“Hiding in Christ,” First Advent – November 29th, 2009
First Advent – November 29th 2009
Jer. 33:14-16 Psalm 25:1-10 1Thess 3: 9-13 Luke 21: 25-36
Hiding in Christ
Just a few weeks ago on November 9th we celebrated the falling down of the Berlin Wall. Now if you had experienced it in Berlin, you too may never have thought it possible. It was an atrocity. It went right between a nunnery and its cemetery, where the sisters were buried, so that the nuns could not visit the graves of their own departed. The wall went right through the front door of a church, sealing it off and making it appear as if it were gagged by the wall, to stop the proclamation of the Gospel. When I was ordained in Berlin some of my relatives were on one side of the wall and some on the other, not allowed to attend. What an atrocity! It could have stood there for another thousand years, with its no man’s land, land mines and tank-stoppers, police dogs on wires, watch towers and check points. Many were shot trying to cross it. But suddenly it came down.
We also have little hope that the Kingdom of God will come, just like it seemed impossible for the Berlin Wall to come down. But Jesus started his ministry proclaiming that the Kingdom was near, it was at hand and today on the First Advent, we consider the in-breaking of the Kingdom, the coming of the Son of Man, the Lord of Righteousness, Jesus Christ, to judge the living and the dead. If we keep thinking it impossible, then it will catch us like a trap – but if we check out the signs, we can avoid falling into a trap.
I remember as a boy, we would dig a hole in the yard, maybe a foot and a half deep. We would stick branches up near the top, put newspapers on top of them, and then cover it with an inch of dirt. You had to be careful that you left no sign of it. You had to spread the dirt on top so that t looked just like all the other dirt around it. Then you got your sister, who unsuspecting, walked on it, fell in, and you laughed and laughed.
That was child’s play, of course, but it is no child’s play when soldiers try to eagle-eye their road ahead and see a trip wire, the sure sign of an I.E.D., an improvised explosive device, that they have to defuse so that it does not blow them up.
The fig tree here in our lesson stands for Israel or other nations, such as our nation, and trying to see the signs of the times. Are we a tree planted by the rivers of water, do we bear our fruit in due season, and are our leaves green so that they do not wither? Are we a tree that bears good fruit or a tree that bears evil fruit – or a tree that disappoints Jesus by a lack of fruit?
Now in those days the nation and the person or individual were considered much the same. A goy or “guy,” a word possibly derived from this word, was a person and goyim were nations in Hebrew. A person was considered a representative of his or her nation. And the coming of the Son of Man meant Judgment Day, where the nations as well as individuals stand to be judged.
Now if judgment is coming, then what can we possibly hope for? But do you notice how it says, “lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” That does not sound like judgment and condemnation. That sounds like our salvation is drawing near.
The commentary was very helpful here.  When we are in Christ, then there is no judgment. We will sing, “He hideth my soul in the cleft of a rock and covers me there with his hand and covers me there with his hand!” So the judgment passes over us.
The commentary also helps interpret the words, “This generation will not pass until all these things have taken place.” This was written after many of Jesus’ followers had already passed away. So it must mean something different. It could be understood: “This generation as part of the world, will pass away [with sin, death, and the devil]. This generation as part of the Word, will not pass away, [because the Word of God remains and endures forever.]” So if we let the Word of God dwell in us richly, then with the Word of God we will endure forever.
Again when we hide in Jesus Christ our Lord, then there is no judgment. Our sins are already forgiven. We do not preach cheap grace, of course, but we preach a grace that is completely free. What that means, however, is that we already start living the Kingdom-life here and now.
The commentary says, “You will either pay now or pay later.” If you walk in the light of Christ, you will become very conscious of your sin as well as the sins that resulted from your sin. Sin is your separation from God, sin is when you have broken faith with God. Sin is when your relationship with God has evaporated into thin air, because you stopped worshiping, praying, stopped letting God’s Word dwell in you richly, stopped inviting Jesus Christ to live in your heart and rule you right now so that you live the Kingdom-life.
Just think of alcoholics who have to do their twelve steps. They realize that the bottle has become a demon controlling their lives, that they are powerless of their own accord and they will fail if they rely on their own strength and effort against this demon, and they realize that they need to surrender to God as they understand God, and ask God – we would say, the Holy Spirit to overcome the demon of the bottle, ruling their life. Have you ever tried to take a bottle away from a baby? The bottle demon controls the alcohlic completely and the Holy Spirit alone can redeem them from this demonic force. Then they see all the rot that the bottle made them do – or the drugs, whatever the addiction, and they have to go to those that they hurt and ask for forgiveness. That’s what’s meant by paying now. When we confess our sins now and have to die the death of having scandalized our good name and what’s worse, have tarnished the holy name of God, then we are raised up by the forgiveness of out sins. Now when you have confessed your sins and have been forgiven for them by our gracious Lord and Savior, then you can’t have double jeopardy. You have already gone through the judgment and the Word of God has made you clean. If you have never changed your attitude, however, and have kept hitting and running over people in your relationships, if you steal the good name of other people with your gossip and rumors, if you are drunk with your own pride and self-interest, and trample a lot of poor souls under your feet – there will be judgment and it will catch you in a snare, in a trap, like a thief.
So our baptisms remain a fearful thing – but how could we have real communion without our baptisms? We have to drink our cup of repentance and call upon the name of the Lord in order to live the Kingdom-life – that loves justice and mercy and walks humbly before our God.
