Presented on The Lutheran Hour on December 3, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Dale A. Meyer, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2018 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Mark 13:24-37
"But in those days, following that distress, "'the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.' "At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens. "Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. "But about that day or hour no one knows, 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. It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. "Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back-whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!'"
O Lord Jesus Christ, in the minutes of this devotion, send Your Spirit to work quietly in our hearts and reassure us of our Father's love. Too often the problems of life take our focus away from You, who alone are our final help and hope. In this new season of Advent, lead us to devote ourselves whole heartedly to Your coming through the Word that forms us as Your faithful followers. Put us in awe that You came from eternity for us by Your incarnation and birth at Bethlehem, and with childlike anticipation fill us with desire for Your return as Judge of all and our only Savior. Amen.
Do you think of your life as an adventure? Probably not. Our adult lives are often routine, sometimes ho-hum, and other times most difficult. Do you remember when you were a child? Wide-eyed, you couldn't wait for Santa to come. I remember one December. It was in the early 1950s; the Meyer family was still living on Ashland Avenue. I was so excited about Santa's coming. Oh, how the days and weeks dragged on! But Santa did come, I knew he would come, and guess what? He brought me a new Schwinn bike! When Christmas came I could forget all the waiting because of the joy I had that special day. It was all an adventure in childhood, but now you and I have graduated into maturity, and I would not be surprised if the routines of adult life have rubbed ho-hum or worse into you. Do you sometimes identify with old Scrooge and think, "Bah, humbug"? Yes, adult life can take the childhood joy out of us, but what self-image does the Bible want us to have-hard-knock adults, cynical because of what we've seen and experienced in our adult lives? No. Doesn't the Bible want you and me to see ourselves as the beloved children of God, our Heavenly Father? Why is it that we grow up and lose the sense of adventure? Today the church begins the season of Advent. The word "Advent" means "coming," and I propose to you that the coming of Jesus can rekindle your child-of-God sense of adventure.
Let share my own experience-how in some significant ways childlike anticipation has been taken out of me. In some ways, my feelings of faith have gotten weaker over the years. No, you don't need to turn up the volume. I did say, "In some ways, my feelings of faith have gotten weaker over the years." You might not expect to hear that from a minister and on a religious broadcast like this, but it is true. In some ways, my feelings of faith have gotten weaker over the years. I'll give you some reasons why, and as you listen, look back over your life.
I was raised in a wonderful home. Little Dale, Bruce, and Pam received love from our parents. We were taught the ways of godliness: church every Sunday, parochial school, Sunday school, prayers. We learned that "God is love." But then the hard knocks of life came as we grew older. Growing up can be like a toddler wandering onto a football field at the line of scrimmage and pow! Idealism is knocked out of you by hard, cold reality. What did that do to my childhood feelings of faith? In some ways, the reality of life has made my feelings of faith grow weaker over the years.
Illness has done that too. My sister has had many surgeries, and I underscore the word "many." You have family members who have struggled, are struggling, with serious illness. Maybe you yourself spend more time with doctors than you want. Why? Yes, you are a sinner, but are you such an outwardly bad person that you should be knocked so hard by disease? Haven't you generally tried to live a moral life and be a contributing citizen? God, why? I'm not feeling the love. Again, feelings of faith can weaken.
Another reason my personal feelings of faith have weakened is because I have seen Christians doing things that are out-and-out wrong. "Thou shalt not" we learned as kids, but you see Christians going ahead and doing them anyway. It may be someone in your neighborhood or at work. It may be someone in your congregation. It may be a prominent politician or preacher. You know, the ones who talk righteously but then are exposed for the grossest sins. Thinking back to my childhood, my father sometimes knew I was about to do something I should not do. He'd point at me and say, "You dasn't do that!" "Dasn't." It's a contraction, an old combining of "you dare not do that." "You dasn't do that." We grow older and see too many Christians do things that their Heavenly Father said, "You dasn't do that." "Thou shalt not." And again, it weakens feelings of faith in the rest of us.
Making the experience worse is media, the omnipresent, suffocating media that brings us ever more examples of suffering and sin. Whether fictional drama or real-life news, media reinforces the feeling that life is unjust, hard, and cruel, and that God, about whom media seldom talk, is left behind in the Sunday school and the Bible stories of youth.
I've taken the time to list my own feelings because I assume you have had similar experiences. Names and dates and circumstances are obviously different, but we all have these experiences. We're really talking about being disappointed with God. Maybe your disappointments in life have left you angry, resentful, bitter, and cynical. "Bah, humbug!" The childhood song, "Jesus loves me; this I know" can seem very far away.
