Today is the first Sunday in Advent. The Advent season prepares us for Christmas and the first coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Today’s text reminds us that one day Christ Jesus will come again. Watch, for Jesus Christ is going to return.
There will be signs, as the text tells us. Peculiar things, such as storms, will be happening in the world. I thought of this just a few weeks ago when Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast. Cities in New York, New Jersey, and up into New England were badly hit, and millions of dollars worth of property was destroyed.
We have numerous wars happening. While we have always had wars, these are a bit different. In the past we knew who the enemy was, but today the enemy is sprinkled all around us. This causes me to wonder if God will be coming to this world soon.
I think of the Scripture passage: “No one knows about that day or hour; not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come” (Mark 13:32, 33).
Our Lord is talking in this passage about his second coming, which will be quite different from his first coming. In Philippians 2:9-11 we read, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name that (when he comes the second time) at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Scripture also gives us this thought from St. Paul in I Corinthians 15:55-57, “ÔWhere, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Jesus came the first time as a babe in Bethlehem’s manger. As he grew up, men mistreated him, said evil things about him, and finally killed him by putting him on a cross. When it was all over, Jesus could say from Calvary’s cross, “It is finished.” Three days later, he was resurrected from the grave, and victory had been gained. Jesus then ascended into heaven. When he returns, it will be as the reigning King, the Victor, who has defeated sin, death, and the devil.
Today I think especially about the enemy of death. We don’t like to talk about it very much, and we strive to live a long life on this earth, for we don’t want to think of being away from our loved ones. Nevertheless, life on this planet is only temporary. However, when Jesus’ second coming arrives, we will have a life that is forever. All people will be gathered before him and confess him as their Savior and Lord. Those who have died trusting in him will have life everlasting and will receive the promised lasting city, the city longed for.
And so, as we battle in this temporary stay on earth, we look with anticipation to that glorious day when Jesus Christ will return. That day is in the future. In the meantime, we struggle with death as the enemy. And it is difficult to imagine the struggle without Jesus Christ.
I’d like to introduce three situations in my life where I’ve witnessed death as a real enemy. It is an enemy where, if it were not for Jesus Christ, one would wonder what life is really all about.
The first situation happened when I was a young theological student. I had a good friend named Kurt. He was a zealous person for the Lord Jesus Christ with great plans for his ordination day. He planned to marry his fiance and then work as a missionary in China. I often wondered how one could be so excited about leaving their loved ones and going to China, but Kurt was anxious to do it.
One night, as we were talking, he said to me, “Feel this lump on my body. It bothers me, so I am going to the doctor tomorrow to see what it is.” The next day he told me, “The doctor doesn’t know what this lump is, so he is going to take a biopsy. Then I will get the word.”
Some days later Kurt told me, “I got the word today, and it is not good. It is malignant. We hope it will somehow just disappear, but for now we will just pray about it.”
This is a picture of the temporariness of life as it came to this young man in his early 20s. He had planned a wedding with a woman whom he loved very much. What should he do now? Should he continue preparing to go to China? Kurt decided to wait until the summer was over and then see what would happen.
When we came back to school in the Fall, Kurt didn’t have to tell us what was happening, we could see the cancer was progressing. He did not look good. He said to us, “I am a dying man. I love Mary very much and want very much to make her my wife and the mother of our children. I would love to go to China. But for now we will just have to take life one day at a time.” It was very tough.
One day he called and asked us to visit him in his parental home. So a carload of us seminarians had our last visit with Kurt. I will never forget it. Kurt read a devotion, then he read the Scriptures and offered prayers. We sang, and then he said to us, “I’ll beat you to heaven, and I’ll meet my Savior face to face.” Death had been conquered, even though it had made his life very short. Too short as far as we mortals were concerned.
The second situation happened when I was a young pastor. A young couple in our congregation very much wanted a baby, and they were just delighted when they learned they were going to have a baby. But then one night I received a call saying that the wife had gone to the hospital. The next thing we heard was that both mother and baby had died. Here I was, a young pastor, not well acquainted with funerals of that kind. I wondered what I would say to them? I kept coming back to this: Jesus Christ died for the sin of the world, and she (and her baby) were now with him. Still, as comforting as that message is, it was very traumatic for that family to see that young wife and mother lying in her casket with a child in her arms. Our minds ran wild with thoughts of, “O, what life could have been like if they had only lived,” and “O, how we loved her,” and “O, how she wanted to live!” How comforting it was to know that, because of her faith in Jesus Christ, she had gone to be with Him.
At Jesus’ second coming, he will make it clear that those who have died trusting in him will live in him eternally. Facing death in this life is difficult, but what makes life seem more permanent is to know that, when these days are over, we will be with him!
My third story is that of being an old man and living in a retirement center. A few of the “kids” there are in their 70s; most of us are in our mid-age Ð 80s; some are in their 90s; and one person is in his 100s. So what do we hear now and then? “So and so just died.” That is not so unusual, for that person had signs telling him his body was weakening. God’s Word has made it clear that the length of life is three score year and ten, or if by reason or strength four score year. We all expect death to come for us soon. Life is temporary. Yet, even at this age, we’d like for it to continue. But it can’t. We all must die. However, when we die trusting that Jesus Christ has defeated death, he is ours and we are his forever.
That is the only way life can have any permanency. The unbeliever, as he breathes his last breath, has no promise of a heavenly home, for Jesus has said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father, but by me.”
And so my plea today, on this first Sunday in Advent, is that you will turn your thoughts and your prayers to him and cry out, “Lord Jesus, I receive you!” Those who die while trusting in Christ will live. Death has then been conquered in us, for we will be transferred from this life into the arms of our Savior. And that life is forever.