Think of a priest, unable to contain himself and with poor judgment impregnated a young woman in his parish. Well, imagine he was caught, his name was dragged through the mud and he had to live down his sin and make amends. Despite appearances to the contrary, that one is fortunate to be paying now and I believe God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love – as we sing in our liturgy. Now imagine a priest who was never caught, never confessed, and never made amends and remained self-righteous. That one will not be looking up and greeting Christ when he comes, because how will he stand in the judgment? That’s what’s meant by “paying for it later.”
Remember Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter? The Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale is the most respected man in the Puritan village, because he is their pastor, a man requiring complete respect and of the most high moral standing. And then there is Heather, an adulteress who has to wear a large red capital letter ‘A’ on her blouse. She is a sinner. She and her little daughter are shunned by everyone and she is put into prison, because she refuses to divulge the name of the man who made her pregnant. All along it was the “most reverend” Arthur Dimmesdale, who in a moment of weakness, had fallen into her arms and made love to her. Then he never related with her again and even shunned the little daughter, whom he had conceived. He was not willing to go through it all, the scandal, the descent into the depths of derision and own up to what he had done. He was going to have to pay later. Poor Heather paid for it every day of her life.
Often our sins can be so deep that only our own dying can make amends. That really goes for us all and not only for those who have killed someone or lived such a complete life of hypocrisy as Dimmesdale. But our Redeemer is gracious. Look what Luther says to explain the sacrament of baptism:
[Baptism, for our daily living] means that our sinful self with all its evil deeds and desires, should be drowned through daily repentance; and that day after day a new self should arise to live with God in righteousness and purity forever.
St. Paul writes in Romans 6: “We were buried therefore by baptism with him into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (The Small Catechism)
So in this dying to ourselves and coming alive to God, one of the most difficult of all things, we escape the judgment. When we die with Christ and are raised up with him, we escape from the last judgment, because we have been forgiven by the grace of God and we have been marvelously changed and have become righteous because of God’s grace.
So, on the other side of our baptisms and in communion, holy communion, that is, with the people of God, we can look up. When the Son of Man comes, when Christ our King comes again, we can look up, because on the last day we will be redeemed and not judged. Isn’t that good news? Don’t you see how the Gospel gives us a sweet heart for Christ, to us Luther’s words, and makes us fall in love with our Redeemer, our beautiful savior?
Now like the Berlin Wall, massive changes that we think impossible, can take place in the twinkling of an eye. Sometimes little portions of ice break away from the Arctic glaciers and sometimes a piece as large as a country breaks off, and now we fear that all the ice of the polar caps will melt.
The oceans are so mighty and cover such a large portion of the earth. Now we discover a place in the Pacific Ocean filled with plastic and garbage twice the size of Texas. There is a huge dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River in the Gulf. Could a whole ocean die? Those kinds of questions should lead us into a life of repentance and a change of ways or we could get caught in the trap of judgment.
The seminary that I attended underwent a very great change. We had four new young professors and a dynamic new president and they decided to introduce a new curriculum. Those of my class who stuck with the old curriculum, received bachelors of divinity, while those of us who stepped into the new, received masters of divinity degrees. The new curriculum was designed not only to teach us theology, but also to help us mature in Christ. Wednesday mornings, the whole seminary formed into groups like families, eight to ten of us would meet with two professors and we would work on our self-knowledge and get to the growing edge of our maturity. I called it the work of the soul. Now I was elected the chair of the whole community council and I stepped boldly into the new curriculum, but I did not realize how immature I was. I was very book smart, but I could not tell my butt from my elbow, as the saying goes. Wow, what a harrowing experience I had to go through. But you know, the only way through it is through it. I was hiding in Christ and I did not realize that one professor was out to get me. As immature as I was, he said that I could never be a pastor. He said that I would just line everyone up in my hang-ups and call that ministry. I had to take the ministry exam, over which he was in charge, with all its seven parts, three times and he failed me every time – in all seven parts. I had to learn how to do politics and divide and conquer. I got his arch enemy on the faculty to take four parts of the exam and he only had three, and I finally passed. That delayed my ordination until four years after my leaving the seminary.
What my opposing professor did not understand is that he saw me as a ruin coming down, but Christ saw me a new construction going up. You, too might see your life full of sin. You too might be torn and split so that fear and despair often floods your heart. Hide inside Christ. Christ is our sweet Lord, and in the twinkling of an eye, you will no longer be a ruin coming down, you will be a brand new construction going up. Both are a mess, of course, and it is hard to tell one from another. We are sinner and saints at one and the same time, but Christ makes all the difference. If you hide in Christ, as sinful as you are, Christ will raise you up a new construction – and facing the music with him, he gives us the victory. Picking up our cross and following him, raises us up like him, raises up a whole new house of the Lord, O Bethlehem, in the strength that comes down from heaven above. The cross means constantly humbling ourselves with him and confessing our sins one to another. Christ has this gentle way of passing us through the judgment, letting judgment Passover us, so that we live the Kingdom-life of mercy and justice already and we can look up on that great last day and greet our Redeemer our beautiful Savior, joyfully when he comes. Amen.
Communion Blessing: Christ hides my soul in the cleft of a rock and covers me there with his hand, so that the judgment passes over us.
 The dictionary says that the word “guy” came from the name Guy Fawkes. But where does the first name Guy come from?
The commentary referred to here and in the following cases is online: Brian P. Stoffregen, CrossMarks Exegetical Notes , http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke21x25.htm.