Let's think this through theologically. Yes, in some ways my faith has gotten weaker, but in another and far more important way my faith has gotten stronger. I have been very careful these last minutes as I described my own experiences. Sharing with you, I very intentionally talked about my feelings of faith, my feelings of faith. How have the experiences of life made me feel in my chest, in my heart? What's my emotional reaction? Please pay attention, because now I'm at an important teaching time in today's message. In the Bible, faith has two aspects. In the Bible, there are two ways to think about faith. One way is your feelings. How do you feel about God? This is within you. It's internal. It's subjective. This is the way most Americans understand faith. This is why the majority of Americans say it doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere in your feelings and don't hurt anyone. The Bible does recognize this internal, subjective aspect of faith: how you feel. When Jesus was asked what commandment is the greatest, He answered, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul...." (Mark 12:29-30). Heart and soul is within you, internal, subjective. But now we have to ask, what is the object you love heart and soul? You have deep feelings, but do they have a focus? Might it be that when your feelings of faith seem to be getting weaker, you are focusing more on your feelings than on God as the object of faith?
Remember, faith in the Bible has two aspects. The second way of understanding faith is far and away the most important. Jesus says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." Loving the Lord God means looking outside of yourself, totally outside yourself to Someone greater than your feelings. This second aspect of faith in the Bible is not in you but outside of you. It is not internal but external. It is not subjective but objective. This second aspect of faith comes to you; it does not well up within you. It is a truth that is greater than your or my feelings. It is a focus for your life, for your heart, soul, and mind that is outside of you. And what is this external, outside-of-you focus? It is God coming to you through His Son Jesus Christ.
Advent means "coming" and Advent's message is the coming of Jesus to you from outside, from heaven, from eternity. God's Son Jesus comes not only as the Babe of Bethlehem. Today from heaven, He comes to you in His words and promises. His words and promises create faith, not just faith in the sense of feelings, but especially outward looking faith that is trust in the words and promises of Jesus. You can reject Jesus. God has given you that terrible ability, but another Advent means His continual coming to make His claim upon your whole being-heart, soul, mind, and strength. If you're ho-hum about Advent, now is the time, the "time of grace," as theologians call it.
But oh, how easily we shift our feelings to things more fleeting than Jesus and His promises. For example, we understandably shift our focus of feelings to health. Health is a blessing from God, but sooner or later it will be taken away from you. What's the focus to which you give your energy and devotion? Family? Finances? Education? Career? What animates you? Those are all part of life the way God would have us live it, but they are not the ultimate. Sooner or later they all will pass. The ultimate is God coming to us in Jesus. More and more I have learned, and am still learning, to focus upon Jesus Christ and His promises. The hard knocks and the disappointments of life prompt me more and more to look outside myself to Jesus and His Word. In that way, my faith has gotten much, much stronger over the years. Maybe you should turn up the volume now, or at least I should be as emphatic as I can be. As I have experienced disappointments that shook my feelings about God, it is God's Word about Jesus that has strengthened my trust in the Heavenly Father. More and more, my heart, soul, mind, and strength are being drawn to God and Jesus. St. Paul said it most succinctly in 2 Corinthians 5:7, "We live by faith, not by sight." Feelings, emotions, reactions-those are the things of the senses, of "sight." "Faith," on the other hand, is the response the Spirit of God works in us by His Word. Whatever our experiences, good or bad, faith trusts the promises of God are all fulfilled in the One sent from heaven to Bethlehem, Jesus Christ. So, where is the adventure? Jesus asks in Luke 18:8, "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?"
This is the Advent adventure, that the Christ who came long ago, comes to you now in His words and promises, and will come again. He will come as the judge of all people but as Savior and deliverer to you who look outside yourselves to Him, truly trusting and depending on Him in all the experiences of life. This Advent adventure is children of the Heavenly Father eagerly awaiting the return of Jesus.
Jesus says, "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. It's like a man going away; He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore, keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back-whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: Watch!"
This is our Advent adventure, watching for His return, and the way we watch is by focusing upon His Word and promises now. St. Paul says in Romans 13, "Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand." The Advent adventure makes us look outside ourselves. "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." The Advent adventure refines us. Hebrews chapter 12 says, "The Lord disciplines those He loves." The Advent adventure makes us appreciate each precious moment we have here and now. Jesus says, "The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the Good News." And He means now, Mark chapter 1. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6, "Now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation." And like the coming of Christmas that seems so slow to a child, the Advent adventure will come to its glorious fulfillment. St. Peter says in his first epistle, the first chapter, "You believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls." How we need Him now when our experiences tempt us to be disappointed with our Heavenly Father. How we need to be assured that God is with us. The Bible promises, "He will not leave you or forsake you." How we need Him now, so we will arrive safely when the eternal day dawns! "His grace has brought me safe thus far, His grace will lead me home."
Child of God, are you eager for the day of His returning? Amen.
Reflections for DECEMBER 3, 2017
Title: Advent adventure
MARK EISCHER: Hello, this is Mark Eischer, producer of The Lutheran Hour. And now Pastor Ken Klaus joins us.
KEN KLAUS: Hello, Mark.
