christmas” and “It’s Merry Christmas, not Happy Holidays.” For most of these folks, I fear that may be the actual depth and knowledge of what Christmas, or Advent means. To many people, this is just one big birthday party where the guest of honor, the Birthday Boy, doesn’t get any presents. It’s a holiday where we celebrate the birth of our Savior with a new big screen television. When these people think of Christmas, they think of a baby in a manger, not a full-grown man coming down to earth in a cloud.
I’ll admit, that like many of you who attend church regular, my knowledge of Advent may be limited, and not what we envision when we think of the Christmas Story. I mean, the Christmas story is great, but how many of us really know the birth of Christ was just the catalyst that got the whole ball rolling that set us on the path to eternal life?
The word Advent derives from the Latin “adventus” which means “coming.” The Advent season proclaims the coming of Christ, whose birth we prepare to celebrate once again, who comes continually in Word and Spirit, and whose return in final victory we anticipate. Celebrating Christ’s birth each year is a reminder to us that salvation is in play and that one-day Christ will return as He promised. Each year Advent calls the community of faith to prepare for these comings. The first Sunday of Advent is Christ’s coming in final victory. We’re called to prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ as others are out there with their iPhones comparing prices and trying to score the best deal possible on the must-have item of the year.
So that’s what we celebrate. We celebrate the pieces falling into place. The first piece was the birth of Jesus Christ with the next piece being the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. The prophet Jeremiah foretold this 600 years before the birth of Christ in Jeremiah 33: 14-16: The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness. These verses refer to both the first and second comings of Christ. At his first coming he would set up his reign in the hearts of believers. This is the righteous branch that sprouts from David’s line as Jesus’ genealogy traces back to King David. At his second coming he will execute justice and righteousness throughout the whole earth, saving Judah and allowing Jerusalem to live in safety.
This is where we find ourselves in our scripture reading for today. Jesus is well into his ministry and is explaining to his disciples what is about to happen and what to expect upon his return. He tells them there will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On earth, the nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Think about that for a minute. The nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Sound familiar? I’m certainly not a meteorologist, but this seems to be a record year for hurricanes and typhoons. And look at all the debate about global warming. It would be fair to say that nations are anguished by these natural disasters and the experts are perplexed and in hot debate about climate change. Jesus says, Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. Again, I’m not trying to second guess God on when Jesus will return by putting my own spin on what I see on the evening news, but I don’t think there’s much question that people are frightened and wonder what is becoming of our world. Jesus says: At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. You can imagine what is running through the minds of the disciples at this point. They have to be scared to death. The man who came to earth to save the world and who promised them eternal life is describing things they can’t begin to get their heads around. But he reassures them and us that when we begin to see these things take place, to stand up and lift our heads because the day we’ve been waiting and hoping for is getting close. You should be excited, not scared. Jesus is telling us that we have nothing to worry about as the promise is being fulfilled.
Jesus then tells them a parable where he tells them to look at the fig tree and all the other trees. He reminds them that when they see the trees sprout leaves you know summer is near. So, he tells them, that when they see the things he as described happening they will know that the kingdom of God is near. Jesus tells them that this generation (or race) will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. He assures them that heaven and earth may pass away, but his words will never pass away.
He tells them to be careful or their hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. What he’s telling us is that life is tough but not to let it get us down. Keep our eyes on the prize, the promise of his kingdom on earth and eternal life. The day will come upon everyone who lives on the face of the whole earth, so always be on watch and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you will be able, on that day, to stand before the Son of Man.
This picture of the coming persecutions and natural disasters is gloomy, but ultimately it is a cause not for worry, but for great joy. We must remember that Jesus Christ, and his triumphant return, is our hope for the world. So, when believers see these events happening, they will know that the return of their Messiah is near, and they can look forward to his reign of justice and peace. Rather than being terrified by what is happening in our world, we should confidently await Christ’s return to bring justice and restoration to his people.
So while others are celebrating the great deal they got on the latest technology that will be out-of-date sometime before the Fourth of July, we will wish Jesus happy birthday and celebrate his birth firm in the knowledge that he is one step closer to returning as we keep our heads up with our eyes focused on the sky looking for the man coming in the cloud.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and loving God, how grateful we are for the gift of your Son Jesus Christ, and for all he has done for us and all he means to us. What comfort we take when the storms of life are raging, and the world is tossing us about like a ship on the sea that your Son, our brother, stands beside us. How reassuring it is that in the midst of tribulation and persecutions and, in spite of our faults and failures that our Savior, Jesus Christ, stands by us. With your unconditional love to comfort us and assuage our fears, we can keep our heads up and live our lives in confidence, confident that you are in control and that our future is secure, secure with you in eternity. In the name of your most loving and precious son, Jesus Christ, we pray, Amen.