MARK EISCHER: Dr. Meyer said the Advent Adventure invites us to walk by faith and not by sight.
KEN KLAUS: And that is about as insightful as you can get. I remember in the Rogers and Hammerstein musical The King and I there is a song called, "A Puzzlement." One of the verses to that song says, "When I was a boy World was better spot. What was so was so, What was not was not. Now I am a man; World have changed a lot. Some things nearly so, Others nearly not."
When I was a very young man and heard those words for the first time, I laughed and thought, "Isn't that cute. The king was having a tough time keeping up with the times."
MARK EISCHER: I take it you no longer feel that way?
KEN KLAUS: No, I don't.
MARK EISCHER: And what is it that has brought about the change?
KEN KLAUS: The change for me came because I found I couldn't trust my facts. You know when I was young there were certain facts which I knew were true. For example, I knew if you dropped a penny off the Empire State Building, by the time it hit the ground, it would be going fast enough, and would have enough force, to lodge itself into the concrete, or anybody who was unlucky enough to be walking by. That was a fact. I knew if you went swimming within an hour after eating you would get cramps and cramping increased your chance of drowning.
MARK EISCHER: So things we thought we knew that turned out to be not so much.
KEN KLAUS: That's it. I can remember when eggs were a bad thing to eat; then they became a good thing to eat; and then it was part of the egg was good for you and part of it wasn't. It all depends on whose facts you believe.
MARK EISCHER: And it's no wonder then people feel confused and uncertain. Now if I were listening to this broadcast right now I might be asking, "Well, okay. Who cares? Do the answers to those things really matter?"
KEN KLAUS: If you're asking, I'm confessing. When it comes to the big picture, these are inconsequential, insignificant facts, as are their answers. But what happens when you can't find truth for any of life's questions, including the big ones? Mark, when I look around, I see souls searching, sinners seeking. I see skepticism, suspicion and cynicism; doubt, distrust, and disbelief creeping into almost everybody's opinions. I hear it reflected in the angry music of the young and the injustice felt by protesters. I can see it as people seem so distraught and discouraged about their lives and are seeking desperately for someone, something to believe in.
MARK EISCHER: Pastor, we've been talking a lot about false facts and so-called experts, what can be done about it?
KEN KLAUS: When Satan slithered into the lives of Adam and Eve, they listened to his sinfully subtle suggestions. At the moment they disobeyed God, they started humanity's race away from divine direction and godly truth. Since that day, in every human ear, the world has continued to whisper of delirious delights and diversions. It has promised it could offer fulfillment and satisfaction for every whim and wish. Those are the facts they would have us believe. Yet, when the world has been asked to deliver, and make good on its promises, it was able to deliver nothing. Their facts were nothing more than grandiose lies.
MARK EISCHER: Which is why God invites us to trust in Him and to live by faith and not by false facts.
KEN KLAUS: Absolutely. Today, the Spirit of God, with all His love and grace, is reaching out to the world with real answers, He answers their questions. God is trying to show them another way, a better way, the only way that offers true and total peace.
MARK EISCHER: But Pastor Klaus, why should anyone believe what you say?
KEN KLAUS: Believe in me? Goodness, don't do that. I've been wrong far too many times for anyone to put any trust into my words and opinions. They need to look for facts which are unassailable, truth which doesn't change like the calendar. That kind of absolute truth is what God wants to give you today. So, listen to the truth that come from the perfect, all-knowing, never-changing, always-right Lord. Are you listening? Good. God wants you to know He loves you. That's it. God loves you. Disappointed? Don't be. The fact that God loves you makes Him pretty unique. Now don't think God's love comes to you without a cost. Yes, it's free for you, but it cost Him a great deal. How much? The life of His Son. Somebody had to pay for all those sins we've committed, and we couldn't do it. That's why God sent His Son: to pay for our sins. From the day Jesus was born, He began paying for our sins. Mark, that's a fact of faith. He paid when He turned down the devil's temptations. He paid when the crowds deserted Him. He paid when one of His own students betrayed Him, and the others deserted Him. He paid for our sins when He was tried, condemned, tortured, and crucified. Throughout His life, Jesus paid for all that we have done wrong. Why? Because God loves you. That's not going to change. No matter what happens to you, you can believe it. It's not going to change. God loves you.
MARK EISCHER: Listeners, here's another fact of faith: right now, even as Pastor Klaus and I are speaking, God is trying to tell you of His love. It is especially to those of you whose lives have been spent without anything to hold on to. God is speaking to you today. He wants you to know that He loves you. He wants you to believe on Jesus as your Savior. He wants you to know that through faith in Christ the sins of the past are forgiven; your conscience can be at rest; your life can be changed.
KEN KLAUS: That's it: walking-by-faith facts. No matter how strong the wind, no matter how high the waves, this, too, you can believe. It's not going to change. God loves you. That's the fact in which you can put your faith.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for DECEMBER 3, 2017
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Savior of the Nations, Come" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)